Some South Africa–bound flights from United States cities have refueling stops en route, and sometimes those stops can be delayed. Don't plan anything on the ground too rigidly after arriving; leave yourself a cushion for a connecting flight to a game lodge. At this writing, only South African Airways and Delta provide direct service from the United States to South Africa, but flights routed through Europe may be more pleasant since they allow you a stop en route.
In peak season (midsummer, which is from December to the end of February, and South African school vacations), give yourself at least a half hour extra at the airport for domestic flights, as the check-in lines can be endless—particularly on flights to the coast at the start of vacations and back to Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport at the end.
If you are returning home with souvenirs, leave time for a V.A.T. (Value-Added Tax) inspection before you join the line for your international flight check-in. And it's always a good idea to check what you can and cannot carry onto the plane. There are fairly long distances between gates and terminals at Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo, particularly between the international and domestic terminals, so clear security before stopping for a snack or shopping, as you don't want to scramble for your flight.
The longest domestic flight within South Africa is only two hours.
If you are visiting a game lodge deep in the bush, you will be arriving by light plane—and you will be restricted in what you can bring. Excess luggage can usually be stored with the operator until your return. Don't just gloss over this: charter operators take weight very seriously, and some will charge you for an extra ticket if you insist on bringing excess baggage .
Airline Security Issues
Transportation Security Administration. www.tsa.gov.
Most international flights arrive at and depart from Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport, 19 km (12 miles) from the city. The country's other major airports are in Cape Town and Durban, but international flights departing from Cape Town often stop in Johannesburg. O.R. Tambo has a tourist information desk, a V.A.T. refund office, several ATMs, and a computerized accommodations service. Porters, who wear a bright-orange-and-navy-blue uniform with an Airports Company of South Africa badge, work exclusively for tips (R5 or R10 a bag). If you're leaving O. R. Tambo's international terminal (Terminal A), the domestic terminal (Terminal B) is connected by a busy and fairly long walkway. Allow 10–15 minutes' walking time between international and domestic terminals.
The Cape Town and Durban airports are much smaller and more straightforward. Cape Town International is 19 km (12 miles) southeast of the city, and Durban International is 16 km (10 miles) north of the city. If you are traveling to or from either Johannesburg or Cape Town airport (and, to a lesser extent, Durban) be aware of the time of day. Traffic can be horrendous between 7 and 9 in the morning and between about 3:30 and 6 in the evening.
Just 40 km (25 miles) outside Johannesburg's city center in the northern suburbs, Lanseria International Airport is closer to Sandton than O. R. Tambo and handles executive jets, company jets, domestic scheduled flights to and from Cape Town, and some charter flights to safari camps. It has a 24-hour customs and immigration counter, a café, and a high-end flight store. It's a popular alternative for visiting dignitaries and other VIPs.
The other major cities are served by small airports that are really easy to navigate. Port Elizabeth is the main airport for the Eastern Cape, George serves the Garden Route, and the closest airports to Kruger National Park are the small airports at Nelspruit, Hoedspruit, and Phalaborwa. Most airports are managed by the Airports Company of South Africa.
Airports Company of South Africa. 086/727–7888; www.acsa.co.za.
Bram Fischer International Airport. Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, 9300. 051/407–2200; www.acsa.co.za.
East London Airport. Settlers Way, East London, Eastern Cape, 5200. 043/706–0306; www.acsa.co.za.
George Airport. Old Mossel Bay Rd., George, Western Cape, 6530. 044/876–9310; www.acsa.co.za.
Kimberley Airport. Compact Patterson & Airports Rd., Kimberley, Northern Cape, 8300. 053/830–7101; www.acsa.co.za.
Pilanesberg International Airport. Pilanesberg Center, North-West, 0316. 014/552–1261; www.acsa.co.za.
Port Elizabeth Airport. Alister Miller Dr., Walmer, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, 6011. 041/507–7319; www.acsa.co.za.
Upington Airport. Upington, Northern Cape, 8801. 054/337–7900; www.acsa.co.za.
Cape Town International Airport. Matroosfontein, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7490. 021/937–1200; www.capetown-airport.com.
Durban International Airport. King Shaka Dr., La Mercy, Durban, KwaZulu Natal, 4405. 032/436–6585; www.kingshakainternational.co.za.
Lanseria International Airport. Airport Rd., Lanseria, Johannesburg, Gauteng, 1748. 011/367–0300; www.lanseria.co.za.
O. R. Tambo International Airport. OR Tambo Airport Rd.,, Johannesburg, Gauteng, 1627. 011/921–6911; www.johannesburg-airport.com.
Transfers Between Airports
There are dozens of flights every day between O. R. Tambo and Cape Town airports. Some of the discount airlines offer better fares for this flight, but if your international flight is delayed, you may be left hanging until the next day. Even if it costs a bit more, it can be worth booking through SAA, as they run the bulk of the flights, and so if you miss one, it's usually easy to get on another.
South Africa's international airline is South African Airways (SAA), which offers nonstop service between Johannesburg and New York–JFK (JFK) and Washington–Dulles (IAD), though some flights from Dulles make a stopover in Dakar, Senegal. Delta also offers nonstop service from the United States to South Africa. Flight times from the U.S. East Coast range from 15 hours (from Atlanta to Johannesburg on Delta) to almost 20 hours (on Delta via Amsterdam). When booking flights, check the routing carefully; some involve stopovers of an hour or two, which may change from day to day. European airlines serving South Africa are British Airways, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, and Air France.
Three major domestic airlines have flights connecting South Africa's principal airports. SA Airlink and SA Express are subsidiaries of SAA, and Comair is a subsidiary of British Airways. Comair and SAA serve Livingstone, Zambia (for Victoria Falls); Air Zimbabwe and SAA serve Victoria Falls airport in Zimbabwe.
Recent years have seen an explosion of low-cost carriers serving popular domestic routes in South Africa with regularly scheduled flights. Kulula.com and Mango provide reasonably priced domestic air tickets if you book in advance. Phakalane Airways provides service to airports in the Northern Cape. The only downside is that they have fewer flights per day and aren't always cheaper than SAA.
Air France. 0861/340–340; 800/237–2747; www.airfrance.co.za.
British Airways. 011/441–8600; 800/247–9297; www.britishairways.com.
Delta. 800/241–4141; 011/408–8200; www.delta.com.
KLM. 0860/247–747; 866/434–0320; www.klm.com.
Lufthansa. 0861/842–538; 800/645–3880; www.lufthansa.com.
South African Airways. 800/521–4845; 0860/003–146; www.flysaa.com.
United. 800/864–8331; 011/463–1170; www.united.com.
Virgin Atlantic. 011/340–3400; 800/862–8621; www.virgin-atlantic.com.
Air Zimbabwe. 263/457–5021; www.airzimbabwe.aero.
British Airways Comair. 011/921–0222; 0860/435–922; 800/247–9297; www.britishairways.com.
Kulula. 086/158–5852; www.kulula.com.
Mango. 011/086–6100; 021/815–4100; 086/101–0002; www.flymango.com.
Phakalane Airways. Phakalane Airways provides air connections between Kimberley, Upington, and Springbok in conjunction with the Northern Cape Provincial Department. Springbok, Northern Cape. 053/492–0001; www.phakalaneairways.co.za.
SA Airlink. 011/451–7300; 010/590–3170; www.flyairlink.com.
SA Express. 086/172–9227; www.flyexpress.aero.
Charter companies are a common mode of transportation when getting to safari lodges and remote destinations throughout southern Africa. These aircraft are well maintained and are almost always booked by your lodge or travel agent. The major charter companies run daily shuttles from O. R. Tambo to popular tourism destinations, such as Kruger Park. On-demand flights are very expensive for independent travelers, as they require minimum passenger loads. If it's just two passengers, you will be charged for the vacant seats. Keep in mind that you probably won't get to choose the charter company you fly with. The aircraft you get depends on the number of passengers flying and can vary from very small (you will sit in the copilot's seat) to a much more comfortable commuter plane.
Because of the limited space and size of the aircraft, charter carriers observe strict luggage regulations: luggage must be soft-sided and weigh no more than 57 pounds (and often less); on many charter flights the weight cannot exceed 33 pounds.
African Ramble flies out of Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth and will take direct bookings. Federal Air is the largest charter air company in South Africa; it's based at Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport and has its own efficient terminal with a gift shop, refreshments, and a unique, thatched-roof outdoor lounge. It also has branches in Cape Town, Durban, and Nelspruit (near Kruger). Wilderness Air (previously Sefofane) is a Botswana-based fly-in charter company that will take you anywhere there's a landing strip from its base in Jo'burg's Lanseria Airport.
African Ramble. 084/359–2929; 083/375–6514; www.aframble.co.za.
Federal Air. 011/395–9000; www.fedair.com.
Wilderness Air. www.wilderness-air.com.