Navigating International Travel during Global Uncertainty

Usually, travel insecurity is limited to one country, allowing travel management companies to rely on the dependability of other nations. What happens when uncertainty is a global issue and fundamental services – like commercial flights – are not operating? We detail what it was like navigating this process in this Case Study.

International travel has never been as reliant on the interconnectedness of the globe as it has been during the global pandemic. Rising infection rates, strict lockdown rules, changing travel restrictions all meant what would usually be a 16-hour flight from Guyana to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg could turn into a month-long journey, requiring complex documentation to complete the trek. At least that was the experience Mr Pillay found himself in when travelling back to South Africa during August 2020.

However, our willingness to find apt solutions enabled us to cut down what could be a month-long journey, including court appearances, into a 2-week trip that allowed Mr Pillay to return to South Africa in a reasonable period.

The Process: Identifying the State of Affairs

When Mr Pillay enlisted our services to help him return to South Africa, COVID-19 travel regulations had been in place for some time. The process would not be as grueling as it was at the start of the pandemic when regulations were changing daily, was the initial consensus.

Finding an Appropriate Alternative to a Commercial Flight

Commercial flights to South Africa were not operating at this time as the country was in the grips of its first wave. A repatriation flight would be best. We would also make use of charter service out of Guyana to make the repatriation flight out of London.

At the time, to comply with UK regulation, we had prepared the Transport Waiver necessary for Mr Pillay to enter the UK.

Furthermore, after consulting DIRCO (Department of International Relations and Cooperation), it was decided that Mr Pillay would make use of Qatar Airlines for the repatriation flight from London to Johannesburg. Everything was on track. The final step would be to book Mr Pillay a stay at Capital on the Park to complete his mandatory quarantine in South Africa.

The Dispute: Visa Application Rejected

After determining the quickest flight path out of Guyana, we confronted the first setback. Mr Pillay’s visa application was rejected by UK border security, and he would need to appear in person before the embassy. Additionally, his passport would need to be sent through to Jamaica. This process would add another three weeks to the journey. Three weeks that would not align with Mr Pillay’s time constraints.

The Solution: Developing a Travel Strategy

Unfortunately, even as we were making quick progress on Mr Pillay’s travel arrangements, more issues arose which required a tactful approach.

Pinpointing the Current Roadblocks

Our strategy began by defining the roadblocks. Was there a way to expedite the visa process? Could Mr Pillay’s application receive special consideration because of the nature of his travel? After determining that making the journey from Guyana to South Africa through the UK would be unfeasible, we made quick progress in establishing an alternative route.

Finding Appropriate Flight Connections

After making little headway with the UK, we concluded that a visa application through the US would fast track the process. While a connection through the US would not be the usual flight connection – given it is not very efficient – Mr Pillay could get his visa approved and on a flight in a matter of days compared to the UK. We booked a flight out of Houston to reflect this quicker path.

Encountering Force Majeure

In a pandemic, flight delays due to weather conditions seem minuscule, but we were confronted by one final delay, Hurricane Laura, which started battering Texas in late August, delaying Pillay’s charter flight to Houston. Thankfully, we could manage to get Mr Pillay out as soon after the hurricane subsided; booking new flight dates and changing his quarantine stay dates in South Africa.


Manage the Number of Variables You Are Exposed To

Although a global pandemic is an exceptional circumstance, any event outside of our control is a stress test on our ability to adapt when conventional strategies fail.

As a travel management company, when traversing this uncertain terrain, we endeavor to bring as many variables into our control. This way, our clients feel assured and do not fall foul to compound delays.

In Mr Pillay’s case, this meant using Houston as a connection instead of London. Knowing the visa application process, three weeks could become an indefinite extension if there were processing delays in Jamaica.

Consequently, while we could not promise that the trip would work out as initially planned, we could strategize to give us room to maneuver.

At Approver Travel, reducing the number of variables our clients are exposed to has become an integral part of our philosophy, allowing us to mitigate delays and ensure our clients are where they need to be on schedule.