Dar es Salaam — Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) managing director Ladislaus Matindi yesterday explained why a delegation from the national carrier was turned away at Oliver Tambo International Airport after its inaugural flight to South Africa last Friday.
Mr Matindi blamed "miscommunication" between the airport and immigration officials for the hitch that saw him, Works, Transport and Communication deputy minister Elias Kwandikwa, other ATCL officials and journalists denied entry into the airport for a welcome ceremony.
He told The Citizen in a telephone interview that their hosts, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), and immigration officials were not aligned over their arrival.
"I think ACSA took it for granted that the immigration people were already informed by Swissport, the ground handling company which provided us services.
"But truth be told, the ground handling company is an agent not mandated to inform the immigration department," said Mr Matindi.
He said that due to the mix-up, upon arriving at immigration control, the delegation for the ceremony was not allowed to enter the arrivals hall.
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"It was right for the South African immigration to act in that manner. I will not blame them because we understand it was for security reasons," Mr Matindi noted, adding the problem was later resolved.
The ATCL boss, however, said by the time a solution was found, it was late to attend the ceremony as the delegation had been booked to fly back on the same plane.
In order to avoid letting down customers, he said, they opted not to entertain flight delay as an excuse to attend the inaugural ceremony. "We did not go to South Africa to eat cake but launch our new route, which is a very important market for tourism."
He said before leaving, he phoned the acting Tanzanian ambassador in South Africa to apologise for the miss. He said ACSA chief executive officer and other senior officials were at the venue.
The hitch was first revealed on social media on Sunday morning, sparking a huge debate on the embarrassing development.
The social media reports claimed the ATCL boss had cried foul over supposed "trade war" following the incident. The reports further alleged that journalists on the trip were asked in Dar es Salaam not to publicise what transpired.
But Mr Matindi yesterday dismissed most of the allegations in the social media reports as untrue.
ATCL flew its newly acquired Airbus 220-300 aircraft on the route which will run to Johannesburg four times a week. The airline was charging $299 (Sh687,700) for a return ticket on a promotion running to July 15. It will thereafter cost $347 (Sh798, 100) for the same ticket on the route operated on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Mr Matindi noted the inaugural flight had 91 passengers of the 130 capacity.