September 22, 2020
On this first day of fall, the final pieces fell into place for a revised trip to South Africa’s Kruger National Park for next year after my original plan was shattered by the airlines, as I wrote about last week. In pre-pandemic times, the five major elements of such a journey (air to Johannesburg, one night in a Jo’burg hotel, air to the Kruger, a rental car, and Kruger National Park accommodation) took careful, one-time coordination and a lot of time to get right. I always breathe a sigh of relief when complete.
In the past I would focus intently on Kruger trip planning and get it done in a week of juggling those five bits before nailing everything down. I accomplished that for the trip I scheduled in late January and early February, too.
But then Delta Airlines and South African Airlink yanked the rug out last week, causing me to start over from scratch. The resulting options for February didn’t work well, which forced me to see if I could rebuild the trip in late April, my next availability owing to commitments.
However, I wasn’t having any luck this time last week finding reasonable airfares for the second half of April. Determined to go, I persisted.
When I widened my search to early May, I discovered that the discounted Delta business fare I had snagged for Jan-Feb was available if I left on May 4. That’s what I grabbed for the outbound.
Returning, the best connection back to Raleigh looked like a Delta codeshare with Air France through Paris (CDG) and then the CDG/RDU nonstop. The European connection will be necessary because Delta will then be flying a triangular route Atlanta-Johannesburg-Cape Town-Atlanta. That new schedule involves a departure time from JNB in order to reach Cape Town too early for me to make the connection from my puddle jumper from Skukuza (the Kruger Park airport). Without a legal connection to the direct ATL flight, the discounted business fare only worked through CDG on AF, through LHR on Virgin Atlantic, or through AMS on KLM. Paris is the easiest since it’ll be just two flights, so I opted for routing and booked it.
Which got me all set for the flights to and from Johannesburg and nearly an even swap of tickets on Delta. I actually ended up with an e-credit.
The SA Airlink flights JNB/SZK (Skukuza) and back offered fewer and simpler options, and that new ticket was an even exchange—neither more nor less expensive.
Neither was it difficult to change my Avis rental car rez at SZK from February to May, and the rate did not fluctuate.
Modifying my one night in Johannesburg at the City Lodge OR Tambo Airport property is in limbo, though. Apparently, the City Lodge IT team is slow to activate its May, 2021 inventory, so I may have to book an off-airport hotel. I hope not, since it’s a nuisance to wait for the airport shuttle buses, often running erratic schedules. I will keep checking the airport City Lodge for rooms in May.
That left the most challenging pieces in the Kruger trip puzzle, accommodation for each of the 12 nights I will be in the Park. I was a tad worried that South Africa National Parks might penalize me for moving my Kruger dates three months forward from February to May. I had, after all, paid the required 50% deposit on the initial February booking. Turns out, thank goodness, my requested changes are far enough out that no penalty applies.
The not-so-good news is that the world has taken note that South Africa is reopening to international tourists on October 1, resulting in an onslaught of Kruger bookings to the Kruger. Many Kruger camps in May are unavailable for the accommodation I had booked successfully for February. But I have tentative bookings everywhere, and I am checking every day intending to improve what I have already.
Whew! I did it! I’m going in May!
Truth is, no one yet can predict what flights will be operating eight months from now, least of all the airlines. Commercial aviation is currently in denial about the state of the industry. For a grim, but realistic outlook on where the business is heading, watch this Financial Times video interview with aviation consultant and insider, Hubert Horan.
If Horan’s predictions are accurate, then it’s only a matter of time before the meteor hits the earth, killing the airline dinosaurs. His specter is a vast restructuring, including fares possibly rising 300-400% as the Covid-related economic disaster shatters international air travel.
Me, I’m hunkered down with my Kruger trip locked and loaded a second time and hoping I get to go in May. And watching the skies closely for that meteor.