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International airlines brace for new minor’s rule

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As the new requirement for unabridged birth certificates for all children travelling in South Africa comes into effect on June 1 2015, major international airlines say they’ve done all they can to inform those affected.

However, Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) chairperson Carla da Silva said she remained concerned about how its implementation would affect tourism to South Africa.

“We are extremely concerned as South Africa is indeed the only country in the world implementing an Unabridged Birth Certificate to be accompanied with a passport when travelling with children.”

A key concern for Barsa, according to Da Silva, is ensuring that the entire value change of the industry understands and is aware of the regulations.

‘Negative impact on Brand South Africa’

Despite the requirement being more than a year in the making, Da Silva said Barsa had received five different versions of the Standard Operating Procedures from the department of home affairs, less than a week prior to its implementation.

“How is it possible for the entire value chain to understand or become aware of these regulations?” Da Silva said.

Da Silva told Traveller24 that while Barsa had engaged the industry and “attempted furiously” to engage government, a task team committee promised by President Jacob Zuma and the department of home affairs was never set up.

“Despite a meeting with the department of home affairs, who assured the industry that a task committee would be established to look into the matter, it was not done.”

Da Silva said a Grant Thornton survey commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa “clearly indicated a negative impact on Brand South Africa and more importantly the impact on SA’s tourism numbers”.

‘We just cannot afford to turn tourists away’

“Tourism contributes 9% of the South African GDP. We just cannot afford to turn tourists away,” said Da Silva.

While Barsa wanted to engage government amicably and find a resolution to eradicate human and child trafficking, Da Silva said “air transportation is not the mode of transport being used for such activities”.

“It is a post border issue. Borders were opened without effective measurements to address this major issue,” said Da Silva. While Barsa had informed all its stakeholders to the best of its ability, Da Silva said the organisation could not guarantee or confirm that the entire value chain had been fully briefed or was aware of these new regulations.

International airlines, such as British Airways and Lufthansa, have confirmed in statements to Traveller24 that they have the necessary procedures in place to mitigate situations whereby passengers would travel to South Africa without the necessary unabridged birth certificates or letters of consent, forcing them to return to their country of origin.

‘We are fully prepared for the change’

Lufthansa spokesperson Karin Duncker said, “Lufthansa finds that the Standard Operating Procedure for birth certificates sent out by the department of home affairs has provided us with helpful information. “

“Lufthansa check-in staff has been briefed for over a year now with training taking place within the regular flight briefing. We also employ Stallion Security as our documents checkers and they have undergone in-house training.

“Our check-in agents as well as document checkers are fully aware of the new requirement and therefore we are confident that from Lufthansa’s perspective, we are fully prepared for the change that commences on 1 June.”

British Airways spokesperson Stephen Forbes said, “We are putting the necessary procedures in place to ensure we are able to comply with the regulations from 1 June.

“We are doing everything possible to advise customers that they will require additional documentation if travelling with children under 18.

“After 1 June, we have to strictly enforce the rules. Customers who do not have the correct visas and associated documentation will be denied boarding,” said Forbes.

‘This is not a regulation that is going to help in any way’

South African Airways has also confirmed it would be forced to deport families who did not meet the necessary requirements.

Da Silva said passengers arriving without the necessary documentation represented a major challenge, as the airlines could not afford to bear any costs of hotel accommodation, transfers and even rebooking or rerouting of flights.

“This is not a regulation that is going to help in any way and considering the recent disasters regarding xenophobia, unfortunately brand South Africa and the tourism industry will be negatively impacted.”

In what can be seen as a reprieve for local travellers, the department of home affairs on Tuesday confirmed thatchildren who applied for unabridged birth certificates before June 1 would still be allowed to travel, as long as they had a letter issued by the head of the specific home affairs branch where they applied, confirming the application was in process. News24

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