South African Airways » User reviews
All-class rating 7.9
- Boarding 6.8
- Seat for sitting 7.9
- Seat for sleeping 7.3
- Service 8.3
- Entertainment 6.3
- Food & drink 7.6
- Punctuality 8.6
- Baggage 7.8
- Of course, your ratings vary widely for different classes. Choose one below for full details.
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Overall, I found my experience as a traveler on South African Airways to be pleasurable. There were movies to keep me entertained during the long flight. I was however seated in-between two rather large gentleman, one of which didn't smell that great, so that was not a great experience.
The flight departed and arrived on-time. When we landed I didn't even notice, the landing was so smooth. The air stewards were friendly and prompt. They weren't stingy with the snacks and were willing to hand over an extra cookie.
My only real complaint was that the air was a bit cold on board. I guess that would be better than it being stuffy. I did have to cover my face with the blanket, but it was too thin to keep my face warm. I did bring aboard this carry-on (which i got off Gumtree) which was big enough to hold my fancy neck pillow, so at least I found some comfort. For any would-be travelers, Gumtree is a great place to get used luggage cheap as well - http://www.gumtree.co.za/fp-luggage?isSearchForm=true
I had an excellent experience with South African Airways when flying from London Heathrow to Johannesburg. The queue for check in was fairly long but moved quickly enough and I had plenty of time so it did not really matter.
Having arrived air side at the departure gate an hour prior to departure as instructed, I was soon on board after a very efficient boarding process. I had the aisle seat of 2 seats by the window; South African gave a very generous 33" seat pitch which is better than competitors on the Heathrow to Johannesburg route which made a significant difference in terms of comfort.
We pushed off slightly late but with a shorter than scheduled flying time we were still due to make it into Johannesburg slightly early. The crew were very prompt at serving drinks once were airborne and the dinner service was also prompt. I opted for the vegetarian pasta which was fairly tasty and also had a nice salad to start. The lights were dimmed and some passengers attempted to get some sleep.
I found it impossible to sleep in economy as the seat does not recline enough, however this is the same for every airline I have flown with and is just a price to be paid for long haul night flying! The passenger sat next to me had little luck either despite shifting numerous time in a vain attempt to get comfortable. The inflight entertainment was excellent with numerous films, TV and albums which made the flight pass more quickly.
Once we were over Southern Africa the lights went on and breakfast was served. We had a choice between an omelet or continental. I opted for the omelet and it was pretty bland and tasteless to say the least. We touched down slightly early in Johannesburg. The crew were friendly and went about their jobs in a thoroughly professional manner throughout the flight.
JNB/Lusaka B 737. This was the connecting flight from JNB from my Air Namibia flight.
Boarding was via a bus, so less than ideal, especially as the plane was parked 2 away from the inbound Air Namibia flight. Business cabin had about 8/9 of us and seemed rather dismal, though the seats were ok.
We left on time so no issues there, it was an evening service so dinner was served, but by the time they came to me, the chicken was gone, so i was offered the Captain's lamb, which was good, followed by cheese and desert. Wines were topped up from full sized bottles which was good, and the crew were reasonably friendly.
At the gate I showed them my bag tag from the connecting flight, yes we have it was the response, and I double checked with the cabin staff, who assured me the bag was on the flight.
We arrived some 20 minutes early into Lusaka, and after watching the carousel complete several cycles, NO bag, the lost and found were helpful. Anyway the bag arrived at lunchtime the next day, and lo and behold had been rifled through in JNB, and they had taken a rather nice bottle of Omani Amouage aftershave... well I suppose they had some taste! Overall 4/10
jguffey flew South African Airways (10/05/2013 20:42)
I don't sleep unless flat out so even with 'recline' I am unable to sleep on a plane On the 14+ hour flight from New York to Johannesburg...the lie-flat seats in business class on South African allowed me a full night's sleep. Absolutely wonderful. Service is prompt and great South African wines are served. Definitely a trip I will be making again in November.
I flew return LHR to CPT via JNB, so got to experience the newish SAA A330 service 3 times (one leg was 737). My overall opinion is that I'd be happy to fly SAA A330 again, but wouldn't go out of my way for it.
So, what's to like?.............
Well, for starters, the seat (a window on each sector) was easily roomy enough for me while I was awake. I'm approx 6 feet tall and trim, so tend to prefer knee room rather than seat width and was a little worried that the A330s favouring width compared with A340s favouring knee room would be a problem, but it wasn't. Being new, the cushioning was also in good condition.
The supplied blanket was big enough to wrap around and still be able to move without it riding up or leaving cold gaps.
The A330 itself always seems fairly smooth to me, and tends to have particularly smooth landings. Which I appreciate!
I also liked the cabin crew. Not overly friendly, but not cold or officious either. Simply got on with their jobs professionally.
The IFE offered more than enough movie, TV and radio options for me, as an irregular traveller on SAA, plus some menu details etc.
Drinks. Was nice to see a decent local range.
What's not to like?..................
I struggle to find an economy seat that I get comfortable in for sleeping and the SAA A330 seat is no different. I'm simply always looking for an extra few degrees of recline. The main problem though was the headrest arrangement. My preference is for nice substantial wings that let me wedge myself in a bit and leave me no chance of sliding sideways and waking myself (or otehrs) up. The SAA arrangement didn't provide this.
Many of the films (maybe all of them? - I didn't check) are shown in pan and scan (ie cropped at the sides), even though the LCD is widescreen. Always seems an off thing to do.
The colour scheme (a sort of sand, with red blanet etc) isn't the most soothing. But then I'm used to greenery so maybe this depends on where you are from.
The new luggage allowance arrangements are definitely not as good as they used to be. The main issue is the use of an overall cm system which might be fine if all airlines used the same figure but is a nuisance when they don't. So might mean having to buy new luggage to fit SAA if you usually travel on airlines with a larger (or no) cm limit.
Finally, I'd have liked a more frequent drinks check. Just for water etc.
The 'same everyhwere'................
Food. Nothing special, perhaps a bit on the small size, and could do with 1 more option, but perfectly edible and went down well.
I guess I'd give the SAA A330 a 7.5 - 8.0.
If I was to add in airports, connections, and interlining I'd have to drop the score. I connected in on a OneWorld flight and had to collect my luggage at LHR and manhandle across terminals to re-check it. Then at JNB I had to collect it again and again re-check it. At LHR, the gate was at the very end of the pier, so what with the terminal changes and distances and hauling it was more of a slog than I'd care to do often. Then at JNB the regular desks had failed and redirection to a suitable desk (which turned out to be upstairs) was non-existent. The return trip was much smoother, but if going out LHR-JNB-CPT, it may be advisable to go for longer connections.
We had an excellent experience on this trip from LHR - CPT and JNB - LHR.
We arrived in plenty of time and were pleased to see that as all check-in desks were open there was actually no queue and we could walk straight up to the desk.
The lady behind the counter was very friendly and well-spoken, and once she had checked us in informed me that I might need to have a copy of my itinerary to hand when arriving in CPT as I was a dual citizen and therefore using two passports. When I replied that I didn't have one she called through to the information desk with our flight number so that they could print out the information, and then personally walked us over to the desk where the itinerary was waiting with another smiling service person. Absolutely first class!
Boarding was very orderly, with economy being boarded according to seating section to prevent long queues and congestion inside the plane itself. Staff were all extremely friendly and had the situation well in hand.
Due to orderly boarding passengers were seated quickly and plane took off bang on time. The pre-flight safety video is also very entertaining, and so refreshing compared to the standard boring announcements. There was a drinks service about 30mins after we got airborne with a good selection of wines and soft drinks.
The seats are fairly spacious, and have an arm-rest that folds away completely to give you a bit of extra room or allow you to get comfortable if travelling with a partner. The seat itself with regards to head rest configuration, seat pitch and recline were what you would expect for economy, though we found the leg room to be perfectly comfortable (both hubby and I are 5'7"). The blankets were comfy and generous, so you didn't have to choose between cold shoulders and cold feet!
Quick note: During the LHR - CPT flight there was a man next to me who had obviously taken sleeping pills and was snoring like a geriatric rhino. When he couldn't be roused by myself or the stewardess she promptly went to the business class section and came back with handfuls of earplug sets, which she handed to everyone within a 5 seat radius. As the flight was relatively empty she also offered to relocate any passengers that required it.
It was about 3 in the morning and she handled it all with a smile and a laugh and put other passengers at their ease as much as she could. Well done to her!
Very good selection of films and TV shows, including all the latest blockbusters. Screen was of a decent size and had enough tilt that the picture was still clear even when the front seat was reclined and ours was in the upright position.
Food was decent, and both menu options were in plentiful supply. It was the standard "beef or chicken" unless you had selected a special meal option before the flight. Breakfast was very nice, with both hot and cold options and another good selection of drinks about 90mins before landing.
We landed about 45mins early due to a tail wind, and were past border control within 15mins due to all the gates being open. A smiling man at my gate asked if I was visiting and wished me a pleasant stay. (We got through border control at LHR within about 15mins too, due to Terminal 1 being relatively quiet and arriving early in the morning). Our baggage came through about 5 minutes later, and we were in the arrivals lounge soon after.
An absolutely excellent experience. Staff were a pleasure to be served by from check-in to arrival in SA and behaved as though they honestly could not do enough for you. Hand-luggage allocation is a decent 8kg, and the trip itself is quite comfortable with plenty of entertainment if you're not able to sleep on the plane. It is that staff that really make this airline though, and the thoughtful little touches the airline puts in to lighten and enhance your journey.
I would thoroughly recommend SAA to anyone travelling in economy!
Travelling with my daughter on this LHR - JNB flight, I was disappointed, when checking in on line, to find our pre allocated seats had been unallocated and we were haphazardly allocated two seats at the very back of the cabin just in front of the economy class basanets, despite my being an LH Senator (Star Gold) holder.
I mention this because the effort made by the check-in and ground handling team to resolve this was remarkable. Several people completed a jig-saw involving several passenger moves to secure us 4H and K which they presented to us at the gate at final boarding call. Truly outstanding service!
Future travellers note, the business cabin on an Airbus 340-300 has 4 rows (1-4) ahead of the galley and two rows (15 and 16) behind and separated from economy class by a minimum screen.
Once checked -in, T1 was surprisingly quiet and fast track security took only 5 minutes to negotiate. SAA send their passengers to the Star Alliance Lounge which is unremarkable with a mediocre selection of snacks and drinks, no views and very basic seating. We migrated to the BMI Lounge which is bright, great views and a supurb selection of food and drinks plus great working space.
Boarding was very well organised and trouble free and we were soon settled in with Moet champagne, a good amenity bag and excellent range of newspapers and magazines. Departure was spot on time and with a short taxi we were in the air within 20 minutes. The crew were really helpful and seemed determined to do a great job.
Drinks were served within 30 minutes but the meal was not rushed. There were no menus or wine lists available on this flight, but the wine quality was outstanding for business class and scored well in John Platters SA Wine Guide. The food was beautifully presented, more like 1st Class than Business, and tasty too. It was good to see some really healthy options available.
The touch screen entertainment system was operating minutes into the flight and had a reasonable choice of TV, movies and music. The moving map had good information but was fragmented by exercise cartoon every three frames. The earphones were basic and did not seem to be noise cancellation type.
The seats can be adjusted into just about any configuration, and from my perspective, as a tall person were completely acceptable. The fully flat bed was long enough for my frame and wide enough to sleep on the side. A mattress and duvet were provided and worked well.
A full breakfast service was provided 90 minutes out of JNB, once again a great choice with healthy options. The flight touched down 10 miutes early and we landed on the runway close to the terminal buildings avoiding the usual 15 - 20 minute taxi in to the stand. Three other flights had arrived just ahead of us, so immigration was very busy with initially a very long queue. However, with all desks staffed and some intelligent diversion of "foreigners" into the near empty residents line (why can't some larger well known countries do this), we were through in 20 minutes.
Baggage was already waiting and we were checking in for our connecting flight 45 minutes after touching down. In summary, despite the initial hassle with seat allocations, this was a very good flight experience and exceeded expectations. A special thanks to the ground crew at LHR and our cabin crew who did a great job.
Recently flew on South African from Johannesberg to Cape Town having connected on AF from Paris.
We arrived at terminal A in JNB and our onward flight left from terminal B. The transfer route was a long walk and not too clearly signposted.
SAA has a premium check-in area for business passengers and we were quickly checked in (take note that luggage is weighed before you approach the check-in desk) and made our way to the lounge.
The lounge was comfortable and had a good selection of food and beverages. Showers were available. Flights are called but only once, so beware and don't wait for the 'final call' announcement as there isn't any.
Boarding was by bus to the aircraft steps.
Once onboard we were quickly settled into our 'longhaul type seat' (an A340 was operating this domestic flight). The cabin was very spacious and light and we were welcomed onboard by the cabin crew who were without exception smiling and friendly..
An excellent lunch was offered which was accompanied by some fine South African wines.
On account of strong headwinds our flight took around 2 hours 10 minutes and we arrived slightly late into a sunny Cape Town on a spring afternoon. We were quickly disembarked and our luggage was waiting on the carousel for us as soon as we had arrived there.
All in all an excellent flight with very good onboard hospitality.
Check In: I tried to check in online for our flight SA235 from London Heathrow to Johannesburg (connecting on to Harare). I was travelling with my wife and 16 month old daughter. The online check in worked quite well but, when I saw that the seat selection was not better than the seat I had already been allocated, I decided not to bother entering three sets of passport details and gave up. After a frustrating car journey (no fault of SAA) we arrived at the airport 15 minutes before check-in closed and there was no queue for economy or business check-ins. The check-in lady was pleasant and responded well to my sweet talking (and cuteness of my baby daughter) by not charging us for our excess baggage. However my wife did notice that others were being charged for as little as 3kg overweight. The allowance of 10kg (and no hand baggage) for infants is frankly ridiculous so I would have kicked up a fuss had they tried to charge me.
Lounge: SAA uses the Star Alliance lounge at T1. This lounge has most things most business travellers could wish for. The staff tried to farm us off to the children’s room but we were not having any of it as we needed to feed the baby and there were no high chairs in the baby room (there were no high chairs in the lounge either but at least there were some facilities). The flight was running 30 minutes late but we were glad of this as it gave us chance to feed the baby.
Boarding: The gate was a long walk from the lounge but we were prepared for this having done the same flight the previous year. We arrived at the gate when boarding had started as the flight had been called in the lounge (this was an exception because of the delay, as the lounge usually has no flight calls). The boarding queue was rapid as they had a business class lane. However the ramp was very slow as there was only one for both classes. On boarding the aircraft the steward tried to accost us because of our large number of hand bags but was placated when we told him we were sitting up the front. We did have trouble getting our bags along the very narrow business class aisles.
Departure: Our departure was delayed by about an hour. The flight crew did keep us reasonably well informed but we did not listen closely as we were too busy entertaining baby. We also knew that we had a long connection in Jo’burg so had time to waste.
Seat: We were seated in 2A & C on this A340-600 which was configured 2-2-2. There did not seem to be many seats that stood out as being much better than others. Though 2C (and it’s equivalent on the other side) would not have been very pleasant given their proximity to the toilet entrance and people bumping into you on exit from the toilet. Obviously the centre row is good for access to the aisle and the window seat is good for privacy if you are travelling with a companion (or baby). We had hoped to get a spare seat for the baby but it was not to be on this full flight. The seat itself was one of the least comfortable flat bed seats I had experienced. It had cushions in lots of funny places so was more lie bumpy than lie flat. As previously mentioned, the aisles were very narrow so not good for carrying baby up and down during the night without disturbing other passengers.
IFE: The IFE had a reasonable (but not exactly excellent) selection of on demand entertainment. The TV screen was a good size. The headphones were very basic so I was glad to have invested in a new pair of Audio Technica noise reducing cans before the trip.
Food: The food was quite good. We started with smoked salmon and crab cake starter with a salad and choice of dressings. I then had a fillet steak and my wife had halibut. Both main courses were well served and reasonably good quality. After the main course the menu offered cheese and desert. In reality, when I asked for both, I was told that it was really an either / or option (perhaps the menu should reflect this). In the end I had both as my wife barely touched the desert. The wine selection was good though not topped up during the meal. The selection of non-alcoholic drinks was not great. They did not even have any other varieties of thee excellent South African Ceres juices other than orange. There were no snacks put out for passenger to pick at during the night. This was not an issue for me (as I am a big meal eater rather than a snacker) but did not please my wife. Breakfast was a comprehensive affair with cereals, yoghurts, bread and pastries and a very nice full cooked option. The only let down for breakfast was the poor (instant) coffee. It never ceases to amaze me that airlines think people who travel in business class would find instant coffee acceptable.
Crew: The crew were efficient and pleasant but not exactly welcoming towards our baby child. I realise that the sight of a baby in business probably does not fill crew or other passengers with delight. However, the best way to keep everybody happy is to keep the baby happy. Whilst the parents shoulder most of the responsibility for this, the crew can help. We had some excellent baby friendly crew on the same flight the previous year when travelling in economy.
Arrival & Transfer: On arrival we had a long walk to the boarding gates and a security check before going to the lounge. This is much better for our international connection than for domestic connections in SA (where you have to clear immigration, collect bags and recheck). The lounge was bright and airy with some very welcome showers. The four hour delay until the departure of our onward connection to Harare passed very quickly (partly taken by the late arrival of our long haul flight). Our short haul flight was empty in business (being a Saturday morning) and passed quickly (catching up on the sleep we had missed overnight comforting the baby). On arrival in Harare our luggage arrived with some minor delay and with a lock broken. However I think that the cause of the broken lock was mechanical rather than human as nothing appeared to be missing.
Summary: All together this was a reasonable (if not excellent) long haul business class flying experience. Since BA stopped flying direct some years ago, and Air Zim is the only direct option, this (or the BA / ComAir) indirect option is probably the best way to get to Harare. We were lucky to get a business class Star Alliance redemption which seems good value at only 150% of base miles. Given a free choice I would probably choose BA because the seat is much better but, apart from that, there is little between them.
Having had a sleepless night on a Lufthansa ski slope seat on the outbound leg from FRA - JNB my return JNB - MUC on South African was a very enjoyable sleepy business!
The seat in all positions was comfortable and the overall cabin ambience excellent.
Service was attentive and the food well presented although fairly bland. The flight ran on schedule and even with a tight connection in MUC my bags made it.
On the way out I had seat 74C which was pretty comfortable. Flying back I made a mess of my booking and ended up with the last seat - a middle one. With a large german businessman on the aisle and a large inexperienced male traveller in the adjoining centre.
Actually I was pretty comfortable and managed about 6 hours sleep: the middle seats have two separate armrests (hurrah!) and the businessman knew the protocol and kept to his own space.
Pretty good flight - I was expecting much worse.