Africa Travel Director Chris Wain recently travelled to Cape Town on South African Airways. Here are his thoughts on the airline.
“What is Business Class like on South African Airways?” is a question we often get asked at Africa Travel.
In an attempt to answer this fully, I was fortunate to recently travel in their premium class and so I am able to give an honest, unbiased report of my experience.
Their London to Johannesburg service leaves from Heathrow’s new Terminal 2, which has the advantage of being able to offer Business Class passengers the use of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, one of Heathrow’s newest and finest, which boasts a bistro, showers, and relaxation pods fitted with TVs.
Dragging myself away from this, it was time to board the modern Airbus A330 aircraft, which along with an Airbus A340, serve the London - Johannesburg route. The seat configuration was 2-2-2, so no staring at somebody you don’t know for 11 hours and no awkwardness with a dividing screen going up and down all the time. The first drinks and hot canapés, (a nice touch), were served within 10 minutes of take off, and the 3-course dinner, which looked and tasted better than you would normally expect, (starters of salmon tartar or soup, followed by a choice of beef cheek, chicken supreme, grilled codfish or spinach polenta, and finished with tiramisu, chocolate ganache or cheese), arrived shortly after. The accompanying wines, South African of course, were excellent.
The seat slid down to create a fully flat bed, upon which the cabin attendants lay a quilted cover, and I was provided with a surprisingly thick duvet and pillow, (putting the acrylic ‘blankets’ of some airlines to shame). The amenities kit is a proper little bag, similar to those you used to get before airlines found ways to make cutbacks, and after skipping the entertainment (the usual Hollywood blockbusters supplemented by a strong offering of African films), and getting a good eight hours sleep, breakfast was served. Flexibility seemed to be the theme for breakfast; after taking dinner orders passengers are asked it they want waking for full breakfast service or whether they want the express service one hour before landing. The cabin crew were polite, discreet and ultra-professional, and obviously proud to work for their national airline.
A huge added bonus is that South African Airways also offer their Business Class passengers the use of an arrivals lounge in both Johannesburg and London, where a hot breakfast and shower are on offer.
One of the biggest arguments against the airline is that they no longer fly directly from London to Cape Town. Whilst this obviously does put them at a disadvantage to British Airways, (who now offer the only direct service), flying via Johannesburg is not as arduous as it sounds – on the return journey back to the UK bags are checked all the way through to Heathrow, and my transfer from one flight to the other involved walking in a direct straight line, down one escalator and then through security and immigration, with the whole process taking less than 10 minutes. It is worth noting that a similarly simple transfer, (but without the immigration), would also apply for those travelling from London on South African Airways to countries as wide-ranging as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia & Malawi. British Airways’ direct service from London to Cape Town takes 11hrs 45mins, and the 15hrs 15mins journey time of South African Airways compares well, particularly against the Middle East carriers who take almost 20hrs to complete the same journey.
It was not 100% - the food & WiFi coverage in the Baobab Premium Class lounge in Johannesburg were not great, the person asleep next to me onboard snored, and the barman in the Cape Town lounge refused to serve me a single measure G&T, (“only doubles and triples available sir!”) - but in answer to the question at the beginning, it would have to be “superb, very under-rated, and worthy of comparison with any of their competitors flying from the UK to Johannesburg. An excellent option”.
For those without the budget, economy class is also impressive!
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