Airports Company postpones mandatory online COVID-19 test payment directive

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Minister for Aviation, Joseph Kofi Adda

… airlines seek aggressive advertisement to sensitise travellers 

The Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL) has postponed implementation of the mandatory online COVID-19 test payment for all in-bound passengers to Ghana to Monday, September 21; and has also allowed for other payment options including mobile money and cash.

This was after a marathon meeting between the aviation industry’s stakeholders yesterday organised by the Ministry of Aviation, where airline operators made a strong case as to how the move will lead to huge revenue losses and also burden passengers due to the short notice that accompanied the directive – which was supposed to take effect from yesterday, September 15, 2020.

Government through the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) announced last Friday that from yesterday, September 15, passengers were required to show proof that they have paid for the mandatory COVID-19 test online before being allowed to board any flight to the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).

Why the move to pay online?

Since Ghana on September 1, 2020 opened its air space for international flights and instituted a compulsory testing regime upon arrival for all international passengers at a cost of US$150 or flat rate of GH¢900, several passengers have arrived and been detained because of their inability to pay the fee.

As a result, the mandatory test’s cost was borne by government before they were allowed entry into the country. It is believed that the new directive is a move to ensure that the issue of detaining passengers at the KIA is stopped, as people who do not show proof of an online payment will not be allowed to board flights heading to Ghana.

But the airlines argued that even though the directive comes with good intentions, it needs to be given some time before being fully rolled out to achieve the maximum impact.

The GACL has agreed to run the directive concurrent with the status quo, whereby international passengers are given options to pay for the compulsory testing – US$150 or flat rate of GH¢900 – upon arrival via mobile money, electronic payment or cash at the KIA till Monday, September 21, 2020.

Industry Challenges

According to the airlines, even though they would have wished for a lengthier period, they will make do with the deferment. For them, the development would have led to huge revenue loss on their part, as some passengers bought their tickets even before the directive was announced.

This would have therefore resulted in some passengers being stranded at the various airports if they were not able to show proof of online payment for the mandatory COVID-19 test; as they would be denied entry into their flights even if they were prepared to pay on arrival.

According to them, this directive would have also resulted in delays at the airport, as many passengers were not aware of the new directive. They added that, apart from the airline, the passengers who were not able to meet this new directive would have to reschedule their flights – and that would come at a cost.

“The message has not gone out very well for it to take effect on September 15; so, the first challenge is that you will find a lot of passengers showing up for boarding who may not have paid online but are ready to pay on arrival per the old directive. With this directive kicking in, the obvious thing is that you are going to deny passengers boarding – which is not good. It would be loss of revenue to the airline,” an airline operator who pleaded anonymity told the B&FT in an interview.

Communication

The airline operators have already forwarded the directive to their head offices for it to be posted on their official websites to inform passengers who want to travel to Ghana. They have however asked that during the period of suspension, some aggressive advertisements be made to sensitise travellers.

For the operators, the directive’s global nature requires that some advertisement be placed on very key portals over the period to ensure as many travellers who want to come to Ghana are well-informed.

They are proposing that government contact the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to post the directive on its platform, which is used by airlines and travel agents to verify passengers travel document requirements for their destination and any transit points.

Also, they are requesting that an advert be posted on Global Ticket Distribution Systems to alert players in the sector; this would help customers to be advised on the new directive even before they buy a ticket. They further suggested that media outlets be used for dissemination of the information.

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