Do's and don'ts when flying & a follow up on the gym debacle

Do's and don'ts when flying & a follow up on the gym debacle

The new normal when it comes to air travel can come as a bit of a shock, after six months of various degrees of lockdown, says Wendy Knowler, as can the news that your gym’s decision not to debit your bank account during the months their doors were forced to remain shut had a very big catch.


Plane crazy

I took my first flight since pre-lockdown March this week, and I have a few things to share:

* Do get to the airport a full hour before your flight’s scheduled departure, because although the screening process is handled efficiently - they accept your COVID-19 declaration and take your temperature - it is a new, extra queue and it can be quite long.

* Be prepared to be unsettled at finding yourself, after six months of physical distancing, sitting really up close and personal with a bunch of strangers on a very packed plane. 

* Be prepared to see quite a few people who think the “wear your mask over your mouth AND NOSE for the duration of the flight” does not apply to them.

There is little to no movement of cabin attendants up and down the aisle because COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from serving food and beverages. So the no-nose covering passengers just get away with it.

* Take a bottle of water on board, especially for flights longer than an hour.

* Before you leave home, find out where the new drop-off and pick-up zones are at the various airports, if you have someone dropping you at the airport and fetching you on the other side. The usual areas are now cordoned off. 

* If you land at Joburg’s ORT airport after 4.30 pm, don’t expect to find all the usual retail shops and restaurants open - they won’t be. The place is eerily deserted these days, particularly after 5 pm.

Can your gym extend your contract term if they didn’t debit you during the lockdown months?

Listen below for the details in the latest ECR Consumerwatch or read the story under the podcast.

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud Magauta Mphahlele has shared her views on what is legally justified in terms of lockdown-related fee-charging, and what is not.

(You’ll find the full breakdown on last week’s Consumerwatch blog).

I mentioned in last week’s show that Planet Fitness, while being among those gyms which commendably did not debit their members’ bank accounts during lockdown, has since re-opening revealed that what they’ve done is added those five lockdown months to members’ contracts.

READ: Non-paying tenant and mounting interest on debt - Wendy Knowler wades in

So those who thought they’d be able to cancel in the next few months have discovered that they’re locked in to pay those monthly fees for another five months - or pay a rather large early cancellation penalty.

Mphahlele told me: “We are of the view that this extension is a notifiable change since the consumer could not have necessarily contemplated what the implications of freezing their contracts could have been.”

And that such contracts could only be extended  “if there was advance notification of this intention”.

Zandile Ndlovu wrote to me about her daughter’s student membership at Planet Fitness’ Westwood Mall branch.

“Her membership expires in October. The gym has now informed us that they are increasing the membership for another 5 months. 

“We did not request the freezing of membership, it was because of lockdown.

"My daughter does not need the membership as she is not going to UKZN’s Westville campus anymore.

“I do not mind paying for September and October as per the contract. But is it acceptable that we should be penalised for what happened in the country? I was also not getting paid during the lockdown and cannot pay the cancelation fee they require.”

I took up Zandile’s case with Planet Fitness’ Operations Marketing Manager at head office, Gillian Elson, asking:

“If there was no notification of the contract extension condition, as claimed, how does the company justify it’s unilateral contract extension decision, in light of the Ombud’s views?”

Her response? "Hi Wendy, the matter has been resolved with the member you referred to us.”

That didn’t address my query, but since Zandile’s daughter’s contract now ends at the end of October, with no extension, that’s a precedent.

I suggest that other Planet Fitness members who did not intend to extend their contracts beyond the original “initial period” contest the unilateral contract extension with the company. If the extension is not reversed, lodge a formal complaint with the office of the Consumer Goods & Services Ombudsman.

For more of Wendy Knowler's expert advice on a number of consumer cases, listen to the podcast below

Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.


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