I have a daughter who lives in South Africa. I want to pick her up for Christmas Holidays but South African immigration wouldn't issue me a visa.

Can I land with a private jet and remain inside the plane while she boards, and then I take off? Will I be breaking the law if the jet arrives and I don't disembark from the jet?

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    $\begingroup$ This is probably a better fit for Law or Travel SE. Or better yet, South Africa customs and immigration... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2023 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer to the question, hence writing it in a comment. You said you can remain inside the plane while she boards, which means she is able to go through the airport and board a plane all by herself without needing your help. Then, why do you need to go to South Africa to pick her up? She can just fly to your country all by herself. Also, if you are unable to go to South Africa because immigration wouldn't issue you a visa, I guess another option would be to send a person who you trust 100% to pick her up on behalf of you. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ How is this different to a plane making a stopover on a trip to another place, with passengers who do not intend to disembark at the stopover, or at least not exit the airport? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ There is no real "no man's land" at the airports. The host country still exerts all sovereig rights and all local laws apply in the transit zones. $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


The general case is that sovereign nations tend to want control over who enters their country, so the typical expectation is that an aircraft flying in from another country will first clear customs (at an airport with such a facility) at their first point of landing. And that means that everybody disembarks. Aircrew might be exempt from this requirement, but even that isn't a certainty. But if you aren't part of the crew, you probably would be expected to get off the airplane & clear customs. And there may well be different rules for crew of an airliner vs the crew of a small jet.

There are exceptions to all of this, and I'm not familiar with particular rules that might apply to South Africa and wherever it is you'd be coming from.

There probably are places where one could get away with landing unannounced, picking up a passenger, and departing again, especially late at night, but "getting away with" something means that the rules are being broken, and the penalties if you get caught might be significant. Not just for you, but for the owner of the aircraft -- if that gets impounded, that's an expensive lesson! So unless it's your own jet, you may have a hard time finding an operator who is willing to put his aircraft at risk by agreeing to your idea.

Also, a private jet tends to fly high enough that flying IFR, and thus under ATC control, is the norm; doing that, it's harder to just go where you want to without anybody finding out. And for an aircraft that flies into a country IFR, just cancelling IFR and going somewhere other than the filed destination under VFR is certainly going to arouse suspicion. "You said you'd be landing at XYZ where you could clear customs, but now you're not going to XYZ any longer -- what's this guy up to???"

If you're serious about doing this, you really should talk to an operator who has experience flying into South Africa, and they can discuss the laws and practices specific to that country. The general case would be, you probably can't do what you mentioned without breaking a law someplace, but general cases can have exceptions.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that the asker is intending to enter the country. Remaining on the air side means that he doesn't leave international space. This is no different to a transit passenger, who is able to leave the plane and return - only when passing through customs and immigration do you enter the host country. When I've been a passenger on a long flight, there was never a requirement to get off the plane when stopping to refuel and for the partial-journey passengers to leave and join the flight. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ @TobySpeight To "remain on the air side" is a thing with airline operations, but may not have any equivalent with small aircraft like private jets. Airline passengers are in a pretty tightly controlled environment, without any opportunity to wander in to an FBO for a cup of coffee, and then walk on out of the facility. FBO's don't typically have the physical access controls that international terminals do, and thus the frequent requirement that everybody on the small jets clears customs. Again, as everybody has said, best to get info on specific arrangements in South Africa. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ and that's a really interesting question and probably closest to what the OP is looking for. Is "airside transit" a thing in GA at all? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 14:39

I'm no expert, but the passport-controlled areas of an airport appear to be separate from the rest of the nation in which they exist. Passengers may disembark a plane, and if they do not have a valid reason for entering that country, may be asked to board the same or another plane and leave the country.

So, logically, you should be able to land in South Africa, exit the plane, meet your daughter and board the same or another plane at the same airport without requiring a visa. It's little different to a plane needing to stop to refuel or deal with an onboard emergency and allowing the passengers to disembark to stretch their legs or move away from danger. As long as you don't leave the airport or attempt to pass through border control at the airport, and as long as you're not a wanted fugitive in South Africa, you should be fine.

Just remember, IANAL, so check first, probably with a South African embassy.

  • $\begingroup$ They would not be able to meet their daughter inside the South Africa airport because she won't be able to enter the transit area. At best they can meet her on the plane to the next destination. And they likely would not be allowed to board an airline flight to SA if they don't have a visa. Nor can they book a flight from country A to country A which changes planes in SA. They would have to book a flight which makes a stop in SA on the way to a country that they are allowed to go to, and book their daughter on the same flight to that country. From there they can both fly back to country A. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton, If the daughter has a passport - and a guardian if she's under-age - why would she not be able to enter the transit area? If we're talking about a chartered flight, there shouldn't be a need for a SA visa if the stopover is for a pickup only. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 3:06
  • $\begingroup$ Some countries have visa-free airside transit; others don't. In this case, it's irrelevant unless the OP somehow manages to get a gate at the international section of the airport involved. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ MontyWild - you are right I should have said they can meet at the gate for the next flight. By transit area I was thinking of the area that you enter into immediately after you disembark where you haven't technically entered the airport yet. Arriving passengers continue on to customs but at some hub airports there is another path for transiting passengers. I meant the daughter could not get into that "transition" area that arriving and transiting passengers are flowing through. But in the terminal you are right they can meet there. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ I initially read your answer as suggesting an alternative solution to the OP's plan to fly privately, I thought you were suggested flying commercially and meeting the daughter in the passenger terminal. My comments were addressing that idea. But if you were just using passenger terminals as an example, and were using that example as a reason why on a private flight arriving at an FBO or whatever they call it in South Africa, that they could step off the Gulfstream that they chartered, walk into the FBO terminal, meet their daughter, then walk her out to the Gulfstream, I see your point. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 6:43

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