Nigeria’s Arik Air, Nigeria’s biggest airline, blew hot and cold within a spate of 24 hours over whether it should continue flying passengers to South Africa, over the refusal of the immigration authorities to allow 125 Nigerians, not carrying the yellow fever vaccination paper, enter the country.
Twenty four hours after it announced it was suspending further flights, Arik swallowed its vow, by announcing the resumption of flights to the former apartheid enclave.
“Arik Air is reinstating flight operations between Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa effective immediately with tonight’s (Saturday, March 3) scheduled service departing from Lagos,” a statement said.
Arik earlier said it suspended flights between Lagos and Johannesburg, Africa’s two financial hubs, due to a dispute with health authorities over yellow fever vaccination cards presented at OR Tambo International Airport by passengers.
The airline said that flights will now re-commence with operations over the weekend “to protect its passengers in the interim period until the matter is resolved.”
A meeting between the two governments over the dispute is scheduled for Monday, it said.
Passengers who have new yellow fever vaccination cards issued in Nigeria or are travelling to South Africa for the first time will not be allowed to board on Saturday’s and Sunday’s flights to Johannesburg, it added.
Arik, the only Nigerian-owned commercial airline on the lucrative Lagos-Johannesburg route, said 50 passengers were refused entry on Friday while ThisDay newspaper said that 75 other Nigerian passengers on South Africa Airways were also turned back.
“Many passengers have been detained and refused entry in recent months,” the airline said in an earlier statement.
It said health authorities gave the reason as incorrect or unrecognised batch numbers on the documentation which is mandatory proof before entry.
Arik, which began once-daily flights to South Africa in June 2009, currently operated a combined number of more than 120 daily flights to some west African countries, Heathrow (London), New York JFK (US) and Johannesburg