New regulations gazetted yesterday, March 1, by the Minister of Transport expressly forbids domestic air operators from providing any inflight catering and further states that passengers on domestic flights may not eat aboard the aircraft. The only exception is the provision of bottled water.
The regulations update come in support of better adherence to mask-wearing onboard the aircraft to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Air travel and the spread of the coronavirus have been totally conflated in our minds. People weren’t necessarily getting ill on aircraft, rather it’s the act of infected folks traveling from one community to another that perpetuated the spread of the disease,” says Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair.
Several recent studies have confirmed that the sophisticated air filtration and management systems within modern airline cabins make them safer environments than most public spaces. This has made it possible for carriers around the world to fill up their aircraft without leaving open seats.
“We’ve been operating with strict protocols in place since 15 June last year and of all departments in our business, the rate of COVID-19 cases among our cabin crew is very low,” confirms Gordon.
A recent article from MIT Medical assessed the safety of air travel during a pandemic. The article cites a 2018 study from the University of Florida which found there to be a low probability of direct transmissions of infectious diseases, such as influenza and SARS, during airline flights thanks to the air management system in modern aircraft. MIT further notes that this particular study was conducted before the introduction of face masks which add an additional significant layer of protection.
This is the primary factor motivating the new regulations around the consumption of food on aircraft that were gazetted yesterday. Several airlines in South Africa recommenced with on-board catering offerings which has offered passengers the opportunity to drop their masks inflight for extended periods of time.
“Not having catering onboard does steal from the experience for our passengers and it is a revenue stream that we would love during this tough time. However, not offering catering is just the right thing to do at this time, and we stand by the government’s decision for strict regulation,” says Gordon.