O.R. Tambo International Airport

OR Tambo

OR Tambo International Airport (IATA: JNB) is located in Kempton Park, about 20km east of downtown Johannesburg and serves as the major sub-Saharan hub. More than 40 airlines fly regular flight to and from here. Everything you would expect from a large international airport is here: plenty of restaurants, shops and ATMs.


First opened in 1952, this airport has been renamed twice in the last couple of years; you may find that people and publications still refer to it by its previous names of Johannesburg International Airport or Jan Smuts. It is also known by the abbreviation ORTIA. The airport is constantly expanding, and you will probably find construction work in progress: the current big project is an additional international terminal.

The airport's location at around 1700m above the sea level combined with the sometimes high temperatures demand a longer takeoff run or a lower takeoff weight than average airports. Still the airport is accessible to all common airplane types.


Terminal buildings at OR Tambo.

The arrival area is at the ground floor of the terminal. That's also where the passport control, the baggage claim and the customs are located.

The airport is organized into two main terminals, linked by a common atrium: Terminal A and Terminal B. Terminal A (the northern one) is for international flights and Terminal B (the southern one) is for domestic flights. The vast majority of international check-in counters are in Terminal A, but South African Airways international passengers must check in at SAA's counters in Terminal B even though their flights will depart from Terminal A.

Most airlines have their ticket counters in the departure hall at the second floor. There more than 100 E-Check-in counters, and if you’re departing on a European airline, you will likely be using those with the higher numbers. After security you will get to the gates, just like at any airport.

OR Tambo's directional signage is notoriously vague and confusing, so ask for directions whenever you feel lost. For example, when you first approach the check-in counters, you will see many signs designating the counters by numbers, but no signs indicating which airlines correspond to which numbers. Some of the signs in Terminal A imply that the fastest way to the Car Rentals area is to walk through the parkade, which is incorrect.


For anyone who arrives and looks lost there are a large number of official and unofficial porters in the arrivals halls and outside the terminals in the area connecting the International Terminal and the Domestic Terminal. The official porters have bright orange uniforms and navy-blue shirts, and carry ACSA permits. They work exclusively for tips: a general guide is to give R5 (five South African rands) a bag.

Tourist information

There are several well-marked tourist information and help desk booths at the airport.


Domestic destinations within South Africa include: Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth and Upington. Some of the local airlines are South African Airways, British Airways (Comair) and low-cost carriers 1Time and Kulula.com.

OR Tambo International is one of the very few airports that have nonstop flights to all inhabited continents. There are connections from most important cities in Africa and worldwide including daily flights to and from London, Paris, New York and other major international destinations. Delta Air Lines runs flights from Atlanta to Johannesburg as the only major US carrier to fly to South Africa.


When planning connections to domestic destinations within South Africa, note that OR Tambo does not have a direct link between the secure arrival area of Terminal A and the secure departure area of Terminal B. As in the United States, you will have to pass through customs and immigration if OR Tambo is your first stop in SA. Also, note that Terminal B does not have jetways or aircraft parking spots within walking distance for the domestic E Gates. In other words, the E Gates are actually a tarmac-level bus terminal for buses that take you to aircraft sitting at very remote parking spots.

Thus, to be assured of a smooth connection from international to domestic SA flights, you need to incorporate a minimum of at least two hours to pass through immigration control upon arrival at Terminal A, retrieve your baggage and go through customs, check your baggage again at the Connecting Flights counter on your left after exiting Customs, walk over to Terminal B departures, pass through Terminal B security control, and then walk to your gate. Of course this does not apply in the case your baggage is already checked through to the final destination. Then you may then have to take a bus ride if your aircraft was assigned to an E gate.

Finally, the Connecting Flights counter is small and understaffed and lines tend to accumulate quickly. It's not a mere bag drop. They will have to look at your papers just as when you checked in. Since you will have to pass through Terminal B security anyway, it may be faster to take your baggage over to the domestic check-in counters if the lines are long and your connection period is very tight.

Ground transportation

By car

The airport is located at the intersection of the R21 and R24 freeways. From Johannesburg, follow the R24 east and take exit 46, from Tshwane, follow the R21 south and take exit 46.

Car hire

Car hire companies are all located on level 0 in the multistory parking area opposite the domestic terminal.

By train

Gautrain station at OR Tambo

By shuttle bus

Many tour operators offer transport/shuttles to and from the airport. In general shuttle buses have a fixed route stopping outside the arrivals hall. Major hotels operate their own shuttle buses that depart each 20-30 minutes during daytime. Most baggage carriers (uniformed) will carry your baggage to the right shuttle bus for a fee of R5-10.

Having someone who know the area drive you around gives you more peace of mind.

Scheduled services

Unscheduled services, book in advance

By taxi

There is a taxi stand outside the arrivals hall, and for departing passengers taxis can drive all the way to the departure hall at the upper level. Alternatively you can choose to pre-book a taxi that will collect you from the Airport Terminal. Typically you'll find the driver waiting for you with a name board. The avereage price for an Airport Transfer from Johannesburg International Airport to Sandton is about R450-R600 depending on the type Taxi your book (Executive or Standard Sedan). Some of the reliable taxi services providers include:

Airport Link, ☎ +27 11 792-2017. Fixed price airport transfer service. www.airportlink.co.za Emzansi Cabs, ☎ +27 11 039-4002. Pre-booked Airport Transfers & Shuttle Services. Elias, ☎ +27 76 834-0670. Friendly taxi driver based in the CBD. Magicbus, ☎ +27 11 548-0822. Offers shuttle services between OR Tambo Airport and Sandton. They also offer door-to-door transfers. A bit expensive for the single traveller but reasonable when traveling in groups. www.magicbussa.co.za Maxi Taxi, ☎ +27 11 648-1212. Reputable taxi firm based in Yeoville. www.maxitaxi.co.za Roses Taxi, ☎ +27 11 403-9625. Operates throughout the city. www.rosetaxis.com

Get around

The corridors, toilets and shops are accessible for disabled people too. Distances are in some case long at the airport. According to the information signs you should budget at least 10 minutes to get from the passport control to Gate 12.


Eat and Drink

There are more than 40 restaurants at the airport, and their menus mirror the cultural diversity of South Africa.



There are more than 100 shops offering pretty much what you would expect at an international airport at reasonable prices.

If you wish to claim back the South African VAT (14%), go to a counter in the departures hall with your receipts and goods. There you will receive a stamped document which you should bring to another counter in the gate area, where you will receive a check. Due to the fees incurred, it's not useful to claim back VAT for purchases less than about €30.


There's a post office in the arrivals hall. At the airport there is a Wi-Fi network available free for 50Mb or 30 minutes, whichever is the lesser, and thereafter for a fee. There are electrical sockets for passengers to use in most areas of the airport, but you might need an adapter.



Stay safe

The terminals themselves are heavily secured with 24-hour CCTV coverage and patrols by both private security and the South African Police Service. As with most international airports, the only major issues to worry about within the terminals are petty crimes like pickpocketing.

However, OR Tambo has a very serious problem with pilfering of personal belongings from baggage. Use a good baggage lock, consider using a baggage wrapping service in the terminal before you check bags, and do not check baggage unnecessarily early. Anything of value, like jewellery or electronics, should go in your carry-on bag whenever possible.

Furthermore, note that OR Tambo has a history of gangs identifying suitable targets in the terminals, following them towards their destinations on the freeways, and then ambushing them either on the freeways or at their destinations. Watch out for suspicious people following you when you leave the terminals by any form of ground transport (even escorted tour bus) and be prepared to divert to a police station, petrol station, or other appropriate public facility to seek assistance.


The airport is located in Ekurhuleni and nearby cities include Benoni and Kempton Park. Further away there is Johannesburg.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, December 25, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.