Entebbe airport re-opens, air travelers exempted from curfew restrictions

Entebbe International Airport in Uganda

Entebbe, Uganda | URN | Incoming and outgoing passengers are exempted from night movement restrictions if their flights fall within the curfew hours, Entebbe deputy resident district commissioner Njuki Mbabali has said. 

Uganda maintains a nighttime curfew running from 9:00 pm to 5:30 am, as one of the measures taken by the government to control movement and person to person interactions.

Njuki said now that Entebbe International Airport has been reopened, flight passengers will be allowed to move during curfew time. For instance, Turkish Airlines, the first commercial flight at the airport after the reopening, arrived at 3:00 am and departed with some passengers at 4:50 am.

Njuki adds that security agencies have been briefed to allow passengers who will move to and from Entebbe airport during the curfew time. However, he adds, all passengers must present their passports and air tickets whenever they are stopped.

Additional port health measures put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus disease-COVID-19 require outgoing passengers to report at Entebbe International Airport at least four hours to their departure time.  

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga says that the stop and search security teams along the Kampala-Entebbe highway will work in partnership with Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) and Aviation Police to ensure that only flight passengers move during the curfew.      

“The teams will also cross-check the flight schedules to ensure that people do not take advantage,” Enanga said, “But we don’t expect someone who has a flight at 5:00 am to arrive at the airport before 9:00 pm, so the security teams will ensure that such passengers do not meet any hurdles.”      

Meanwhile, there is visible heavy deployment at the airport as commercial flights resumed on Thursday October 1. There are eight police officers deployed at the main entrance to ensure that passengers who disembark from the vehicles have their body temperatures measured and sanitize their hands before they can proceed to the airport. 

Police officers have also been deployed around the parking areas, arrivals and departure sections, and waiting areas inside and outside the passenger terminal. Some security operatives, in plain clothes and airport security officers, are enforcing the anti-COVID-19 measures inside the passenger terminal.  For instance, each person must wear a face mask and also observe social distancing.        

Social distancing marks have been placed on most public spaces, such as the waiting lounges, check-in areas among others. The airport was partially closed on March 23, 2020, as a way of combating the spread of coronavirus disease-COVID-19. During the time, only emergency flights, comprising mainly returning nationals and cargo, were allowed to land at the airport.

According to new guidelines issued by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, each airline, apart from Uganda Airlines will operate only one flight daily in the first phase of the reopening, covering the months of October to December 2020. The national airline will operate two flights a day to Nairobi, four times to Juba and Dar-es-salaam and thrice to Mogadishu. 

Roger Wamara, Uganda Airline’s commercial director says that the airline has increased the cost of its commercial flight air tickets by an average of  3 per cent to cater for additional costs such as personal protective equipment among others to combat the spread of COVID-19.

He adds that the Mogadishu and Juba routes have so far attracted over 50 passengers per flight while Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam are expected to pick up in the coming months. 

As the airport reopened, Turkish Airlines was the first to operate a departing flight destined for Istanbul at 4:05 a.m, followed by a Uganda Airlines flight to Mogadishu at 6:45 a.m. and Nairobi at 10:00 am.

UCAA’s spokesperson, Vianney Luggya says that all the 16 air operators will operate scheduled passenger flights via Entebbe. Egypt Air will operate its first flight on October 9, 2020, while KLM will start on Saturday, October 3, and operate four flights a week, according to Lukia Otema, the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines country manager.

Otema says that many people are still hesitant to travel due to COVID-19 concerns.  An official from Brussels Airlines shares the same sentiments saying that less than 60 people have so far booked air tickets for its first flight to Brussels scheduled for October 4. The plane can, however, has the capacity to carry over 200 passengers.

Eunice Nabukenya, a tour and travel agent says that it will take several months before air travel may regain its vibrancy. She says that her company has not yet received any bookings for the next three months, adding that the upcoming 2021 general elections could worsen the situation.

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“Apart from people who will travel for medical and work-related reasons, I think tourists will start coming to Uganda after March next year,”  Nabukenya says.

Carol Naava, the operations officer at Ganyana Safaris Ltd, says the company has also not received any bookings for the next three months.

“Yet, people who love safaris book in advance, say two to three months before boarding flights. So I don’t think there will be many people coming to Uganda until the end of the year,” she said. 

Meanwhile, George Wangaya, the manager of Awel Tours and Travel Ltd, says he has got only three bookings, one client who wants to come to Uganda while the other two want to travel for work abroad.

He says that the resumption of commercial flights will relieve travellers from the high cost of air tickets some had to pay for chartered flights during the partial shutdown.