Introduction: Star Alliance To South Africa
Review: Four Points By Sheraton Vancouver Airport
Review: Air Canada Domestic Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver Airport
Review: Air Canada Business Class 787 Vancouver To Toronto
Review: Air Canada International Maple Leaf Lounge Toronto Airport
Review: Air Canada Business Class 787 Toronto To Frankfurt
Review: South African Airways Business Class A340 Frankfurt To Johannesburg
Review: South African Airways Domestic Lounge Johannesburg Airport
Review: South African Airways Business Class A319 Johannesburg To Cape Town
Review: Westin Cape Town
Review: South African Airways Lounge Cape Town Airport
Review: South African Airways Business Class A340 Cape Town To Johannesburg
Review: South African Airways International Lounge Johannesburg Airport
Review: Mashonzha Lounge Johannesburg Airport
Review: South African Airways Business Class A330 Johannesburg To London
Review: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge London Heathrow Airport
Review: Air Canada Business Class 777 London Heathrow To Toronto
Review: Air Canada Domestic Maple Leaf Lounge Toronto Airport
Review: Westin Wall Centre Vancouver Airport
My flight from Toronto landed shortly after 11AM, while my connection to Johannesburg wasn’t until 8:45PM. Therefore I had a full day. Since I had plenty of work to do, I spent the entire day in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. It’s a nice lounge, and I prefer it to Lufthansa’s offerings at Frankfurt Airport (simply because the Air Canada Lounge doesn’t get as crowded). My stay in the lounge even came with some free entertainment, thanks to my fellow guests.
Eventually I briefly headed over to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, which was right across from my departure gate.
Since I’ve reviewed both of those lounges before, I won’t be doing so again with this review.
About 90 minutes before departure, the beautiful South African Airways A340-600 which would be taking me to Johannesburg was towed to its gate. It was even in the special Star Alliance livery. The plane had been sitting at Frankfurt Airport since it arrived early that morning from Johannesburg.
The flight was boarding from gate B26, and the boarding pass indicated that boarding would commence at 8PM, 45 minutes before departure. Not surprisingly, given that this was a flight originating in Germany, the flight boarded at 8PM on the dot.
South African Airways 261
Frankfurt (FRA) – Johannesburg (JNB)
Friday, May 20
Arrive: 7:25AM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Airbus A340-600
Seat: 4K (Business Class)
I boarded through door L1, where I was greeted by the purser, Felicia. She pointed me towards the far aisle, where my seat was located.
South African’s A340 business class consists of one huge cabin. There are seven rows of fully flat seats, all in a 2-2-2 configuration.
I quickly headed to row four (the center of the cabin), where I had reserved a window seat. While I usually prefer an aisle, they only had windows left when I was rebooked on this flight.
The seat had two seatback pockets — one was for literature, while the other was for headphones, etc.
The seat wasn’t especially wide or well padded. Furthermore, while the seat wasn’t in great condition, it was in better condition than I was expecting given that the seat is presumably over a decade old.
Seat controls were located on the center armrest and were easy to use, though the seat’s motor was rather loud.
In addition to the two seatback pockets, there were also two cubbies between the seats which were big enough to hold an amenity kit, bottled water, etc.
At the bottom of the seat in front of me was a locker, which was big enough to hold my shoes. I thought that was a pretty functional design.
Between seats was a privacy partition which could be raised. While it wasn’t especially effective when in the upright position, I found it worked wonders when fully flat, as it added a sense of privacy (the A330 I flew on the way back didn’t have such a partition).
Then the entertainment controls, headphone jack, and power outlet were located underneath the center armrest.
The entertainment controls weren’t exactly the most modern variety out there.
I also couldn’t actually get the power outlet to work for charging my phone, though oddly it worked with my computer.
The headphones in the seatback pocket were noise canceling, though they were a bit clunky.
Unfortunately these seats didn’t have individual air vents, which I found to be rather annoying.
My seatmate was one of the other first passengers to board, which meant the process of taking pictures throughout boarding was incredibly awkward, as he looked at me like I was from a different planet when I was photographing everything. Perhaps that’s another reason I prefer private seats with direct aisle access, so I don’t have to deal with the odd looks from seatmates when taking pictures.
Shortly after settling in, the flight attendant working my aisle came by to introduce herself and offer a pre-departure beverage. I selected a glass of sparkling wine.
Shortly thereafter the crew distributed newspapers, and then amenity kits.
The amenity kits were well stocked, with socks, earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, eyeshades, and some products from Temple Spa.
The Temple Spa products included skin and lip balm.
During boarding the blankets were all in the overhead bins, though I quickly grabbed my pack. I was impressed that SAA offers both mattress pads and duvets, which were quite thick. The bedding was top notch.
By 8:30PM boarding was complete (with every seat in business class taken), at which point Captain Mick welcomed us aboard, on behalf of himself and the two first officers, Derrick and Kenny. The captain had a very strong South African accent, and explained we’d be flying over Zurich, Algiers, and then down Africa, with a pretty smooth ride. The flight time would be 10hr5min.
I quite enjoyed the views out the window, including of a retro livery Turkish A330, an Oman Air A330 (the same flight I recently took to Muscat, except it was operated by a 787 at the time), etc.
At that point Felicia made her welcome aboard announcement wishing everyone a “warm South African welcome,” and then screened the safety video. Since the individual TV monitors in business class are pulled up from the center armrest, only the overhead monitors screened the video. They were only located above the center seats, and on the bulkhead.
Finally at 8:45PM we began our pushback, exactly on schedule.
We taxied out to runway 18, and I quite enjoyed the plane’s reflection as we taxied past several glass buildings.
We also taxied by one of Lufthansa’s gorgeous new cargo 777s (I’ve always thought Lufthansa’s livery would look great on a 777).
Moments before takeoff the captain announced “ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to be airborne; crew, your stations please.”
At 8:55PM we lined up on runway 18, and began a very long takeoff roll.
The views on the climb out were gorgeous, as we were taking off right as the sun was setting. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Eight minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off. I quickly headed to the lavatory behind business class, which was tiny and not in especially good condition. While there were two lavatories behind business class, only one of them was for business class passengers, while the other was for economy passengers.
The lavatory had Aigner amenities.
Once back at my seat I browsed the entertainment selection. The system was outdated, to put it nicely.
I did enjoy the tail camera feature, though the screen was so grainy, which took away from the enjoyment.
I ended up watching the movie “How To Be Single,” which I thought was hilarious.
15 minutes after takeoff, Felicia handed out menus and the wine list, and personally welcomed each passenger aboard.
Once she was done handing out menus, she came around the cabin to take meal orders. She skipped around, and stopped by certain seats to say “in appreciation of your loyalty, can I take your meal order first?” I’m not sure if she was just doing that for South African Voyager Club elites, or what her system was.
By the time she came around to me, she asked for my first and second choice. I selected the chicken as my first choice and pasta as my second choice. When she asked my seatmate what he wanted, he said “chicken.” When she said “and your second choice?” he responded “just the chicken, otherwise I will not eat.” At that point she walked away.
About 30 minutes after takeoff hot towels were distributed.
After that the dinner service began. The menu read as follows:
And the beverage list read as follows:
45 minutes after takeoff the crew rolled carts through the aisles with canapés and drinks. While well intentioned, the service seemed extremely disorganized, because they’d start with one cart in the back and one in the front, and by the time they got to the middle row (where I was seated), there seemed to be confusion over which crewmember was responsible for those seats.
To drink I ordered a glass of sparkling wine, which was better than I was expecting. I was also proactively given a bottle of water, as well as some canapés. These consisted of shrimp, ham, and tomatoes with cheese.
While the drinks were served off a cart, the rest of the meal was done off trays. The flow of the service was way off, because my seatmate got his main course about 15 minutes before I got my starter. He actually laughed when he got his chicken (since he refused to name a second choice), looked at me, and said “it worked.”
For the starter I had ordered the soup of the day.
I still don’t know what exactly it was, though I can say it was delicious. It was easily one of the best soups I’ve had on a plane.
The pretzel bread and garlic bread were exceptional as well.
My starter was cleared about 10 minutes after I was done, and then shortly thereafter I was served my main course, which ended up being the pasta (since they were out of my first choice). While I didn’t initially want the pasta, it was really great. It’s rare that a pasta dish is as good in the air as on the ground, but SAA nailed this one.
A little over 90 minutes after takeoff dessert was served. I was asked if I wanted the dessert or cheese. I asked if I could have both, which the flight attendant agreed to.
First I had the pavlova, which was incredible. I had a cappuccino to accompany it, which unfortunately wasn’t as good. I’m fairly certain it was simply hot water with a cappuccino powder.
As I finished with that course, a flight attendant came around with a box of chocolates, and I selected one.
Lastly I was offered a cheese course.
After dinner I was asked if I wanted to be woken for breakfast, and I said I did. The dinner service was done just under two hours after takeoff.
The quality of the food was excellent, and the service was well intentioned, though the flow of the service was terrible. Furthermore, only offering passengers the option between a soup or salad or appetizer seems a bit stingy.
As the dinner service finished up, I had the most gorgeous view of the moon, despite the fact that the plane’s windows were small and rather filthy.
I was ready to sleep, given that this was my second redeye in a row. The issue was that the guy in the aisle seat was already sleeping, so I had no way of really placing my mattress pad on my seat, given that you have to stand up to do that. So I simply reclined my seat and went to bed.
Much to my surprise, I slept extremely well. I’m guessing that was largely due to exhaustion, but I got a solid 6hr30min of sleep. As much as I’ve long been opposed to window seats, I quite liked having one in this instance. I could raise the privacy partition and face the window, and felt like I had my own cocoon. The seat is also legitimately fully flat.
Unfortunately due to my seatmate I couldn’t get a picture of the seat in the fully flat position on this flight, but below is one I took on a subsequent flight on the same plane.
I woke up about 80 minutes before landing in Johannesburg, as we were starting to approach South Africa.
Upon waking up I decided to watch a sitcom, specifically “Undateable.”
Within a few minutes the crew began the breakfast service, starting with hot towels being distributed, followed by orange juice.
The breakfast menu read as follows:
Service wasn’t done off a cart, but rather the crew came around to each passenger and asked what they wanted:
“For breakfast would you like the omelet?”
“Would you like some yogurt?”
“Fruit or plain?”
“Would you like some cereal or muesli?”
“Yes, muesli please.”
“And something to drink?”
“Yes, coffee with milk please.”
As I said with dinner, service was rather disorganized, because it seemed like I’d be next to be served (they’d ask for orders and then immediately bring the food), but in my case it was another 15 minutes before I was offered breakfast.
The food itself was once again exceptional. The omelet was very good for an airplane omelet.
The muesli and yogurt were quite good as well, and I combined the two to make yogurt muesli.
About 30 minutes before landing the captain came back on the PA to provide updated arrival information, anticipating we’d touch down shortly before 7AM. As is the norm on redeye flights at this stage, the cabin was rather chaotic, as everyone wanted to use the lavatory, stow their bags, etc.
The sunrise was beautiful as we descended.
I also briefly watched the tail camera, until we were forced to stow our monitors, about 20 minutes before landing.
I was a bit surprised when we dropped our landing gear above the clouds, though then I realized that Johannesburg just had really low cloud coverage that day.
We touched down at Johannesburg Airport at 6:55AM with a smooth-as-could-be landing. As we taxied to our arrival gate, the purser once again wished us “a proudly South African goodbye.”
The airport was still fairly quiet at this hour, though I was a bit puzzled by the Air Corridor 737 parked just off the runway, which didn’t even have engines anymore. Is that really the best place they could store the plane?
We had to cross another runway before getting to the terminal, as our taxi took about 10 minutes.
Finally the airport seemed a bit busier as we approached the terminal, though there were mostly regional planes on the tarmac.
The international terminal was still quite empty.
Upon deplaning I bid farewell to the crew and was ready to get to Cape Town!
South African business class bottom line
I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed by SAA.
The seats were roughly what I expected. They’re comfortable and nice enough if traveling as a couple, though not ideal if traveling alone, since you’ll have a seatmate. They could certainly use a refresh.
I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the crew and the quality of the food.
However, I was disappointed by how disorganized the crew was, and that there seemed to be no flow to the service. I was also disappointed by how restrictive the menu was, given that you were only offered an appetizer or soup or salad. Lastly, given how outdated the product was, the entertainment system was pretty bad, both in terms of the selection, as well as in terms of the quality of the video and audio.
Overall I wouldn’t hesitate to fly South African Airways if they’re the most convenient airline in a market and/or have award availability, though they likely wouldn’t be my first choice otherwise.
If you’ve flown SAA business class, what was your experience like?