September 17. 2020
My previous post laid out the trials of planning a 2021 return trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Before the figurative ink had dried on that saga, I received word that the two airlines I booked had altered their schedules to make it impossible for me to go on the outbound and return dates that I’d confirmed and paid for, leaving me with confused flying options and Johannesburg hotel, Kruger Park accommodations, and car rental logistics to re-do.
Delta Airlines let me know that its former daily flights ATL/JNB would be operating only some days each week, and not on the late January date in my itinerary. Simultaneously, SA Airlink, the only carrier that flies between Jo’burg and Skukuza, which is in the Kruger National Park, would offer service only on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, effectively canceling both legs I’d paid for, JNB/SZK and my return two weeks later SZK/JNB. Delta could provide service the day before or the day after, which complicated not only my stateside commitments, but also the JNB/SZK connections. Changing either or both meant also modifying my one night at the City Lodge O.R. Tambo Airport hotel in Johannesburg, as well as my car rental in the Kruger and the hard-to-get nights at camps inside the Kruger.
Further complexities derived from the change to the SA Airlink schedule on the days it will operate. Instead of arriving in the Kruger Park at 11:00 AM as before, the sole flight will land at 2:30 PM. The speed limit in the Kruger is 50 KPH, which is 31 MPH—and strictly enforced. My first night in the park is currently booked at Berg-en-Dal Camp, which is a long drive from Skukuza Airport. Arriving at eleven in the morning would allow ample time to reach the camp before the gates close for the night at 6:30 PM.
However, it would be a close thing to make it there leaving the airport around 3:00 PM—probably no problem, but with African wildlife on the roads all the way, one can never be certain when forecasting travel times inside the huge national park. Elephants on the roads, as they frequently like to be, don’t care about my schedule, and, well, elephants ALWAYS have the right of way. Sometimes they like to graze for an hour in one spot on the verges, making it impossible to pass and to know if I can make the journey before Berg-en-dal closes.
Which means that I will now have to rebook that first night in the Kruger to a camp close to the Skukuza Airport, perhaps Skukuza Camp right next door, or maybe Lower Sabie camp, which is half the distance of Berg-en-Dal from Skukuza. In any case, it means rejiggering my entire schedule.
Ditto for the last day, when no SA Airlink flight is operating, so I was told yesterday. I’ll have to leave a day or two earlier or later, both to accommodate the SA Airlink change and the Delta change, with consequent impacts to my Kruger camp accommodation bookings.
It’s a mess because of all the moving pieces in the current plan, which is late January and early February, and I am somewhat hemmed in by commitments here in Raleigh just before and right after my current itinerary. In other words, I do not have a lot of flexibility to go earlier or to stay later without compromising those obligations. So I decided a better option would be to move my entire trip out to late April and early May.
After carefully coordinating the SA Airlink, Johannesburg hotel, Skukuza car rental, and Kruger accommodation for April-May rather than Jan-Feb, this morning I spoke at length to an impressively competent and helpful Delta Elite rez agent to explore those options. No go unless I want to spend an extra $6,000 to remain in Delta’s Business Class (Delta One). Apparently the Z fare I snagged in Delta One for the Jan-Feb trip skyrockets to over $9,000 in April-May.
A different option would be Delta’s Premium Economy, which would yield me a $1,600 refund—well, okay, an e-credit—but it’s the standard fare, and I still cannot make the dates work for the reasons partially explained above.
At the time of writing, I am uncertain what to do. One final option would be to go for a full refund on the airfare and the Kruger accommodation. Those are the sole dollar commitments to date, and Delta assured me I will get 100% back if I kill the reservation by December. I am within the full refund period for the Kruger, too.
Thing is, as I said in last week’s post, I very much want to go. A refund defeats the purpose. Despite the airlines making things difficult, I am going to take this trip, somehow, some way. I am still mulling my options.