With the capacity to accommodate up to 28 million passengers every year, Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport is the busiest aviation hub in Africa. If you're headed to South Africa or any of its neighboring countries, you will almost definitely pass through the airport at some point on your journey. Known as one of the cleanest and most efficient airports on the continent, it's a great place to spend a lengthy layover – especially since the refurbishment completed ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
O.R. Tambo Code, Location and Contact Info
Know Before You Go
O.R. Tambo is divided into two terminals: Terminal A for international flights, and Terminal B for domestic flights. The two are linked by a central atrium and it's easy to walk in between them. All passengers arriving or departing from Terminal A will need to clear customs. This is the least efficient aspect of O.R. Tambo and lines are often long, so make sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time for outbound flights. The airport is one of only four in the Africa/Middle East region to offer scheduled non-stop flights to all six inhabited continents, the others being Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai.
O.R. Tambo Parking
The airport offers ample parking, with 11,500 short-stay public parking bays located on-site. Your friends and family can stop to drop you off or pick you up outside the international terminal, with the first 20 minutes being free of charge. If you want to leave your vehicle at the airport, there is a long-stay, low-cost parking facility located off-site at Super South Gate. A 24-hour shuttle service takes passengers to and from the airport terminals every 15 minutes. If you book your parking on the airport website in advance, you can save up to 60% on on-site rates.
From Johannesburg city center:
- Drive east out of the city center along Albertina Sisulu Road
- Continue straight onto the R24 highway
- Follow signs to the airport, and expect to arrive after around 30 minutes
- Drive south out of the city along the R21 highway
- Continue straight, following signs for the airport
- Expect to arrive after around 40 minutes
NB: The driving times listed above are dependent on good traffic. If you plan on traveling during rush hour, make sure to leave plenty of extra time.
Public Transportation and Taxis
Most hotels provide a shuttle service to the airport for confirmed guests, while licensed private cabs and Uber drivers can be hired to take you wherever you want to go. The high-speed Gautrain connects Johannesburg with nearby Pretoria, and stops at O.R. Tambo along the way. Be careful of catching local taxis, as they are usually considered unsafe for foreign visitors. These are white minivans that fill up on a first come, first served basis, offering cheap fares but questionable safety standards.
Where to Eat and Drink
If you have a few hours to kill in between flights, you'll find plenty of places to refuel. There's something for every budget, from African fast food outlets like Debonairs and Steers; to upmarket restaurants serving Champagne and oysters. The range of cuisines on offer is similarly diverse, reflecting South Africa's status as the Rainbow Nation. Need a shot of courage before a long-distance flight? Make your way to the Keg & Aviator pub, a renowned meeting place located at the end of the main food hall.
Where to Shop
The retail opportunities at O.R. Tambo are eclectic, including everything from newsagents and book stores to designer clothing outlets and massage services. For discounted prices on tobacco, alcohol and cosmetics, head to Big Five Duty Free. If you're in the market for last-minute souvenirs, you'll find yourself spoiled for choice – although the iconic stop for African-themed memorabilia is undoubtedly Out of Africa. The store has several outlets located throughout the airport, and sells everything from Zulu beadwork to stuffed safari toys.
O.R. Tambo also has an impressive choice of lounges (five in domestic Terminal B and nine in international Terminal A). Some of these are only open to card-carrying members; however, five of them can be enjoyed by all travelers regardless of their airline or ticket class. They are:
- Bidvest Premier Premium Lounge (Terminal B)
- Bidvest Sky Premium Lounge (Terminal B)
- Bidvest Premier Premium Lounge (Terminal A)
- Mashonzha Premium Lounge (Terminal A)
- Shongololo Premium Lounge (Terminal A)
Access to these Premium Lounges can be booked online up to 24 hours in advance for a reasonable fee. Facilities include comfortable seating, refreshments, WiFi, TVs and showers.
WiFi and Other Services
WiFi is available at hotspots throughout the airport, with up to 1 GB or the first four hours (whichever comes first) free of charge. The airport also offers a full complement of other services, ranging from abundant restroom facilities to prayer rooms for Christians and Muslims. In a health-related emergency, head to the Airport Medical Clinic, which remains open 24 hours a day. Other useful services include car rental agencies, smoking lounges, ATMs and three different currency exchange companies (all of which are located in the arrivals area of Terminal A).
Staying Safe at O.R. Tambo
O.R. Tambo is a modern airport with first-world facilities and a good safety record. However, there are certain precautions that all travelers should take. Firstly, the Johannesburg baggage handlers are notorious for their sticky fingers. Regardless of your destination, if your bags are passing through O.R. Tambo it's a good idea to pack anything of value in your hand luggage. Luggage locks are not necessarily an adequate deterrent - for safety's sake, consider having your bag plastic-wrapped before check-in as well. Keep your hand luggage on your person at all times.
Credit card fraud occurs with astonishing regularity here, too. Although using your card to pay for meals and shopping purchases at the point of sale is usually safe, drawing money from an ATM is risky. If possible, arrive at the airport with enough cash to last you through your layover. Lastly, O.R. Tambo employs official porters to offer assistance to those that need it. If you decide to use them, make sure that you are giving your bags to a registered employee with an ACSA permit and an orange uniform. Be aware that a tip is expected - R10 is considered reasonable.
O.R. Tambo International Airport Tips & Facts
- Originally named for the apartheid-era prime minister Jan Smuts, the airport was re-christened in 2006 in honor of ANC president and freedom fighter Oliver Reginald Tambo.
- An eight-foot statue of O.R. Tambo stands in the International Arrivals area and depicts the politician's arrival at the airport after 30 years in exile.
- More than 50% of all air travel in South Africa starts, ends or connects through O.R. Tambo.
- In 2017/2018, the airport welcomed more than 21 million visitors.
- O.R. Tambo has two runways. One of them is the 33rd longest runway in the world.
- The airport is home to a wide choice of hotels including one of the top-rated hotels in Kempton Park, 5-star InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport.