Airport Valet Operators: How to avoid the fly-by-nights

Airport Valet Operators: How to avoid the fly-by-nights

Valet parking companies operating at King Shaka International Airport are back in the news, thanks to one of them going rogue with a family’s cars. The Airports Company is not a fan of this fast growing industry, but many frequent flyers find their service invaluable. So - are they operating legally, and how do you make sure you’re handing over your car to a reputable operator?  Wendy Knowler tells all.

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In the latest airport valet service gone wrong, an operator called Alpha Omega is alleged to have failed to deliver a Tongaat family’s four cars to the airport on January 2 when they returned from an overseas trip. The family claimed to have tracked three of the cars to loan sharks and a fourth being driven by a woman as a rental car.

I tried to get hold of the owner, but his advertised number does not exist.

Three years ago on this show I reported on a slew of complaints about another operator which, tracking devices revealed, drove clients' cars aggressively and over far greater distances than between the airport and their depot.

One woman’s car was written off after being involved in an accident while she was away, when it was supposed to be safely parked. According to the tracking report, the car had been on the road for four hours at the time of the accident.

So I spoke to a few stakeholders this week to find out what’s going on with this “exploding” industry at the moment.

Colin Naidoo, ACSA’s King Shaka airport spokesman, said: “I am sure there are some very ethical operators. Our concern is that it is not a service provided by the airport and with the problems that some of their customers experience it does give that service and the airport a bad name.”

ACSA would clearly prefer travellers to use one of their parking areas, or e-hailing services such as Uber.

Naidoo was quoted in The Mercury last week as saying that it’s illegal for park-and-fly valet services to use the airport's drop-off and pick-up areas to do business, and that they should use the parking lot instead.

How so? I asked. Those drop-off and pick-up spots are on a public road and do not belong to ACSA.

“They are using the designated drop off zone without the permission of ACSA,” Naidoo said. “This activity creates a blockage of the road system while they wait for their customers in the drop off zone. That results in people that require the drop off area having to double park which causes more congestion.

“We don’t have a problem who a passenger hands their cars over to but when they experience problems with those service providers they create the impression that the service provider is a service offered by the airport.”

That’s not the same thing as illegal, though.

So how do we make sure we’re dealing with a reputable valet service - one which won’t take your car and park it under a tree somewhere or take it on a joy ride?

One way is to make sure they are a member of SANAPA - the South African National Airports Parking Association.

Head Pieter Rudolph told me it was established with the goal of regulating the industry, curbing the operation of the bad eggs, and ensuring that each member operates with integrity.

The approval process is strict and non-negotiable:

Adequate premises to be made use of the parking of clients' vehicles
Adequate security measures implemented within the premises
The company is to be VAT and Tax registered; registered with the CIPC, no employees can have criminal records

As for the legalities, Rudolph, an attorney, said there is nothing in the South African Legal statutes which lists our type of business industry as illegal in any manner whatsoever.

“There are dishonest operators and businesses in every industry, and it is not fair to cover the entire industry and blacken the same of every business in it.”

One of the oldest operators at King Shaka is We Park, You Fly.

Owner Alan Swartz said people don’t just use his service and others because its cheaper than paying for parking at the airport, but because of the added services they offer - scratch and dent repairs, auto valet, windscreen chip repairs, windscreen replacements, tyre rotations, taking cars in for a booked service etc. All done while clients don’t need their cars.

“The best way for a consumer to avoid a really bad experience with a valet service at the airport is to make sure the service provider is a member of SANAPA,” he says.

The logo should be displayed on the company's website. For more info, go to SANAPA’s website:

SANAPA is the only organisation recognised by ACSA as representing the industry. But fewer than 10% of operators in KZN have joined SANAPA.

If you’re considering going with a non-SANAPA member for whatever reason, makes sure you do your own checks:

Ask for the company’s full name; ask where the cars are stored - you won't get an exact address for security reasons - and whether the company has insurance and security measures such as 24-hour guard and keys kept in an alarmed area.

Get full contact details of the company you choose to leave your car with. Allow time for them to inspect your car and note any imperfections on handover. Note your reading, and if you’ve got a tracking device, keep quiet about it.

Also read: Got a garnishee? You’ve been overpaying, says Wendy

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