Airports need to improve signage so quick drop-offs don’t incur parking costs

OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

Not only can you no longer enter an airport when seeing off family or friends, but when dropping someone off you’ll be forced to negotiate a multistorey parking garage and pay hefty parking fees, too.

I’d been planning to get the Gautrain from Sandton to Jo’burg’s OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday, but accepted the kind offer of a lift instead.

My driver headed for the ramp to the usual drop-off area, but found a dead end and several other motorists who’d made the same mistake, all looking confused and stressed.

There were no signs directing us to the new drop-off area, so we had to flag down an official and ask. Parking on level 3, he said.

At this point my driver looked as if she was regretting her lift offer. Now the poor woman had get up to level 3, find a parking and schlep off to the pay machine instead of the pre-lockdown quick drop-and-go.

I told her there had to be grace period and urged her to drop me and then go straight to the exit boom and put her card in. She looked doubtful, but thankfully it worked. Up went the boom and she was off. How many people have paid unnecessary parking fees when dropping people off? My guess is a lot.

And how could anyone know how long the drop off times are? Well, buried in Acsa’s website, under ORT Airport is something about free minutes parking. But that key information should be in a large, unmissable banner on the Acsa website. And in signs at the airport parking garage, especially at the pay point. Unless of course, it doesn’t suit you to tell people that, because the parking revenue is rather nice.

I asked these and other questions of Acsa management at “Africa's biggest and busiest airport” after my first-hand experience. Here’s what airport spokesperson Samukelo Khambule told me, in a nutshell:

*Parking level 2 of Parkade 2 South is the preferred pickup zone, though pickups may also be done from levels 3 and 4. Levels 3 and 4 should be used for drop-offs and general parking.

 *We are sorry for the inconvenience passengers have experienced in the parkade. We will therefore implement the following changes within the next few days:

*The free parking grace period on levels 2, 3 and 4 in Parkade 2 South will be increased from 20 to 30 minutes; 

*The signage installed was initially deemed to be sufficient. In practice it is not. It will be improved as soon as possible;

*More parkade levels will be opened as demand increases; and

*The parking tariffs will be republished on our website and social media channels.

*Level 2 of Parkade 2 South will remain a premium zone. The first 30 minutes are now free; the fee for the second 30 minutes will be R30 and after, the fee is R60 per hour or part-hour. So essentially you have half an hour from the time you pull that ticket out of the machine at the entrance boom, to the time you insert it at the exit boom, if you want your drop-off and goodbyes to be free.

For travellers, if you park on level 2 for 24 hours you will pay a whopping R1,440.

 “Level 2 is not intended for stops of more than a few minutes,” Khambule said. The higher tariff helps to regulate traffic moving through that level. More vehicles parked on level 2 means that there is less room for other vehicles needing to pick up passengers.”

If you park on levels 3 and 4 for 24 hours you will pay normal parkade rates of R190. So why are the usual drop-off and pickup zones now no-go areas, and how does the new set-up help in the bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus?

“The old pickup and drop-off area is now only for emergency vehicles, SAPS and Ekurhuleni metro police department vehicles,” Khambule said.

“The upper and lower roadways have long been the source of security concerns and challenges. It has always been the intention to restrict use of the upper and lower roadways to emergency vehicles, SAPS and Ekurhuleni metro police department vehicles.

As for how the new parking arrangements have been communicated to consumers, Khambule said Acsa had issued news releases, done radio and TV interviews, and posted on Twitter and Facebook and on the ACSA website.

“Tariff boards on each level do show the rates that apply on that level,” he said.

Yes, but nothing about the grace period has been displayed, which applies to all those who are now just wanting to drop people off for a few minutes. Hence many drop-off drivers are currently parking for the sole purpose of (unnecessarily) paying for their parking. That doesn’t gel with the need to keep cars moving swiftly through that area at all. Other airports have similar restrictions in place, which cost travellers and those dropping off and fetching them more.

At Durban’s King Shaka Airport, for example, the drop-off zone is a no-go area and drop-offs can only be done at the airport’s multistorey parkade, with its pricey fees — unless you know about the grace period, which, I’m told, is just 10 minutes.

The airport’s cheaper shaded parking area is now off limits, forcing travellers to park in the multi storey parkade. Why?

“Because of the need to reduce interactions,” said the airport’s corporate affairs manager Colin Naidoo.

“We don’t want people to have to use golf carts.”

Most people used to get to the terminal on foot, in lovely open air. Just saying.

GET IN TOUCH: Contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail at or on Twitter @wendyknowler.

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