Review: South African Airways International Lounge Johannesburg Airport

Filed Under: South African Airways

My flight from Cape Town arrived on stand at 4:15PM, while my connection to London Heathrow was scheduled for 8:25PM.

The bus ride from the remote stand to the terminal took about 10 minutes, and the driver didn’t seem to understand he had dozens of people packed like sardines standing in his bus, based on the way he was driving.

We were dropped off in the arrivals area, where I found the signage to be horrible. Seriously, I’d like to think I don’t suck at navigating airports, but this airport made me feel like a lost puppy. In the arrivals hall there was no signage towards departing international flights. I asked the person at the information desk where to go, and she suggested I should just keep walking straight ahead, which I did.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 1
Johannesburg Airport terminal

It was a rather long walk, and then eventually I found myself in the same atrium I was in several days earlier after landing from Frankfurt. From there I turned right, where I finally found a security checkpoint.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 3
Johannesburg Airport terminal

I then also cleared immigration, at which point I found myself in the departures hall. If transiting Johannesburg Airport I’d allow yourself a bit of time, because it’s not a seamless connection. Typically if you’re connecting from a domestic flight you don’t have to clear security again, which isn’t the case here.

I followed the signage towards the SAA Lounge, which was at the far end of the terminal.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 4
Johannesburg Airport airside terminal

I was intrigued by the duty free at the airport, much of which was very “local,” but in a way which almost felt cheesy. For example the Out of Africa store felt like Rainforest Cafe meets Cracker Barrel.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 5
Johannesburg Airport duty free

After a further five minute walk I found myself at the very end of the concourse .

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 6
Johannesburg Airport airside terminal

That’s where several of the lounges were located, so I took the stairs up a level (though there was also an elevator).

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 7
Johannesburg Airport airside terminal

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 8
Johannesburg Airport lounge signage

The South African Airways Lounge was located on the right.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 9
South African Airways Lounge exterior Johannesburg Airport

Upon presenting my boarding pass I was admitted and informed my flight would be departing from gate A3. I want to apologize in advance for the picture quality in this installment. Due to how full the lounge was, I didn’t feel especially comfortable taking too many pictures, since I was getting weird looks. So please forgive me for the blurriness.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 10
South African Airways Lounge entrance Johannesburg Airport

The part of the lounge I had access to was located past the entrance and to the right, down a long hallway.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 11
South African Airways Lounge entrance Johannesburg Airport

Once inside the lounge there were several tables with two chairs each.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 12
South African Airways Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

While the lounge was quite crowded, I’ll say that they did a good job using a variety of partitions to make the space feel more private.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 13
South African Airways Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

In the center of the lounge was the buffet area, bar, and some dining tables.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 14
South African Airways Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 16
South African Airways Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 17
SAA Lounge Johannesburg Airport

The food selection was decent, though due to the number of people using the lounge, everything sort of looked picked over.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 28
SAA Lounge food selection Johannesburg Airport

There was also a limited hot selection, including soup.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 29
SAA Lounge food selection Johannesburg Airport

Then there was bottled water and soft drinks, as well as an espresso machine, tea, etc.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 30
SAA Lounge drink selection Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 31
SAA Lounge coffee selection Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 32
SAA Lounge snack selection Johannesburg Airport

There was a separate staffed bar, where you could also order custom made espresso beverages.

Then at the far end of the lounge was a counter with some high-top seats.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 15
South African Airways Lounge high-top seating Johannesburg Airport

Across from that was a business center with a communal table.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 19
SAA Lounge business center Johannesburg Airport

Then by the windows were several rows of chairs, which is where most people were seated.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 20
SAA Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 21
SAA Lounge seating Johannesburg Airport

The lounge did have fantastic views of the apron, including of a South African A340-600, and perhaps most gorgeous of all, a TAAG 777-300ER.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 33
SAA Lounge view Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 34
TAAG Angola Airlines 777 Johannesburg Airport

Then in the back corner of that section was a rest area with some reclining seats, which looked comfy (though given how full the lounge was, and therefore how noisy it was, it still wasn’t especially relaxing).

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 22
SAA Lounge relaxation area Johannesburg Airport

The lounge had a strange shape, so as you went deeper into the lounge there was even more seating.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 24
SAA Lounge Johannesburg Airport

Towards the end of the room was an area separated from the rest of the lounge by a door. Rather bizarrely it was completely empty, even though it was probably the nicest space. I’m still not sure what exactly the intent of that space is, but if you’re in the lounge I’d highly recommend hanging out there.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 25
SAA Lounge private area Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 26
SAA Lounge private area Johannesburg Airport

Past that was another separate room with a kids play area.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 27
SAA Lounge private area Johannesburg Airport

Overall I thought the lounge was reasonably nice, though there was one major problem — the wifi didn’t work at all. This is exactly the same problem I had at South African’s lounge in Cape Town. I brought this to the attention of the staff, and they also said “it’s running a bit slow today.”

Now, before someone says “it’s Africa, what do you expect?” (as someone commented when I wrote about the bad wifi in the lounge in Cape Town), I’d like to point out that the wifi in the domestic South African Airways Lounge in Johannesburg worked just fine.

Given that the wifi wasn’t working, I headed to the Priority Pass lounge located across from the South African Airways Lounge, which I’ll be reviewing in the next installment. The wifi worked just fine there. So I blame South African Airways, and not “Africa,” as some have suggested. This is one of those times where a credit card with lounge access saved the day for me.

After visiting the contract lounge across the way, I eventually headed to my departure gate, A3, at around 7:25PM. That was an hour before departure.

The gate was a good five minute walk away.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 35
Walking to departure gate Johannesburg Airport

When I got to the gate it wasn’t staffed yet. The setup is a bit of a mess, because there’s not really any seating in the individual gate areas. Rather there’s a door where your boarding pass is scanned and passport is checked, and then you go into a “holding pen” without seats.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 36
Departure gate Johannesburg Airport

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 38
Departure gate Johannesburg Airport

Finally at 7:35PM boarding began for those who needed extra time, and five minutes later it began for premium passengers.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 37
Priority boarding Johannesburg Airport

So I followed the walkway down a couple of levels, though unfortunately the crew wasn’t actually ready for boarding, as the flight was still being catered and cleaned.

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 39
Departure gate Johannesburg Airport

So we lined up there, and the entire plane load of passengers was in the holding pen before we were allowed to board, at 8PM. As you might expect, there was lots of groaning from passengers.

Interestingly the person in front of me was a British guy who was a retired South African Airways 747 captain, which I only know because he was talking to the gate agent the whole time. The gate agent explained there were 134 passengers (100 out of 186 in economy, and 34 out of 36 in business) on the flight, and then when boarding finally started, she yelled with pride “this man used to be one of our most senior captains!”

SAA-Lounge-Johannesburg - 40
Packed departure gate Johannesburg Airport

SAA Lounge Johannesburg Airport bottom line

The lounge itself was reasonably nice, though quite crowded. I actually preferred the domestic lounge to the international lounge, which isn’t often the case. For me the deal breaker was that the wifi was completely unusable. That’s the most basic amenity a lounge can offer.

So instead I spent my entire layover in a (mostly) crappy contract lounge so I could get work done.

Other than the wifi situation, I was impressed by all three SAA lounges I visited on this trip.

Am I the only one who considers wifi to be the most important amenity in an airport lounge?

  1. I think you had bad luck with the wi-fi Ben. I’ve used this lounge several times without any wi-fi issues, indeed the signal was excellent and I worked there for several hours on my last visit. Also the showers deserve a mention, they are clean and the towels provided are good – it’s a bit of a blessing before a long trip, especially if you’ve been driving a few hours before reaching the airport.

  2. I agree with Andy, the showers deserve a mention, they are quite good.
    On the Internet: Yes it’s an import amenity, however not the end of the world. Strange thing is, that I commuted for 1.5 year, and went through the lounge 2 times a month, and only had the internet working for a total of 5 times, so yea, definately a SAA decision that it is not working well. Especially when the lounge is almost as empty as in your pictures.

  3. Hi, no pictures shown of any alcoholic beverage being on offer?
    Was that the case, or a slip of the pen — eh, camera??

  4. Havent been to the lounges at JNB but the duty free shops there have excellent deals on South African wine. would recommend.

  5. Any idea what the Cycad First Class Lounge is used for? It is not for SAA First Class passengers as they don’t operate first class cabins anymore. Top tier elites?

  6. Transited JNB SA lounge 3 times last week, 2PM-8PM each time, and I can confirm that WiFi stops working around 5PM, when the lounge is packed with EU-bound passengers.

    Showers were also surprisingly clean and functional, 5-6 shower units in total.

  7. Ryan and Lucky, the Cycad lounge is also for F Lufthansa and Swiss passengers; not sure if it’s for others, too.

  8. I think the whole “It’s Africa. What do you expect?” crutch has been a problem for African development for far too long.

    When a lower level of basic competence is expected, a lower level of basic competence will be delivered.

    Whenever I see one of these enablers of substandard performance stated, I reply with “It’s 2016. Get with what’s expected.”

  9. Lucky, agree with you that the wifi situation was terrible. For anyone who is planning on getting some (internet-requiring) work done, they might make the same choice as you and move to a contract lounge. Not to mention, judging by Hasse’s comment, it only works sporadically and this is poor on SAA’s part. They must have received several complaints, but their response is disappointing, and not fixing such a basic but important issue is terrible.

    Other than that though, all 3 SAA lounges you have reviewed have been absolutely gorgeous. Great design.

  10. There are several airports where one has to clear security after getting off of a domestic flight but before connecting to an international flight – many during international transits too.

  11. Tip for the WIfI – which normally does work for me (I use the lounge at least once a week), sit in the chairs on your right as you walk in and you can see the BA lounge – and their WiFi! if you need the password get the BA app and all will be revealed!

    Compared to most African non-SA lounges this one is great – try the ones at DAR & LUN for a more normal experience 🙂

    Loo with a view at CPT domestic always worth a visit ……

  12. Awesome review, thanks so much I just have to disagree with your statement on the TAAG a/c being the most beautiful, its a horrid livery and an ugly plane period!! Those Airbus beauties are just a marvel from a looks perspective.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *