Review: South African Airways Business Class A330 Johannesburg To London

Filed Under: South African Airways

South African Airways 236
(JNB) – London (LHR)
Wednesday, May 25
Depart: 8:25PM
Arrive: 6:55AM (+1 day)
Duration: 11hr30min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 5D (Business Class)

I boarded through the forward door, where I was greeted by the extremely friendly lead flight attendant, who pointed me down the near aisle.

While South African’s A340-600 business class consists of a single huge cabin, business class on the A330-200 is split between two cabins. There are a total of 36 seats, with each cabin having a total of three rows, in a 2-2-2 configuration.

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South African Airways forward business class cabin A330

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South African Airways forward business class cabin A330

I was seated in the rear cabin, in seat 5D, which is in the second to last row, on the left side of the center section.

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South African Airways rear business class cabin A330

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South African Airways A330 business class seats

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South African Airways A330 business class seats

Legroom in the cabin was excellent, and aesthetically I thought the seats were somewhat nicer than those on the A340-600 (but they’re still not my style).

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South African Airways A330 business class legroom

On the center console were the seat controls, which were easy to use.

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South African Airways business class center console

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South African Airways business class seat controls

Behind that and beneath the center armrest were the entertainment controls. This controller was a bit more modern than on the previous flight, which was also true of the entertainment system, as there was a significantly larger selection.

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South African Airways business class entertainment controls

There were individual reading lights between seats as well.

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South African Airways business class individual reading lights

The seatback had a literature pocket, as well as storage for headphones, which wasn’t as large or deep as on the A340-600.

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South African Airways business class seatback pocket and storage

Much like on my previous flight, there was a small compartment where I could store my shoes, which was well designed.

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South African Airways business class compartment for shoes

The tray table folded out of the center armrest, and was a good size.

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SAA business class tray table

Within 10 minutes of settling in, one of the friendly flight attendants came by to offer pre-departure beverages, with the choice between water, orange juice, and champagne. I chose champagne. I appreciate that South African serves pre-departure beverages in proper glassware, and even in proper champagne glasses, to boot.

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SAA business class pre-departure champagne

The flight attendant looked at me strangely for a second, and then said “didn’t I have you on my Frankfurt flight a few days ago?”

Hah, it was indeed the same flight attendant I had on my outbound flight!

A few minutes later I was offered the menu and wine list for the flight, as well as an amenity kit.

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SAA business class menu and wine list

South African Airways business class amenity kit

About 15 minutes after I boarded, my seatmate showed up, who was a Dutch lady who quilted for a good portion of the flight. I don’t think she spoke English, though she did give me weird looks for taking pictures. Oops.

At around 8:10PM Captain Norman came on the PA to welcome us aboard and inform us of our flight time of 11hr20min. He said we’d be taking off into the North, and the ride should be mostly smooth throughout the night, with a bit of occasional chop.

At 8:25PM the cabin door closed, with all but two business class seats occupied. The last people to board were a South African couple, who were absolutely horrible to the crew throughout the flight. They were seated in the bulkhead, and the wife was horrified that she had to put her bag in the overhead during takeoff. So first she expressed her dismay to the flight attendant that even Louis Vuitton bags had to go into the overhead, and then she made the flight attendant stand there for a while as she kept digging through her bag to take things out.

Once we began our pushback the safety video began to play. Around the same time, the cabin crew sprayed the cabin, as is the case when flying to/from certain regions.

Our taxi to the runway took about 15 minutes, and at 8:40PM we were airborne, after a reasonably quick takeoff roll.

The seatbelt sign was turned off less than 10 minutes after takeoff, at which point some automated announcements played over the PA. One of them caught my attention, talking about “SAA Voyager, Africa’s first revenue based frequent flyer program.” Since when is that something to be proud of? 😉

After the announcement I pulled out my personal television and browsed the selection. I started with the airshow, which had a much better interface than my previous flight did, and a similar interface to what many other airlines use for their airshow.

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SAA airshow from Johannesburg to London

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SAA airshow from Johannesburg to London

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SAA airshow from Johannesburg to London

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SAA airshow from Johannesburg to London

After looking at the airshow I browsed the entertainment selection, which was also much better than on the previous flight.

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South African Airways A330 entertainment selection

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South African Airways A330 entertainment selection

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South African Airways A330 entertainment selection

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South African Airways A330 entertainment selection

I eventually decided to watch “Vacation,” which I found to be a perfect airplane movie — it was hilarious, but also dumb as could be.

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South African Airways A330 entertainment selection

I’d note that not only was the entertainment selection significantly better, but the video quality was much higher resolution as well.

As we finished our climb out the crew came around the cabin to take meal orders, and ask if people wanted to be woken for breakfast.

After that we hit some pretty strong turbulence, but despite that the crew continued their service.

At that point hot towels were distributed, marking the beginning of the meal service.

The menu read as follows:

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And the beverage list read as follows:

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About 25 minutes after takeoff the flight attendants rolled carts through the aisles with drinks and canapés. I ordered a gin & tonic.

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SAA business class dinner — gin & tonic with canapés

The canapés consisted of “fish, cheese and tomato, and beef,” per the flight attendant.

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SAA business class dinner — canapés

I was also offered a bottle of water.

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SAA business class dinner — bottled water

About 15 minutes after that the appetizers were served off a cart. Since the soup was excellent on my outbound flight, I once again ordered it. In this instance it was an “onion with honey and cream cheese soup,” per the flight attendant.

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SAA business class dinner starter — soup of the day

As weird as that sounds, it was excellent.

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SAA business class dinner starter — soup of the day

It was also served with a side of bread, which looked much better than it tasted.

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SAA business class dinner — bread selection

For the main course I ordered the salmon, which was exceptional. While South African doesn’t have the most elaborate meal service, they nail presentation and quality for what they do serve.

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SAA business class dinner main course — grilled salmon

About 15 minutes after that, dessert was served. For dessert the choice was between vanilla ice cream and granadilla sorbet. I chose the former.

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SAA business class dinner dessert — vanilla ice cream

After that I also ordered a cheese plate, which was okay.

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SAA business class dinner dessert — cheese plate

To finish off the meal I was offered some chocolates from a box. I also ordered some of the amarula cream on ice, per a friend’s recommendation. It was really tasty, much better than Baileys.

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SAA business class dinner dessert — chocolate and amarula cream on ice

The service was efficient, and 65 minutes after takeoff the entire meal service was complete. I have to say that the crew was friendly and attentive throughout the service. I suspect that partly has to do with the fact that this business class configuration featured two cabins of three rows each, rather than one cabin with seven rows. I think it makes the service feel a bit more attentive, since you don’t see all the times others are served and you’re ignored.

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SAA business class cabin

About 20 minutes after the meal service was complete the cabin lights were dimmed. I finished the movie before going to sleep, at which point we were about two hours into the flight.

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Airshow after dinner

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Airshow after dinner

After that I headed into the lavatory to change into pajamas. There were two lavatories located between the two business class cabins, which were pretty standard.

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SAA business class lavatory A330

The lavatories featured Aigner amenities.

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SAA business class lavatory amenities A330

I really wanted to sleep on this flight as much as possible, given that I was tired already, and in the morning was connecting from London to Toronto to Vancouver. However, I really struggled with sleeping.

The seat on the A330-200 simply isn’t fully flat, unlike on the A340-600. It’s not as angled as some other seats, but the legrest does slope down considerably, in a way which makes it rather uncomfortable.

On top of that, there’s no privacy screen between seats, and each pair of seats seems linked and not very stable, in the sense that every time my seatmate moved, I could feel it, much like in American’s botched business class product.

The other problem was that I didn’t feel like I could reasonably stay awake without disturbing my seatmate. I’d be “towering” over her, and any light would have distracted her. This is why I far prefer seats without a seatmate and with direct aisle access.

So I tossed and turned for hours and hours, and in the end got maybe two hours of sleep. While I’m of course always grateful to be in a premium cabin and have space to stretch out, this was far from my best night of sleep on a plane.

About 1hr40min before landing in London, the cabin lights were slowly turned up, so I put my seat in the upright position and checked out the airshow.

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Airshow before breakfast

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Airshow before breakfast

Within about 15 minutes the breakfast service began. The menu read as follows:

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I ordered the open faced omelet, along with some yogurt and muesli.

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South African Airways business class breakfast

The omelet was fantastic, one of the best egg dishes I’ve had on a plane.

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South African Airways business class breakfast — open omelette

I was also served a warm croissant with breakfast.

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South African Airways business class breakfast — croissant

I combined the muesli and yogurt, and they tasted great as well.

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South African Airways business class breakfast — granola

The only weak point of the breakfast was the coffee, which tasted powdered.

At 6:30AM London time we began our descent, at which point the captain provided us with updated arrival information, explaining we may have to briefly enter a holding pattern.

We descended for about 10 minutes, and then sure enough entered a holding pattern. During this time a video screened outlining the arrivals process in London, and explaining that South African Airways business class passengers can use the United arrivals lounge in London.

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Airshow on approach into London

The seatbelt sign was turned on about 15 minutes before landing, and finally at 7:05AM we touched down in London. From there it was a 10 minute taxi to Terminal 2, where we arrived on stand at 7:15AM.

South African Airways A330 business class bottom line

Overall the service and food on this flight were quite good. South African’s meal service isn’t the most involved, but the taste of almost everything I had was excellent. The crew was also friendly and attentive on this flight, and I feel like the flow of service was also better. I attribute that partly to there being two small business class cabins, rather than just one large one.

I’m happy I got to try the A330 on this flight. What I liked about it (compared to the A340) is that there were two small business class cabins and that the entertainment system was much better. However, unfortunately the seat was less comfortable, and there was no privacy screen, which I found to be frustrating.

All things considered I’d definitely choose the A340-600 over the A330-200.

  1. this trip report series is way too long and a bit boring due to it’s repetitiveness….where are the exciting trip reports?

  2. So Air Canada vs. South African Airways…who had the better food overall, in your opinion?

  3. I’m trying to get my head around a Dutch woman who didn’t speak English…. Did she speak Afrikaans to they flight attendants?

  4. Lucky, what does this mean:

    “Around the same time, the cabin crew sprayed the cabin, as is the case when flying to/from certain regions.”

  5. The cabin is sprayed to kill any insects that may be on board.

    This is done only on certain routes.

  6. The theme I’m seeing on all the recent trip reports is that airlines need to start cleaning their seat controls with a toothbrush.


  7. Per the BC layout I would not want the Window seat when your seatmate elects to stretch out for a snooze unless a small empty area exists to walk through. . Enjoyed your review and pictures
    In Australia , landing in Sydney from Vancouver on Air Canada we had to wait after landing for the plane to be sprayed inside by the FA’s. Ended up coughing more than dry air 🙂

  8. Lucky, does getting a bad business class seat like this make you question doing this for a living? I can that it might be quite fun to be in a nice seat long haul, but being jetlagged AND unable to sleep because of a bad seat must be seriously unpleasant.

  9. I highly doubt a Dutch woman flying business class CAN’T speak english. Just because she didn’t talk to you doesn’t allow you to question her foreign language skills. Jeez.

  10. You should’ve ordered the springbok loin for dinner! I had a springbok steak for dinner one night in Cape Town; definitely one of my more memorable meals, especially with a fine glass of South African red to go with it.

  11. “One of them caught my attention, talking about “SAA Voyager, Africa’s first revenue based frequent flyer program.” Since when is that something to be proud of?”

    Intra-Africa flights can be very expensive, even more expensive than flying to Europe or the US from Johannesburg. It is for this reason that the revenue based model works better for Africa travel. Sometimes it costs more to fly from Johannesburg to Cameroon than it would cost to get to the UK or Germany.

  12. I am a South African citizen and Voyager Member since they started the program around 25 years ago. Three years ago I joined Lufthansa Miles-and-More and rather try to build up miles with them. SAA was a top-rated airline in the good old days. Before 1994, SAA won the “Best Airline of the year” award for several years. The last few years it went into such financial problems because of bad management, that it is technically bankrupt. I don’t know how they can still take off into the air.
    Because of this, the Voyager program is getting less and less attractive and will much likely stop to function. For example: as of 1 April 2018, they increased the miles required for a business class reward round-trip ticket to Europe from 130000 to 180000 miles.
    I was just in time to redeem my award and get my certificate with 130000 miles. Now I battle to book a flight on Lufthansa, 340 days before, and I am told that they did not release seats yet. I contacted Lufthansa in Germany to ask how long before a flight they release seats for award flights. They replied today and promised that someone will contact me. To fly on a Star Alliance partner with Voyager miles, one cannot book online. You have to call. Voyager told me to call then every two days ! This is Africa !

  13. The standard of flights comes through the Business Class and First Class is the vast amounts of not only leg room but also fully reclining seats with the fully comforted area with all accessories of our entertainment.

  14. @Robbie – You’re misleading the public with your incorrect facts about pre-1994, and if I were to guess, you’re slightly harbouring racist thoughts. SAA has won many awards post 1994 as well and the rebranding was much needed compared to the old livery. Yes, I agree with you on bad financial management and so forth, but those are not determiners for being a well rated airline, as airlines are rated on service product and offering, not on the state of the balance sheet. A simple search on the SAA website will show you the awards they have won since 1994

    Other than that, I agree with you that the Voyager programme is becoming ridiculous and pricing itself out of competition.

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