Back to the Kruger in 2021, in May (maybe)

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!

Well, maybe.

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.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Kruger in 2021, in May (maybe)

  1. With a meager 3.5M miles on Delta over the last 35 years (minus the last 6 months) way wife and I ventured to ATL this past Sunday on our way to MEM. Tomorrow we head to MSO via SLC. So far, so good.

    ATL had more passengers than what I was anticipating. Few folks in the hallways. More in the gate areas.

    Sky club had a very light load. Folks were well spaced.

    I wanted to slap a few folks on the plane though. Even after being told to remain seated until the row in front of were walking off the plane a number of folks couldn’t resist popping up out of their seats. Amazing.

    Delta upgraded us to comfort + even with a cheap sky miles ticket. Looks like FC is even going to happen tomorrow, MEM to SLC.

    I was impressed with delta. No so impressed with some of their customers, but that’s no different than pre-pandemic days.

    If FC indeed comes true tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how service is wrapped in cellophane.

  2. Will,
    After reading the other bloggers on Joe sent me today, I found your post to be a breath of fresh air and hope. You have no idea how much I am hoping you take your trip as I see it as hope for somewhat of a return to normalcy. After reading Danto, McGarvey and even Erica Firpo…..who is telling us how great things are in Italy but Americans..don’t even think about visiting…ever, I was ready to walk into the lake behind my house and just keep walking. Not one of the three even mentioned a possible vaccine.
    It is amazing to me to hear the utter despair and endless pessimism from someone who lives in New Jersey or New York and then talk to someone in a southern state or mid western state and it’s like they are living in two different worlds. I would prefer the world where I’m not hiding in my basement…for eternity.
    Thanks again for your hopeful post and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we get to travel vicariously through you on your trip to South Africa in the spring.

  3. James,
    You are objectively an idiot. Mcgarvey is in Phoenix. And i’ll bet all the joesentme writers will be traveling again before you.

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