South Africans will need to wait – maybe just a little bit longer – for flights to the UK

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have, again, extended suspensions of South African flights.

But this time, the period of these extended suspensions is much shorter than before, with both airlines still eyeing a June return. This coincides with the United Kingdom's new "traffic light" travel system which is updated every three weeks.

Two of the United Kingdom's major international airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, will not be flying to South Africa at the start of June as was planned. But these latest extensions are not as lengthy as those previously announced by both airlines, reflecting the fluidity of the UK's everchanging travel regulations under the new "traffic light" system.

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which offered the highest frequency of direct flights between South Africa and the UK prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, have not flown to the country for more than five months.

Flights to South Africa were suspended in late December, when the UK government, fearing a second wave of infections driven by imported Covid-19 variants, announced an outright travel ban. This came just days after South Africa announced that it had discovered the more transmissible 501Y.V2 variant. Dozens of countries quickly followed the UK's lead and by mid-March South Africans had become the most restricted travellers in the world.

British Airways announced in February that its suspension of all commercial flights between the UK and South Africa would remain in place for three months. In March, the airline added another month onto its initial extension, with flights planned to resume in May. This restart date was lengthened to 1 June.

Virgin Atlantic adopted a similar approach while waiting on word from the UK government, extending its suspension of flights to South Africa to the end of February and then later to May. The airline recently told Business Insider South Africa that it was planning to resume flights in early June, depending on the UK's travel policy.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic had planned to start flying passengers to and from South African in the first week of June, but both recently announced yet further extensions. But where earlier periods of suspension ranged from one to three months at a time, the latest extension will only last for two to three weeks.

Virgin Atlantic now plans to fly from Heathrow to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International on 10 June. British Airways is selling tickets for the same route, starting on 23 June.

These shorter suspensions coincide with the UK's green, amber, and red list – "traffic light" – policy which determines the restrictions placed on travellers based on the Covid-19 situation in their countries of origin. These new regulations, implemented as a cautious method of reopening the UK to foreign visitors, came into effect on 17 May.

South Africa, along with 39 other countries, remains on the UK's red list. Non-citizen travellers from South Africa are prohibited from entering the UK and returning residents need to quarantine in a state-run hotel for ten days.

Returning residents travelling from any country on the amber list are permitted to quarantine at home. Travellers identified on the green list, which currently applies to only 12 countries, are not required to quarantine, but must still submit to a Covid-19 test.

These lists are reviewed every three weeks, with the UK due to make its first changes on 7 June, shortly before British Airways and Virgin Atlantic plan to reinstitute flights to South Africa.

Changes are made according to a country's Covid-19 infection rate, vaccination progress and variant control.

Compiled by Luke Daniel
Business Insider SA
May 27, 2021