COVID-19: Travel industry grapples with tough restrictions

Passengers board a RwandAir flight at Kigali International Airport. On Thursday, March 19, the national carrier announced it will suspend all flights for a period of 30 days as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. Photo: File

The world is facing unprecedented levels of mass flight cancellations and travel restrictions, forcing millions to alter their travel plans.

The national carrier, RwandAir, on Thursday, announced it will suspend all flights for a period of 30 days, following the Government’s decision to suspend all commercial passenger flights departing or arriving in Rwanda as part of broader efforts to contain COVID-19.

Like many airlines, RwandAir said it will provide flexibility to passengers who had already booked tickets, which includes freely rebooking new tickets or cancellations.

“Customers holding tickets with RwandAir for this period will have several options, including rebooking with the airline to fly at a later date. All change fees will be waived,” the Rwandan airline said in a statement on Thursday.

RwandAir currently 29 destinations across Africa, Europe and Asia. The airline had recently suspended flights to China, Tel Aviv in Israel, and Mumbai in India in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak and resultant travel restrictions.

The pandemic was first registered in China in December last year.

A statement from RwandAir indicated that the airline had acquired the necessary slot to land at “London-Gatwick on March 20, in the morning.”

“Consequently, it will be operating its last flight to Brussels and Gatwick at 01:00am tomorrow morning out of Kigali,” the statement shared on their website reads in part.

The RwandAir flight will depart from Gatwick to Brussels on Friday at 11a.m and then to Kigali in the afternoon, at 2p.m, arriving in the Rwandan capital at 10:30p.m just ahead of the midnight deadline when the suspension of commercial passenger airlines is set to come into force.

Broad impact

The decision does not affect RwandAir alone but all airlines that fly in and out of Kigali.

Others include KLM, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Turkish Airlines, Jambojet, Qatar Airways, EgyptAir, among others.

However, cargo and emergency flights will continue, according to the Ministry of Health, which is leading the national response to the pandemic.

Most airlines and air ticketing agencies have provided options to passengers whose flights were cancelled or affected by travel restrictions.

Swapnil Karkhile, the operations manager, Satguru Travels Rwanda office, told The New Times that they will refund customers who want their money back or allow them to rebook for free.

“The exercise will last 15-20 days,” he said, adding that they had close to 1000 bookings in March alone.

Doreen Ingabire, the Managing Director of Umoja Travel Agency, ticketing agency based in Kigali, said they were also allowing passengers to reschedule flights without any extra charges or claim for refund.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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