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Airport Check In

Preparation is in the Planning : Part 1

“Smooth Hassle-Free Group Travel”– Departing South Africa

Travelling with a group can be a daunting undertaking for any tour leader or programme manager.   Event Stuff South Africa teamed up recently with a core of senior colleagues to revise and share recent experiences whilst travelling abroad.


Knowledge and experience is crucial to ensure smooth free group travel – learn from your own adventures, be observant, share both good and bad experiences with colleagues, continually revise your working itineraries to ensure well co-ordinated programmes and keep all parties copied in with programme schedules as far in advance as possible.

Airport Directions / Parking and Facilities

Refer to the airport of departure website for directions, parking and general facilities (eg foreign exchange outlets).

For O R Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa visit http://www.acsa.co.za


Luggage Wrapping

Wrapping stations are conveniently located in the public terminal departure areas.   These stations are equipped with machinery and staff to assist with the wrapping and protection of passengers’ luggage.   The plastic film is a proven theft deterrent and allows for tampering to be easily visible due to its distinct characteristics.   Wrapping helps prevent theft/pilferage, damage due to bad weather (rain, snow, etc.), manipulation, mishandling, wear and tear, stains and scratches, accidental openings.

The cost at O R Tambo International Airport is currently ZAR 50 per bag.

Hand luggage

To determine that you are carrying the correct sized hand luggage, most airlines have a scale incorporating a frame, which your hand luggage needs to be able to fit into. 

If your hand luggage / trolley bag is over packed or too big the airline will not allow you to take it on board.  This check is often only carried out at the boarding gate and is at the very last minute leaving little time for alternative arrangements.

As most people pack into their hand luggage the items they will need during the flight eg laptop, books, change of clothes etc this can be a huge inconvenience as your hand luggage will be taken to the aircraft hold and you will be required to unpack whatever items you need for during the flight.

Travel Attire

For a more enjoyable journey dress for comfort !  As you may be searched by security and asked to remove some clothing items, wearing casual comfortable clothing might just lessen the frustration.

Always carry a jacket or a throw as international flights can be quite cool during the night and although blankets are provided, they may not keep you warm enough.

Cabin Bags

Each airline has specific requirements for carry on luggage.   Check the airlines website for details. Apart from size, weight restrictions are applicable.

Airport Check-In : O R Tambo Airport : International Departures

The current understanding is that at O R International Airport all airline check in counters open 3 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart. We suggest you check with the individual airlines concerned as on some occasions check-in procedures have opened earlier – if you are meeting a group you may therefore easily miss some delegates as they may be able to check-in prior to your arrival and you will not meet up with them as planned.

Prior to reaching the check-in counter the traveller will first approach a cordoned off area, where usually airport / airline staff are on hand to check passports and visas before allowing passengers to proceed to the check in counter.

Why do they do this – the airline is liable for all departing passengers. Should any documentation not be valid it is the airlines responsibility to return the traveller to the country of departure at the airlines expense.   They naturally therefore need to stop anyone travelling with incorrect or invalid documentation at the onset.

It is unusual for airlines to allow for separate group check-in procedures. All passengers are required to go through the normal channels.   Should you be seeing a group off, arrange to be on site at least half an hour prior to your group.   Introduce yourself and any colleagues to the check-in staff and find out who the appropriate airline Duty Manager is.

It is always a good idea to liaise with the airline group reservation division in advance to enquire if they will have a representative on site for you group’s departure. If not, ask for a contact, cell details and request for someone to be on standby during your group check-in time.

Find out before departure what the airline policy is regarding changing tickets, no shows etc, so you can advise your client before you approach the Sales Counter, should the need arise.

But note – if there are any issues with any tickets during check-in, the ground staff will not action without referring back to the group’s division for advice and authorisation to any changes.   If no one is available and you have a crisis, be prepared with a credit card as it may mean that you might have to purchase ad-hoc tickets on site.

The best place to wait for your delegates is at the entrance to the cordoned off area where you will have an opportunity to meet each delegate as they progress through to the check-in counters.

Airports have no available furniture (desks / chairs) for tour leader use, unless prior arrangements have been made.   Limited use of signs is allowed. It seems acceptable to have one branded pop up banner however hand held signs appear to be just as effective.

Have plenty of spare luggage ties and labels with you. A good idea is to give each traveller a strip of coloured ribbon as this makes your group luggage identification much easier on arrival.

Most people have travelled and are familiar with the procedures in place. For those who have not travelled, the options are –

General Check-In Counters – for those who have not checked in on-line

Bag Drop Counters – for those who have checked in on line

Check-in kiosks – some airlines have these on site – travellers can check-in at these, print their own boarding passes and then proceed to the Bag Drop Counters.

In all cases, suitcases will be weighed and the airline will run through a few security questions to ensure that passengers are not carrying any prohibited items – details of which can be found on the appropriate airport website.

Seating requests

If a seat has not been pre-selected, a seat will be allocated at check-in.

All airlines will do their best to assist with pre-seating for groups, however any confirmed seats cannot be guaranteed and may change prior to check-in.

Each boarding pass shows the gate of departure and the reporting time to be at the gate for boarding.


Before proceeding to the duty free area, all travellers go through security checks.

Laptop computers will need to be removed from their bags to go through the x-ray machines separately.

In addition, you may be asked to remove belts and any metal or coins from your pockets.


Following security, proceed onto customs for further passport and visa verification where the appropriate data is officially captured.

Duty Free

Many shops and restaurants are available selling numerous items within the Duty Free Area.

A word of warning – If you have a connecting flight when you get to your destination – any alcohol or perfume where the containers exceed the international limits for hand luggage, will not be allowed through onto the connecting flight and will either have to be drunk or dumped !

Most countries will not allow you to take in any dried meat i.e biltong – even in vacuum-packed bags. So we suggest don’t buy it ! Likewise fruit or plants are not allowed and should you decide to take a chance, the scent of these items will be picked up by the security sniffer dogs whilst you wait for your luggage on arrival, alternatively if not declared and the traveller is found to have these in their luggage, heavy fines will be imposed.

Airport lounges

The Bidvest Premier Lounge at O R Tambo will accommodate groups, however arrangements need to be made and paid for in advance. Space is limited, however, for any group it is an added value to have this facility.   It brings the group together prior to departure and offers all travellers an opportunity to connect and be available for any last minute information.

Visit : www.bidvestlounge.co.za

Airport Gates

O R Tambo International Airport is a large, busy property and it may take some time to walk to the gate for boarding. Always allow at least 15 minutes to get to your assigned gate.

Source : Event Stuff South Africa, GCD Consulting and the Network Club

June 2013

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