Durban airport – beware parking sharks!

An incident involving a valet parking service at King Shaka International Airport in Durban has raised concern over the validity of these services and the risks involved, with Airports Company South Africa even considering legal action.

In September, fleet and asset tracking company, Tracking Africa, found a vehicle meant to be parked at the airport by a parking service moved to a residential home in Aster Terrace in Chelmsford Heights in Tongaat.

According to Jody Ashe of Tracking Africa, the company were called in after their client suspected their vehicle had been moved. “We found the vehicle was indeed not at the airport and a recovery team was sent to the site where they found another 30-odd vehicles parked. This was not a secure parking area,” he told TAM.

“There was no electric fencing, CCTV or any other form of security.”

Ashe said the site was right next to the R102 that could very easily be accessed. Some cars were found in a yard with a rickety fence, while others were just parked in the street. “It begs the question of whether people are aware where their vehicles are actually going when travelling from the airport,” he said.

TAM called the parking service in question, which could only be reached via an online booking portal and was told that the direct telephone number for the valet parking service would only be provided once an online booking had been completed.

Asked where the vehicle would be parked during the use of the service, the consultant said – as per the website – the vehicle would be parked in a secure parking facility off-site from the airport with electric fencing, CCTV cameras and armed guards.

On the valet service’s website, it advertises its services as being the “happy, safe convenient and hassle-free parking solution at King Shaka International Airport, including free car wash and vacuum”. The site also mentions that the parking site where vehicles are taken is secure and surfaced with tarmac, has CCTV, an armed response unit, electric fencing, night patrol and a gated entry. The car park and drivers are insured, according to the website.

“Our investigation found something very different to this. Not only was the car not parked in a secure location, but it had been driven at 125km per hour in an 80km zone,” said Ashe.

He said that on instructions from their client, a lock was put on the vehicle and it was monitored by the tracking company until it was returned to the owner.

Colin Naidoo, Acsa senior corporate affairs manager at King Shaka International Airport, told TAM this was not the first incident of its kind and several others had been brought to Acsa’s attention in recent months. He said they were aware that certain parking valet companies had been using the airport premises and name to promote their business and engage with airport users for parking services that they offer.

“We are looking at taking legal action against these companies that are using the airport name and premises to ply their trade,” he said. “At King Shaka International Airport, we do not have any valet and remote parking services and we, as Airports Company South Africa, are not associated in any way with any of these services that have been using the King Shaka name to promote their businesses and services,” Naidoo told TAM.

“From what we understand, these companies advertise on social media and the Internet and create the perception that they are working from and at the airport and it is a service that the airport provides. That is indeed not true. As the airport, we have been called on a few occasions about some of the problems and incidents that the companies’ customers have experienced and because the customer is made to believe that it is an airport service, they would contact the airport.”

He said Acsa was currently collaborating with airport security and road traffic authorities to remove these illegal operators from the property. With Acsa not accrediting or associating with any remote parking and valet service operators, it is advised that anyone using the service ensures they understand the risks involved and are aware of where the vehicles are being taken to.

On the website of the valet service investigated by Tracking Africa, several customers have given excellent reviews, saying it was fast and good all round. It remains unclear where these people’s cars were parked during the duration of their trip.

One review, however, reports that the drivers picking up the vehicle were not dressed in a uniform - as was stated in the booking form – while another user said his vehicle was damaged.

“Someone had either reversed into my vehicle and bent the tow bar into the bumper, or my vehicle was reversed into something. I only noticed the following day as my tow bar cover was cracked and there was damage to my bumper. The tow bar had been straightened and therefore I never noticed the damage when I collected my vehicle. I am awaiting the director to contact me to discuss this matter,” reads the review.

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