O. R. Tambo International Airport. Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa

O. R. Tambo International Airport

Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa

O. R. Tambo International Airport Photo © www.southafrica.net

Cover photo full

O. R. Tambo International Airport

Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | Flickr

Virgin Atlantic Lounge - O.
	R. Tambo International Airport
Virgin Atlantic Lounge - O. R. Tambo International Airport. Photo by unknown
Named after former African National Congress President, Oliver Tambo, the O.R Tambo Airport, located 23 kilometers east from the Johannesburg city center, hosts six different terminals. The airport is served by a major carrier, namely South African Airways and other minor airlines. It serves both domestic and international flights and is considered the busiest airport on the African continent as it handles almost over 13 million passengers every year.


Once called the ‘Rand Airport’, it was built in the 1920s and was considered the original airport serving Johannesburg’s growing air traffic. The air traffic needs were increasing so fast that it became almost impossible to accommodate larger planes being used to serve Great Britain in the 1940s which resulted in plans to build a new international airport.
International Departures -
	O. R. Tambo International Airport
International Departures - O. R. Tambo International Airport. Photo by unknown

During the construction of what is now known as O.R Tambo International Airport , the Palmietfontein Airport in southeast Johannesburg, initially used as a wartime air force base, was converted into a temporary airport. After the completion, the new airport was then named after prominent South African statesman, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and became operational in 1952, although European flights were handled in this airport since 1945. It became the Jan Smuts Airport.

In 1994, by the end of the apartheid era, the airport was renamed ‘Johannesburg International Airport’, mostly because of a new policy created by the newly elected ANC government; prohibiting airports from being named after political personalities. But ironically in 2006, the policy changed again, leading to the airport being named after the former president of the African Congress; Oliver Tambo (Wikipedia Article).
Some major redevelopment took place over the years, which was necessary due to the airport becoming a major hub for southern hemisphere air travel and also after South Africa was honored with the organization of the FIFA World Cup in 2010.


The terminal building is built in the early Modern Movement architectural style. During the time it was built, young South African architects were revolutionizing the city of Johannesburg's skyline.

The South African Airways Museum Society has a number of aircraft on display that have been donated to them- amidst the elegant forms and clean lines of the architecture.

The Oliver Tambo International Airport is a very busy airport that has a number of aircraft maintenance organizations, flying schools, air charter operators, not to mention car hire and pilot shops.

The Airport Pier was designed to be energy and water-efficient, incorporating the meticulous use of raw materials and maximizing the potential of the site.
International Arrivals - O.
	R. Tambo International Airport
International Arrivals - O. R. Tambo International Airport. Photo by unknown

The airport also comprises an international terminal, purposefully constructed to house the all-new Airbus A380 (Wikipedia Article), an upgraded shopping area complemented by the overall neat and catchy decor of the airport's inner areas and finally, the prestigious, newly built Gautrain rapid rail link found above the terminal; all making their contribution to the smooth running of the newly renovated Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Airport’s Amenities

Visitors to the O.R Tambo International Airport will be pleased to know that there are various amenities available inside or within a short distance from the airport, such as its 7 restaurants, 17 accommodation facilities, and 10 shops.

Accommodation needs are covered by places like the Airport Grand Hotel, or the Aviator Hotel that are a five-minutes' drive away from the airport, offering to its visitors easy access to other major centers and touristic attractions of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Prices start at a $ 102 USD per person at the Grand Hotel, and $ 78 USD at the Aviator Hotel.

Try restaurants like Ekaya when transiting at the airport. This South African cuisine specialty excels in spicy stews and curries. For those departing in the early morning, bakeries like Fournos serve freshly baked pastries accompanied by hot chocolate, cheese, and cinnamon croissants. For lunchtime, Fournos has a variety of sandwiches made with French baguettes.

If you are about to embark on a long trip, why not buy a book or a magazine at exclusive bookstores. Makayla’s Jewelers is the ideal destination for shopaholics where one will find South-African-themed jewelry. Another favorite destination for shoppers is the duty-free, famous Chocolats Marionettes, where handmade chocolate are sold alongside well-known brands like Toblerone and other international chocolate brands.

Virgin Atlantic Lounge - O.
	R. Tambo International Airport
Virgin Atlantic Lounge - O. R. Tambo International Airport. Photo by unknown


If you are planning to travel to Johannesburg you are likely to depart from or arrive at the OR Tambo International Airport and have the options of travelling by bus, train or taxi, forming a variety of transportation matching every visitor’s budget and needs.


Mostly found right outside the international and domestic terminals, it is provided by city buses and informal minibuses. One of the well-known transit buses company is the Rea Vaya; a rapid transit bus, designed to provide safe, secure, and affordable public transport to visitors. In fact, this company has its own bus lanes at the airport and stops every 500 m.


For those who are not familiar with South Africa and skeptical about public transportation, metered taxis may be a better alternative; because you’ll be have the advantage of being dropped off at the front door of your destination. The taxi rank is located just outside the arrivals area. It is a more expensive choice (especially to foreigners) but is also the quickest, and the fares are generally negotiable. Prices from the airport to Johannesburg suburbs and Pretoria range from R300 ($27) to R400 ($36).


There is now a new rail link from the airport to the suburbs in Sandton and Pretoria. You’ll also find parking and bus connections at the train station. Therefore, if you plan on gaining access to the train station at the airport, you will find it on the upper level between terminals A and B; all you have to do is follow the signs. Tickets are available at the train station or accredited retailers, you must have a minimum amount of R20 ($1.78) in your card, but a R100 ($8.90) gold card is recommended to tourists.
Oliver Tambo International
	Airport aerial view. - O. R. Tambo International Airport
Oliver Tambo International Airport aerial view. - O. R. Tambo International Airport. Photo by unknown

Nice to know

Although a very modern and impressive airport; it also has a lot of flaws, and it's service and assistance to travelers range from poor to average.

Transfer time seems to be one of it's weakest points. It is rated poorly for its immigration services, with queues that can last 15 minutes or 1 hour; depending on the number of immigration officers(sometimes rude) available. However the baggage collection is faster, the most you can wait for your luggage is 30 minutes, but it usually last 15 to 20 minutes.

For those transferring to domestic departures, the signage at the airport is so confusing and can cause delays to travelers. It can lead you to spend an hour trying to find your way in the airport as domestic flights are at the far end of the domestic terminal. Just make sure you've booked your flight with a 3 hour interval. For those seeking an accommodation and who are relying on hotel shuttles, finding the bus terminal for these shuttles can be a hassle due to the lack of signage.

The duty free however, has a good selection of goods compared to a lot of other busy airports, but it is quite expensive, as there's no palpable difference between prices of the same goods outside the airport. Food selection is rather poor, not different from what is being served in regular fast food restaurants.

When checking in for your flight, you'll also be appalled by the number of luggage wrapped in clingfilm, which confirms the high percentage of luggage theft at the Oliver Tambo International Airport.


The Oliver Tambo International Airport is a fairly safe environment, with constant and noticeable South African Police Force presence (police officers are everywhere, and are watching everybody). However, as you step out of the airport, keep in mind that you are in the Johannesburg area, so it is definitely not safe, so observe the usual security measures which are:
  • To make sure that you have made the appropriate transportation arrangements before landing.
  • Make sure you've booked your accommodation.
  • Avoid displaying your belongings such as money, credit cards, jewelry and gadgets, be discreet.
  • Avoid being walking alone in isolated areas.

  • If you follow these safety guidelines, you’ll have almost 0% chances of getting robbed or brutalized for your belongings.

    Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.

    Author: Comasco. Last updated: Dec 14, 2014


    O. R. Tambo International Airport: Report errors or wrong information

    Regular contributors may earn money from their contributions. If your contribution is significant, you may also register for an account to make the changes yourself to this page.
    Your report will be reviewed and if correct implemented. Your emailaddress will not be used except for communication about this report if necessary. Thank you for your contribution.
    This site uses cookies.