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Scair travel

Publishing Date : 26 June, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

What with my business and personal travel requirements I’m what you might call frequent flyer’ so I’m more than familiar with all the trials and tribulations of air travel in the 21st century. ‘Take your shoes off’, ‘Empty your pockets’, ‘Put everything in the tray and walk through the metal detector’, ‘Hand over your nail scissors’, ‘Leave your laptop on the conveyor belt’….the rules go on and on.  Oh, I know most of them are safety requirements but nonetheless they are disruptive and annoying to the majority of genuine travellers being massively inconvenienced by an infinitesimally tiny minority of crazy people want to blow up planes.

Most of us feel distinctly uncomfortable having to relinquish out expensive smartphones, laptops, watches and other valuables into those trays.  We try and keep a beady eye on our belongings as they pass along the conveyor belt but we are often distracted by questions from security staff and sometimes a long queue means we lose sight of them; so it came as no surprise to read recently that thieves are now specifically targeting those trays, pilfering high-end items whilst their owners are otherwise occupied.  

One security guard, working in a London airport told a  HYPERLINK "http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5773091/Thieves-stealing-valuables-UK-airport-security-trays.html" t "_blank" Daily Mail reporter that items are stolen from security trays on a daily basis. "The trays often emerge quicker than the person going through the body scanner. Passengers get caught in a backlog and there's nobody to watch for thieves.”  

He said thieves take anything from laptops to wallets and even once stole a widow's holdall containing her husband's ashes.  The security officer, who did not want to be named, revealed in most cases, the culprits have bought a seat on a cheap flight with the sole intention of accessing security areas.  "They tend to be middle-aged men who work in groups. They prey on passengers in the early morning, when people are half-asleep, or at peak times when they're stressed, and target families who are likely to be distracted by children."

Despite immediately watching CCTV and contacting police after a complaint is made, charges often aren't brought because passengers are in too much of a hurry to catch their flights. One student had her £1,000 laptop - containing important documents for her dissertation - stolen from a security tray at London City Airport, last month.  Fernanda Ardiles, who had travelled back to see her parents in the capital for Easter, had got held up in long delays while her bag went through the scanner. 

When she eventually reached the end of the conveyor belt she was horrified to discover her MacBook Air was missing.  Even worse, when she reported it to staff she was told they would contact her once they had reviewed the CCTV.  She told the  HYPERLINK "https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/may/04/my-1000-macbook-air-was-stolen-at-airport-security-and-no-one-cares" t "_blank" Guardian: "After three days of emails I finally got hold of the terminal manager who said there was nothing he could do, but pass it on for investigation.  "They behaved as though this is a minor irritation, as though it is no big deal”.

As for those cut-price airlines, I advise anyone to read the small print very carefully before flying with them as they may be a false economy in the long run.  Budget carriers like Ryanair often make you pay for ‘extras’ which most people consider standard – a printed ticket and boarding card, in-flight food, on-line booking, hand-luggage, the list goes on.  Here’s a sample from Ryanair’s ‘optional extras’

Extra legroom seats (row 1, 2 and 16-17) -  €15.00 / £15.00 
Front seats (rows 2 - 5) - €13.01 / £13.01
Standard Seats (rows 6-15 and 18-33) - €4.00 / £4.00 
Boarding card re-issue fee - €20 / £20
Priority boarding from (per person/per one way flight) - from €5.00 / £5.00 (An increased charge is applicable for priority boarding on selected routes.)
Airport check-in fee - €55 / £55
Booking fee at the airport - €20 / £20
Therapeutic oxygen reservation fee - €55 / £55
Missed departure fee - €100 / £100
Hold fare fee - €3.00/£3.00 

Add to that the fact that the low-cost carriers save money by utilising smaller airports where landing fees are much cheaper, meaning that you, the passenger, will end up paying more to travel on to your actual destination, and you might find it would have been cheaper to fork out more up front to fly with one of the major players.

And last but not least, in our own neck of the woods, our Gabs-Johannesburg route has been served by both Air Botswana and SA Express and which one you end up with is largely a case of convenience of flight times.  Now I have written in the past of the vagaries and whimsy of SA Express when it concerns their scheduled flights.  They think nothing of simply cancelling a flight with no notice whatsoever simply because they failed to fill enough seats, leaving passengers stranded and often missing flight connections at O.R. Tambo. 

Add to that the fact that their Gaborone operation is remote-controlled from Johannesburg so often you will find a flight has ‘closed’ even though it is sitting on the tarmac at SSKA with the doors still open and the steps still in place.  Your ticket and your physical presence mean nothing to the local staff who are powerless to override the computerised system to allow you to board – little wonder many of their flights are under-occupied!

So it was with a mixture of relief and shock to learn last month that the carrier has now been officially grounded by the South African civil Aviation Authority, not for bad service but for an abysmal safety record.  In a statement the SACAA stated it had ‘grounded the state-owned carrier SA Express with immediate effect. The SACAA has also suspended certificates of airworthiness for nine of 21 of SA Express’s aircraft. It means the carrier can no longer operate as an airline.

The agency said SA Express would have to reapply and be issued with an air operating certificate and an approval for the aircraft maintenance organisation and certificates of airworthiness for the grounded aircraft Earlier in May, two SA Express flights had to abort after take-off with technical problems. In one incident, one of the engines allegedly exploded.  The SACAA’s action follows an audit at the airline and its maintenance organisation that had uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that posed serious safety risks.

The agency said.  “While the SACAA does not make the details of its audit findings public, it can, however, be revealed that there were 17 findings, of which five are categorised as Level 1 findings in civil aviation terms,   “A Level 1 category finding can be described as a severe non-compliance or non-conformance that poses a very serious safety risk to the public.” A spokesman for SA Express said the carrier undertook to accommodate passengers on other airlines and refund tickets.

In a further scandalous irony, the ruling came on the same day as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced he had appointed a new board at the carrier after the suspension of several executive managers on allegations of corruption.  An audit found, among other irregularities, that SA Express paid R5.7m to the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital for advisory services and to raise capital. It’s suddenly occurred to me that there’s only one letter difference in the words ‘flight’ and fright’.  I think I’m beginning to understand why!



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