South Africa

Zero tolerance for mask-dodgers in SA's skies

Zero tolerance for mask-dodgers in SA's skies

Under fire from passengers for being lax about passengers not conforming to mask wearing regulations on board their flights, Flysafair this week imposed a new zero tolerance policy — including issuing “yellow cards” to transgressors.

“The cabin crew are not enforcing the wearing of masks during the flight,” complained Sue Lovett, of Sandton, earlier this week.

She has flown from Joburg to Cape Town six times since mid-June when domestic flights resumed for business travel.

“Many passengers wear masks when embarking, but during the flight they hang around their necks,” she said. “It’s illegal and disrespectful to fellow passengers, but the crew do very little about it. I always sit in the first or second row, and I’ve watched them apply hand sanitiser to passengers with masks around their necks at the front toilet area, without saying a word.

“What is the point of the airline's e-mails, texts and pilot announcements about the need to wear a mask over both mouth and nose, if that isn’t enforced?”

Responding, FlySafair’s executive manager and chief marketing officer Kirby Gordon confirmed that several passengers had complained about mask non-compliance on board flights in recent weeks.

The airline is currently operating more than 70% of all domestic flights in SA.

“Most often we get feedback from passengers that crew instruct folks to wear masks and then as soon as crew's backs are turned, they pull them back down. They don’t say anything to the individuals themselves, or raise it with the crew — they tend to write in and complain after the fact,” Gordon said.

But from this week, the airline will be tackling the issue head-on in the following ways:

  • Its customary preflight SMS has been updated to say: “Masks must be worn throughout your flight today. If you spot someone not wearing a mask, please alert crew. No catering on board. Water on request.”;
  • New “Yellow Cards” — they’re not actually yellow — will be handed to non-compliant passengers;
  • A clause has been added to Flysafair’s terms and conditions stating that if a flight has to be diverted because of the actions of a passenger — such as posing a health and safety risk with mask non-compliance — the airline will hold them liable for those costs (which could be in the region of R100,000); and
  • A new pilot announcement makes it clear that proper mask wearing is the law and cabin attendants now announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, we ask that you please keep your mask on over your nose and mouth for the duration of our journey today. While the air in our cabin is filtered every three minutes using sophisticated air filters, it’s essential that you keep your mask on for your own safety, as well as those around you. Compliance in this regard is very important, as national authorities will suspend flight activities again if mask wearing becomes an issue. We urge you to protect our jobs by keeping your mask on today. Thank you.”

Mango Airlines' head of marketing of communications, Benediction Zubane, encouraged passengers who spotted a fellow passenger removing their mask when they can’t be seen by cabin crew, to alert the crew “for action-taking”.

“We enforce the proper wearing of masks for all phases of flight, noting as well that passengers are allowed to remove their masks briefly to consume food or drink, which they are also welcome to bring on board, as long as alcohol is not consumed.”

Mango reminded passengers about mask wearing in its on-board announcements, he said, and cabin crew members “do sporadically walk the aisles throughout flight to perform checks”.

“When a passenger chooses not to comply, the procedures for disruptive passenger handling take effect. If a warning has been issued without compliance being followed, security and the SAPS may very well be waiting for a passenger on landing.

“To date we have only received a small number of reports relating to such events on board, but they have not escalated to the extent that flight diversion or security enforcement has been necessary,” Zubane said.

“For the most part we have seen our passengers do their best to conform with national regulation to ensure everyone’s mutual comfort on board, and our crews are quick to observe and take action against any nonconformity.”

Mango planes have a “quarantine zone” at the back for use by passengers “that genuinely cannot wear a mask due to medical reasons”, Zubane said. It is also where passengers who need to be moved away from a suspected case (of coronavirus) or “difficult” passengers are seated.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: [email protected] or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.