Air travel in South Africa
This article is a travel topic
South Africa is the most developed country in Africa, with one of the strongest economies on the continent. Therefore, a high number of flights in Africa are destined to or originate from South Africa.
South Africa is a major hub for air travel in the Southern African region.
There are regular flights to South Africa from major centers throughout Africa including Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
There are also direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney, Perth and Tel Aviv.
There are multiple daily flights between all the major airports within the country. Contact any of the airlines for details. The low-cost airlines Kulula and Mango are usually the cheapest and prices can be compared online. Kulula is actually the low-cost brand of local British Airways affiliate Comair, while Mango is the low-cost brand of national flag carrier South African Airways. It is also worth comparing both against SAA regular flights as they usually have online specials which are very reasonable.
See also Discount airlines in Africa.
South African Airways
One of the smaller airlines of the country. Mainly operates to destinations in Central Africa.
Smaller airlines like Civair  or NAC  normally operate charter flights, but sometimes have a few local routes. Federal Air  is well-known for operating small planes used by tourists to reach airstrips at remote game reserves.
See also Discount airlines in Africa.
OR Tambo International in Johannesburg and Cape Town International are the two major international gateways for tourists and foreign visitors. All the larger airports in South Africa used to be state owned, but has been privatised and are now managed by the Airports Company of South Africa .
O. R. Tambo International
Located in Kempton Park, about 20km east of downtown Johannesburg, OR Tambo serves at the major sub-Saharan hub. More than 40 airlines operate scheduled flights. Everything you would expect from a large international airport is here: plenty of restaurants, shops and ATMs. The airport has completed a huge renovation and expansion project begun in advance of the 2010 World Cup.
The post-apartheid Government of National Unity renamed many older government buildings (including airports) to neutral geographical names, as part of its policy of promoting racial harmony and reconciliation. Later, the ANC cemented its control over the government and began a controversial project of renaming everything again to honour leaders (from all racial backgrounds) of the apartheid resistance. Thus, Jan Smuts International Airport was renamed to Johannesburg International Airport, and then renamed again to O. R. Tambo International Airport.
The airport is organized into two main terminals, linked by a common atrium: Terminal A and Terminal B. Terminal A (the northern one) is for international flights and Terminal B (the southern one) is for domestic flights. Unfortunately, that distinction holds only for the gates which flights depart from. There is no consistent organization at OR Tambo as to which terminal one must check in at. For example, the vast majority of international check-in counters are in Terminal A, but South African Airways international passengers must check in at SAA's counters in Terminal B even though their flights will depart from Terminal A.
O. R. Tambo's directional signs are notoriously vague and confusing. Ask for directions whenever you feel lost. For example, when you first approach the check-in counters in Terminal B, you will see many signs designating the counters by numbers, but no signs indicating which airlines correspond to which numbers. Some of the signs in Terminal A imply that the fastest way to the Car Rentals area is to walk through the parkade at ground level, which is incorrect (it is very easy to get lost in the parkade if you follow the signs literally). The easiest way is to use the escalators on the western side of the airport's main atrium to descend into a well-lit underground corridor that runs under the access road, then use the escalators there to ascend into the Car Rentals lobby area within the parkade.
When planning connections to domestic destinations within South Africa, note that O. R. Tambo lacks a direct link between the secure arrival area of Terminal A and the secure departure area of Terminal B. There are no direct airside transfers. Like the United States, you will have to pass through customs and immigration if O. R. Tambo is your first stop in SA (even if you are merely connecting to another country). Also, note that Terminal B does not have jetways or aircraft parking spots within walking distance for the domestic E Gates. In other words, the E Gates are actually a tarmac-level bus terminal for buses that take you to aircraft sitting at very remote parking spots.
Thus, to be assured of a smooth connection from international to domestic SA flights, you need to incorporate a minimum of at least two hours to pass through immigration control upon arrival at Terminal A, retrieve your baggage and go through customs, check your baggage again at the Connecting Flights counter on your left after exiting Customs, walk over to Terminal B departures, pass through Terminal B security control, and then walk to your gate. You may also have to take a lengthy bus ride if your aircraft was assigned to an E gate.
Finally, the Connecting Flights counter is small and understaffed and lines tend to accumulate quickly. It's not a mere bag drop. They will have to look at your papers just as when you checked in. Since you will have to pass through Terminal B security anyway, it may be faster to take your baggage over to the domestic check-in counters if the lines are long and your connection period is very tight.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that some of the airlines, like Kulula, do not allow check-in staff to accept money of any kind at the check-in desk. If you are planning on checking in with a domestic airline like Kulula and will need to check in excess or overweight baggage, you must include another 10 minutes to walk over to the separate cashier desk to pay baggage fees and obtain a receipt.
The terminals themselves are heavily secured with 24-hour CCTV coverage and patrols by both private security and the South African Police Service. As with most international airports, the only major issues to worry about within the terminals are petty crimes like pickpocketing.
However, O. R. Tambo has quite a reputation for baggage handlers who pilfer an astonishing amount of personal belongings from checked baggage, despite periodic crackdowns. Use a good baggage lock, consider using a baggage wrapping service in the terminal before you check bags, and do not check baggage unnecessarily early (that is, more than two hours in advance of your flight's scheduled departure time). Anything of value, like jewellery or electronics, should go in your carry-on bag whenever possible.
As of 2013, baggage wrapping currently costs R60.00 at O. R. Tambo and is cash only. However, to accommodate tourists who forgot to convert enough of their home currency to rand to cover baggage wrapping fees, some services accept US dollars as payment. Even if you don't see a price posted in US dollars, it doesn't hurt to ask.
Furthermore, note that O. R. Tambo has a history of gangs identifying suitable targets in the terminals, following them towards their destinations on the freeways, and then ambushing them either on the freeways or at their destinations. Watch out for suspicious people following you when you leave the terminals by any form of ground transport (even escorted tour bus) and be prepared to divert to a police station, petrol station, or other appropriate public facility to seek assistance.
Car hire companies are all located on level 0 in the multistory parking area opposite the domestic terminal.
O. R. Tambo is connected to Gauteng's rapid transit rail service, Gautrain. Unlike Gauteng's existing commuter rail system (that is, Metrorail), Gautrain was designed from the ground up to attract upper middle class commuters and tourists, with new rapid transit stations and train sets.
A trip from the airport to the popular Sandton central district will set you back about R130 but it is well worth the money if you are traveling to Sandton and beyond. Pre-paid cards are used to access the service and are available at the station in the airport either st the ticket office of the automated machines which accept cash and major credit cards. The train travels at 160km/h and the trip to Sandton is a safe, speedy 15 minute ride. Gautrain buses connect passengers to the areas surrounding each station. Payment for the bus service is made via the same pre-paid card used on the train and costs R6 per trip.
Gautrain is extremely clean and safe, as the trains and stations are still relatively new and are heavily patrolled and monitored by Gautrain's own dedicated security force. Be aware that chewing gum is NOT permitted on the carriages. The service can be used to connect to major centres within Johannesburg and Pretoria but keep in mind the last train departs at 8:30 pm. The routes are limited and therefore simple to understand and are displayed widely at the stations and on board the trains.
Many tour operators offer transport/shuttles to and from the airport. Having someone who knows the area drive you around will give you more peace of mind.
Unscheduled services, book in advance
The second biggest airport in South Africa. It is located around 20km east from the city centre of Cape Town. It is easily reached by all National Roads and is situated directly at the N2 near Bellville. There is also a bus connection to the Civic Center in downtown Cape Town which runs several times per hour.
A growing number of international airlines fly directly into CPT. Among them are:
South African Airways and South African Express operate some international routes from CPT, but for the majority of destinations you will have to fly via Johannesburg. Some flights offered are to Frankfurt, London, Gaborone, and few cities in Namibia.
Note that CPT is located just north of the notorious Cape Flats area of Cape Town. The Cape Flats includes areas like Nyanga and Mitchells Plain, which are notorious for some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Even if you are staying south of the Cape Town CBD in areas like Hout Bay or Kommetjie, do not attempt to save time or go sightseeing in the Cape Flats by using Google Maps to plan creative shortcuts across the Cape Flats on major corridors like Lansdowne Road or Eisleben Road. It is far safer to take the N2 west as far as Athlone before turning south on the M3 or M5.
Kruger Mpumalanga International
Distances to Kruger National Park entrance gates 76 km to Phabeni Gate 63 km to Malelane Gate 82 km to Kruger Gate 40 km to Numbi Gate
King Shaka International Airport
King Shaka International Airport, 35km north of Durban, is served by all major South African airlines. Flights to most citites are operated. A number of smaller cities are however not connected from here. Also provides flights to Mauritius
King Shaka International opened in May 2010. The old Durban International was deemed to small to handle the increase in commercial and tourist trade through Durban.
Gateway International Airport
East London Airport
Lanseria International Airport
Mainly for smaller charter, cargo and classic airlines flights, it is in fact busier than Johannesburg International and sees more air traffic. Kulula.com  is currently flying a commercial flight to Cape Town from the airport.
Port Elizabeth Airport
Grand Central Airport
Phone number: +27 033 392 3100 Pietermaritzburg Oribi Airport offers daily flights to Johannesburg. Service can be slightly erratic or heavily booked, so keep that in mind when booking important flights.