SAA Is Getting A New Business Class Product… If They Don’t Liquidate

Filed Under: South African Airways

For the past few weeks I’ve written about media reports that suggest South African Airways might be on the brink of liquidation. They’ve been performing horribly for a long time, and the government seems to have reached the point where they’re not willing to throw a lot more money at the airline.

South-African-Lounge-Cape-Town-Airport - 5

SAA recently took out an ad in a newspaper looking for a mere 1.1 billion USD loan (though I realize this may have just technically been a required public notice).


They’ve been in a horrible financial situation for a long time, and have gone through seven CEOs in the past four years. The airline has an inefficient fleet and route network, and has been mismanaged far beyond those challenges.

One of the many problems the airline has is that they have an outdated, inefficient fleet. While it likely won’t lead them to profitability, SAA is in the process of taking delivery of five Airbus A330-300 aircraft (presently they use A330-200, A340-300, and A340-600 aircraft for their longhaul flights). They should be taking delivery of their first two A330-300 aircraft later this year, and then they’ll take delivery of another three of them next year.

It’s actually a rather puzzling aircraft for SAA to take delivery of, given that it has limited range when departing Johannesburg due to the high altitude of the airport. Apparently it can’t even fly nonstop to destinations outside of Africa. Per CAPA:

Mr Zwane pointed out that the A330-300s SAA is receiving have limited range from the high altitude of Johannesburg, and therefore cannot be operated on any nonstop routes to destinations outside Africa. However, Mr Zwane said that SAA is considering several potential new fifth freedom routes connecting West Africa with North America or Europe. Such routes would be within range of the A330-300, although could also potentially be operated with smaller A330-200s.

That’s why it’s quite interesting to note that SAA has filed their initial schedule for the A330-300, per RoutesOnline. The new A330-300 is scheduled to operate the following routes:

eff 01DEC16 Johannesburg – Lagos 1 daily
eff 01JAN17 Johannesburg – Sao Paulo Guarulhos 6 weekly, 7 weekly from 04APR17
eff 02FEB17 Johannesburg – Dakar – Washington Dulles 3 weekly
eff 01APR17 Johannesburg – Munich Alternating days, daily by 04JUN17

The routes to Lagos and Washington Dulles via Dakar make sense, though the flights to Sao Paulo and Munich seem to contradict what the airline’s CEO has said about the limits of the plane.

Anyway, perhaps most interestingly, it looks like SAA’s new A330s will feature a new business class product.

Presently SAA’s A330-200 aircraft feature angled forward facing business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration.

South-African-A330-Business-Class - 1

Meanwhile the seatmaps for the A330-300 aircraft show business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.


I haven’t seen an official mention of what kind of seats these planes will feature. A 1-2-1 configuration could mean a reverse herringbone configuration

Avianca-Business-Class-787 - 1

It could also mean a staggered configuration


Bottom line

I’m curious to see what kind of a configuration SAA introduces on their new A330-300 aircraft, though regardless it should be an improvement over their current product. Still, the whole concept of them taking delivery of this plane which supposedly can’t operate nonstop flights beyond Africa is a bit puzzling.

Here’s to hoping the airline stays in business long enough for us to see their new business class product.

Do you think SAA will introduce a reverse herringbone or staggered configuration in business class?

  1. Were all the recent CEOS black or white?

    I see this problem in ever country. Kick the whites out, get independence (some form of it) and then turn on their own people and steal and kill and rape them.

    Happens in most African countries, most south American countties and quite a few Asian countries.

  2. This decision is symbolic of SAA’s mismanagement. Surely if their only long-haul routes that can be profitable are long, thin routes, then 787s would be more appropriate to update their fleet?

    You’ve said before SAA faces similar problems to Qantas in regards to their ‘end-of-the-line’ geographical disadvantage. They have almost no intl connecting traffic. QF has managed to completely turn its financial situation around by dramatically cutting costs (including making a huge proportion of its bloated middle management redundant) without any noticeable change to the customer experience (unlike BAs monthly ‘enhancements’) as well as increasing aircraft utilisation, retiring both inefficient aircraft and unprofitable routes, increasing codeshares, as well as investing in smart new aircraft to rejuvenate the fleet. They also have an extremely profitable, very poor value loyalty program that is somehow very well regarded.

    QF has always been a premium brand that Australians respect and love and has focused on continuing to be premium (again, unlike BA).

    The lessons SAA could learn from QF:

    – Retire aircraft and routes that don’t make money immediately;
    – Find a better airline than you to operate routes you cant/cant make money on (EY?)
    – Invest in efficient new aircraft
    – Assuming SAA is respected as a premium brand in its home market, continue that premium feeling with new hard and soft products
    – Reduce staff members – I would be amazed if there was any change to the product with a 20% reduction in staff
    – Stay in *A – that is your greatest asset
    – Hell, they could even offer Christop Mueller the job but I doubt he would take it after all the corruption at MH.

    Despite this advice, I expect SAA will go down the MH route of increased losses, continued mismanagement and corruption, and the airline will fold with the country regretting it for decades to come.

    If CAPA website hasve not done an analysis piece on SAA they should – it would be fascinating and their analysts are usually spot on.

  3. @Credit, unfortunately your racism is not supported by fact. There have been a number of CEOs of SAA in the past 5 years; some white, some black. The longest serving was Nico Bezuidenhout, who is white. The Chief Financial Officer has also been white.

    The growth of Middle Eastern carriers has more of an impact on SAA than race.

  4. I’m actually going to get to fly the new business class product in February from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, so I’m really excited about it! It’s replacing an A330-200 with the angled seats on that route, which hopefully means a much better sleeping experience for my wife and I. We are on an SAA A340-600 on the way out from JFK, so at least I will have experienced their two best hard products.

  5. I don’t know about Munich, but Latam is flying a 763 from GRU to JNB, so, at least theoretically, the A330 should be able to do it…

  6. @Credit Were most racists in recent history white or black?

    I see this problem in every country. Whites come in, kill, enslave, and rape native people (usually all three), natives fight to get basic freedoms, and after using their labor to amass wealth, whites turn on them and tell them to get over the past. This happens in most African countries, most South American countries, and quite a few Asian countries.

    By most, I mean pretty much all of them.

  7. @CTravlr – Well played, madam/sir, well played indeed. Brilliant, actually.

    Thank you for that bit of precision correction and clarification.

  8. I flew São Paulo – Johannesburg last week (in coach) and that was the shittiest plane I had been on in I don’t know how long. I’m guessing the seatback entertainment system was at least 10 years old. On the way back, virtually everyone in the back had the 4 seat middle row to themselves.

  9. The longest serving was Nico Bezuidenhout, who is white. He was the ceo of mango the low cost saa airline not the mainline saa airline. get the facts right.

  10. Hi Andy!

    Let us know what seat configuration it ends up. We’re flying JNB-ACC-IAD in November and wanted to get a head start on the seats. Excited for first time in Africa!!!

  11. With SAA, it is not the CEO who is generally the problem, rather the current Chairperson is unqualified (no airline experience) and wields a huge amount of power. This is why CEO turnover is what it is. Due to close personal ties to the corrupt SA president there is no getting rid of her. SAA hard product is not bad, pilots ,crew and maintenance good. The political interference must go before SAA can turn themselves around. It is a sad state of affairs and I have stopped flying them both in SA and internationally due to the unacceptable political interference.

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