South African Airways Reveals A350 Plans

Filed Under: South African Airways

In late June I wrote about an exciting update for struggling South African Airways — the airline would be leasing some Airbus A350s. SAA has been on the brink of liquidation for years, with an inefficient fleet, inefficient route network, and debt that they can’t repay.

Yesterday I wrote about how the airline took delivery of their first A350 (is that a beautiful livery, or what?), and today the airline has revealed more details about their plans with the A350s.

South African Airways Will Get Four A350s

South African Airways has just taken delivery of their first Airbus A350-900, which has the registration code ZS-SDC. The airline will be taking delivery of a total of four of these planes over the next six weeks.

The first two A350-900s will be planes that flew for Hainan Airlines for a period of under a year before being stored, while the next two A350-900s will be brand new A350-900s that were supposed to be delivered to Air Mauritius, but are now going to South African Airways instead.

Looking at the history of the first A350-900:

  • The plane was initially supposed to go to LATAM, though the airline never followed through on the lease
  • The plane then ended up going to Hainan Airlines, where it flew with the registration code B-304Z
  • The plane started flying for Hainan in January 2019, and was stored this month
  • Now the plane has been repainted, and should be entering service for SAA soon

The second A350-900 has a similar story.

SAA To Fly A350s To New York By Mid-December

All four A350-900s are expected to enter commercial service by mid-December, which allows time for regulatory approval and crew training. South African Airways will operate these planes for a period of three years, though I imagine the leases have the potential to be extended.

The first A350-900s will be used to operate SAA’s Johannesburg to New York route, which is currently serviced by the A340-600. As additional aircraft are introduced, more routes will be operated by the A350 as well.

What Will Business Class Be Like On SAA’s A350s?

South African Airways’ first two A350-900s will feature a total of 339 seats, including 30 business class seats and 309 economy seats. South African Airways is keeping the same cabins that Hainan had, and Hainan kept the same cabins that LATAM had ordered, since they were the original intended customers for the planes.

The cabin will be the same as the “Layout 2” on this Hainan webpage). In that configuration business class is in a 2-2-2 layout with fully flat beds.

LATAM’s A350-900 business class

LATAM’s A350-900 business class

Unfortunately this isn’t the reverse herringbone or staggered configuration we see on some other A350s operated by the HNA Group.

One version of Hainan’s A350 business class

We’ll have to wait and see what the interiors are like on the A350-900s that were supposed to go to Air Mauritius. Air Mauritius has staggered seats in business class, so if they maintain those cabins then that could prove to be the better configuration.

Bottom Line

South African Airways has received their first A350, and they should get a further three A350s in the next six weeks. The plan is for the planes to start flying to New York and beyond starting in mid-December.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t get too excited about the interiors of these planes, at least for the first two A350-900s that used to fly to Hainan. These feature LATAM’s 2-2-2 business class configuration, which sure isn’t ideal (though is an upgrade over SAA’s A340-600 business class in terms of seat width, cabin noise and quality, etc.).

South African Airways’ A340 business class

I’m booked to fly South African Airways between New York and Johannesburg next April, and look forward to trying the A350.

  1. @Ben (Lucky) – Exactly who is the “we” you refer to multiple times in this post.

    (although I don’t think you will respond/answer this question)

  2. SAA will be receiving 4 A350’s:

    ZS-SDC – ex Hainan B-304Z
    ZS-SDD – ex Hainan B-305Z
    ZS-SDE – On lease from Air Mauritius, will be delivered straight to SAA
    ZS-SDF – On lease from Air Mauritius, will be delivered straight to SAA

    From what I’ve heard cabin crew and flight crew have been trained, and need to do sectors.

    On a side note, Tito Mboweni – the RSA finance ministers has said that government will repay SAA’s R9,2B of debt.

  3. I hope they use them on the JNB-GRU route.

    By the way, I often actually prefer the 2-2-2 business class configuration to some 1-2-1 configurations. I flew the UA 777 1-2-1 configuration and Air Canada 787 1-2-1 configuration last week. I found them both very tight and uncomfortable. Sure there is more privacy, but the seats are tight.

    The old Qatar 777 2-2-2 or SAA 330 2-2-2 in business are more comfortable for me. Intake the middle 2 and hope for an empty seat next to me. Am I the only one that likes the 2-2-2?

  4. Lucky, is it worth noting that SAA’s A333 product is far superior to any of the above offerings?

  5. @Ksa63

    Totally agree. I love Turkish’s business on the A330+777 for precisely that reason. The seats are large and comfortable. In fact I find this much better than staggered configurations (like ANA) and even some 1-2-1 configs.

  6. I LOVE the 2-2-2 seats. I’ve flown them on Qatar several times and while not the most innovative, they are HUGE, and so comfortable. I don’t feel like I’m in a little sky coffin, I have room all around me and it’s incredibly comfortable.

  7. I think for SAA 2-2-2 makes sense – South Africa is mostly a leasure destination, and many couples travel on their routes (so do we).
    So in my eyes: i think its ok 😉

  8. I also prefer the 2-2-2 seat configuration especially when travelling with someone. It feels a lot more spacious and I understand how some people think not having aisle access is a huge downgrade but for such a long flight, saying ‘excuse me’ to the person next to you is not a big deal (at least not to me.)

  9. Wait, just one aircraft for NYC-JNB? So it will be a mixed fleet op or is it not a daily flight? I thought SA would need at least two aircraft for daily schedule. What am I missing?

  10. Our national carrier is bankrupt. In the 1970’s it was one of the world’s best airlines flying 747-SP’s all over the world. Let’s see if they can keep up with the lease payments.

  11. Personally, as much as I’d like to support SAA, I’d rather fly Delta. Last time I flew SAA biz class, the service and food was terrible. The crew wasn’t given the tools to make a bad experience better. I’m sure it was due to their financial problems.

  12. 1. I really agree with those of you who prefer 2-2-2!

    2. @Lucky – the pictures in this post are wrong. One of the two pictures of the LATAM/Hainan cabin is correct, the first one. The second one is of their 787, which has a slightly different interior. The second picture, of the 787, has identical seats to e.g. TK, whereas the first picture, of the A350, has a modified version of the seat with different details.

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