The chaos that is COVID

During lockdown, with borders closed, Wings executed a challenging trip for a contract flight between Cairo and Dammam

Crew rotation schedules for oil and gas clients are challenging enough ordinarily but when you factor in the impact of COVID-19, with closed borders, differing country quarantine regulations, COVID-19 testing and a tight schedule, it becomes like nothing else experienced before.

“It provided an enormous amount of challenges, most of which we as Wings had to learn ‘on the fly’ so to speak,” says Leigh Van Zyl, Head of Region MENA at Wings.

Some ten Wings personnel were mobilised to take care of the group, comprising a logistics team, mobilisation team and meet and greet staff on the ground.

Wings had to move over 150 crew between Cairo and Dammam. They had flown into the Egyptian city from multiple points and airlines before departing on two charter flights to the Saudi destination, which triggered various unforeseen hurdles.

On a normal schedule flight with connections, baggage in most instances can be booked straight through. As this was not a normal schedule, baggage needed to be arranged to be collected from the various incoming flights to get it onto the CAI-DMM chartered flight.

Explains Van Zyl: “Due to country travel restrictions relating to COVID, the clients had to obtain approval for all their passengers, and the charter from GACA in KSA. GACA manages the process and releases a permit number which is shared with the charter airline. The airline then needs to liaise with GACA and DMM international airport directly to obtain the official Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) flight permit linked to this approval.“ The airlines in Cairo also had to go through their own approval process because their borders were also still carrying flight restrictions.

As passengers were flying from one point with an onward connection out of Cairo, the flights did not appear in the GDS as they were charter flights, so special arrangements needed to be made for this.


“Wings is used to facilitating challenging travel situations & environments”


Van Zyl adds: “It was all new to everyone so we learned a lot together. We worked with our Charter broker who had relationships all the way to CEO levels that made the process a lot smoother. “

COVID-19 testing also had to be factored in. This was done en route by the travellers because they needed to have this before landing in Cairo. Even this was not straightforward as departing passenger countries had different testing requirements: some were 48 hours, others 72 hours and some 96 hours. “For those landing outside a 48-hour window in Cairo either had tests redone at the hotel as a group or they were taken to individual clinics, as they needed PCR negative firstly for Cairo and then Dammam,” explains Van Zyl. This had to be coordinated to ensure that they were able to make the connecting charter flight.

Glitches along the way included some passengers getting to Cairo and taking their bags and leaving the baggage claim area and then not being able to get back through to departures, involving security at the airport to get them back in as they did not have visas to leave Cairo airport and not checked in for the charter.

Van Zyl recalls others: “We had incidents where airlines wanted to deny boarding to travellers because there was no “onward flight” in the system. For example, a traveller flying from Nigeria who would remain in transit would need an onward flight in the system, but because this was a charter and not set as a “live” flight we needed to get special letters and clearance.”

Wings is used to facilitating challenging travel situations and environments but this was certainly one to remember. “COVID has brought new dimensions, new challenges and new travel landscapes but it has also brought new levels of teamwork and synergies,” says Van Zyl.

“With the urgency to mobilise crew, it was refreshing to experience the lengths all the parties were willing to go to to make these flights a success. Wings staff, the client, and suppliers worked very long hours and went way beyond the call of regular duty. Tracking the first successful flight on radar made the work all the more worth it.”


“Some ten wings personnel were mobilised to take care of the 150-strong group”


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