South African Airways

A Look At South African Airways’ New Business Class

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As I wrote about in September, struggling South African Airways is in the process of taking delivery of five A330-300 aircraft. That’s a bit of a puzzling move, as their longhaul fleet is becoming even less consistent, as they’ll have A340-300s, A340-600s, A330-200s, and A330-300s. No wonder they have so many last minute aircraft swaps.

From a passenger experience standpoint, what’s perhaps most intriguing about these new A330-300s is that they feature an updated business class product, which is long overdue for the airline.

Currently SAA has fully flat seats on their A340s, while they have angled seats on their A330s (though at least the angle isn’t as bad as on some other airlines).

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

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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.

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One of the many problems the airline has is that they have an outdated, inefficient fleet.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.

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Airline Takes Out Newspaper Ad Asking For $1.1 Billion Loan (As One Does)

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Yesterday I posted about media reports that suggest South African Airways might be on the brink of liquidation. 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.

Unless the airline wants to shrink into profitability, it’s going to take a lot to turn the airline around, including quite a bit of capital.

Well, it looks like South African Airways is trying to raise that capital… by taking out newspaper ads.

The airline took out an ad in a South African newspaper today casually asking for a 16 billion Rand loan, which equates to about 1.1 billion USD:

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Is South African Airways On The Verge Of Liquidation?

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I recently visited South Africa, and had the chance to fly South African Airways business class there — on the way out I flew from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and on the way back I flew from Johannesburg to London. Overall I enjoyed my flights on them, though their business class product was a bit outdated.

I knew SAA wasn’t in a very good financial situation. The airline has gone through seven CEOs in just four years, which should give you an idea of how difficult it is to turn the airline around. In a way, there are a lot of similarities between SAA and Malaysia Airlines, which is in the process of some very big changes.

However, I didn’t realize just how bad of a situation SAA was in, and that they’re basically on the brink of liquidation — at least that’s what’s suggested by Airways Magazine. Per the article:

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Review: South African Airways Business Class A330 Johannesburg To London

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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.

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.

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).

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

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Review: South African Airways International Lounge Johannesburg Airport

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My flight from Cape Town arrived on stand at 4:15PM, while my connection to London Heathrow was scheduled for 8:25PM.

The bus ride from the remote stand to the terminal took about 10 minutes, and the driver didn’t seem to understand he had dozens of people packed like sardines standing in his bus, based on the way he was driving.

We were dropped off in the arrivals area, where I found the signage to be horrible. Seriously, I’d like to think I don’t suck at navigating airports, but this airport made me feel like a lost puppy. In the arrivals hall there was no signage towards departing international flights. I asked the person at the information desk where to go, and she suggested I should just keep walking straight ahead, which I did.

It was a rather long walk, and then eventually I found myself in the same atrium I was in several days earlier after landing from Frankfurt. From there I turned right, where I finally found a security checkpoint.

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Review: South African Airways Business Class A340 Cape Town To Johannesburg

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I boarded at around 1:50PM through the forward door. Upon presenting my boarding pass I was pointed down the near aisle, to seat 5A. As I explained in the Frankfurt to Johannesburg review I wrote, South African’s A340-600 cabin consists of a total of 42 seats, spread across seven rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.

The seats have plenty of legroom, and are comfortable enough for a longhaul flight, let alone for the quick hop from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Boarding was quick due to the use of a remote stand, and within 10 minutes two thirds of the business class cabin was full. The seat next to me remained empty.

As boarding finished up, the crew passed through the cabin with newspapers and magazines, though there were no pre-departure beverages.

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Review: South African Airways Lounge Cape Town Airport

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I was booked on the 3:50PM flight to Johannesburg, though showed up way early, at around 12:50PM. I had some work to catch up on prior to my long journey home, so always like leaving a bit of extra time before my flight.

Cape Town Airport’s check-in hall is quite large, and it took me a minute to find South African Airways’ premium check-in.

As it turned out, business class check-in was located at the far left of the terminal, across from their economy check-in area.

The agent who helped me was friendly, and after I explained I was on the 3:50PM flight, she said “great, do you want to take the 2:10PM flight instead? Your flight is oversold.”

“Hmmm, what kind of a plane is the 2:10PM flight operated by?”

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Review: South African Airways Business Class A319 Johannesburg To Cape Town

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Upon boarding I presented my boarding pass to the two lovely flight attendants at the door, and was pointed towards my seat.

SAA has a unique business class configuration on their A319s. The business class cabin features a total of 25 seats, spread across five rows in a 2-3 configuration.

The seat pitch is apparently ~36″, which sounds about right. That means there are a couple less inches of legroom than you’ll find in domestic first class on most US airlines.

I had selected seat 5A, the window seat in the last row of business class (it had a curtain immediately behind it, separating business from economy).

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Review: South African Airways Domestic Lounge Johannesburg Airport

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My connection in Johannesburg wasn’t especially long. I arrived at 7:05AM, and then my connecting flight to Cape Town was at 9:10AM.

Upon deplaning I headed towards the immigration hall, but not before snapping a picture of our beautiful A340 after the flight from Frankfurt.

Immigration was a bit confusing, as there were lines for SAA nationals, foreigners who need a visa, and foreigners who don’t need a visa. As someone with US and German passports I knew I didn’t need a visa in advance, but I wasn’t sure if I technically needed a visa on arrival (which is often as easy as them swiping your credit card).

I assumed I didn’t need one, though based on looking at the people in the queue, I wasn’t feeling especially confident in my decision. Most of the people in the non-visa line seemed to be from Africa and the Gulf region, while most of the Europeans from my flight were getting into the line for visas. I showed my German passport, and had no issues getting processed in that line.

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Review: South African Airways Business Class A340 Frankfurt To Johannesburg

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My flight from Toronto landed shortly after 11AM, while my connection to Johannesburg wasn’t until 8:45PM. Therefore I had a full day. Since I had plenty of work to do, I spent the entire day in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. It’s a nice lounge, and I prefer it to Lufthansa’s offerings at Frankfurt Airport (simply because the Air Canada Lounge doesn’t get as crowded). My stay in the lounge even came with some free entertainment, thanks to my fellow guests.

Eventually I briefly headed over to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, which was right across from my departure gate.

Since I’ve reviewed both of those lounges before, I won’t be doing so again with this review.

About 90 minutes before departure, the beautiful South African Airways A340-600 which would be taking me to Johannesburg was towed to its gate. It was even in the special Star Alliance livery. The plane had been sitting at Frankfurt Airport since it arrived early that morning from Johannesburg.

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Introduction: Star Alliance To South Africa

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Welcome to the trip report for the journey I just finished up, where I traveled on Air Canada and South African Airways, and stayed at three Starwood properties between Vancouver and Cape Town. On top of that, I got to visit a fantastic city for my first time as an adult (the last time I was in Cape Town was about 15 years ago).

The planning for this trip started in mid-April, when Star Alliance published some fantastic business class fares between Canada and South Africa. Thanks to the strength of the USD, it was among the best deals I’ve seen for travel to South Africa.

As many of you know, my goal this year is to review as many new business class products as possible, and this seemed like a pretty cool opportunity to check two more airlines off my list. I’ve really been wanting to fly Air Canada and South African Airways business class, and I could knock them both out on one trip with this itinerary.

I was excited about Air Canada because they have a new reverse herringbone business class product on their 777s and 787s, which looks top notch — after all, that’s one of my favorite business class hard products.

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9 Thoughts On South African Airways Business Class

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In the past week I’ve taken four flights in South African Airways business class, from Frankfurt to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Johannesburg to London.

Having just gotten off the last sector, the flights are still fresh in my mind. While I’ll have a much more detailed report, I figured I’d share my “big picture” takeaway from having flown with SAA. In no particular order:

Thai Airways is notorious for equipment swaps (to the point that many of us use the term “getting TGed” to describe an aircraft swap). Well, I think SAA gives them a run for their money.

My London to Johannesburg flight was canceled, and the second daily flight had an aircraft swap.

On the return, the flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was swapped from an A330-200 to an A340-600.

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South African A330 Business Class In 10 Pictures

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Good morning from London! Last night I flew from Johannesburg to London on South African Airways, a flight which was operated by an Airbus A330-200. As some of you may recall, my outbound flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg was operated by an A340-600, which featured a slightly different type of business class product.

I’ll have a full trip report shortly (I’ll actually start publishing it tomorrow), though in the meantime I figured I’d share 10 pictures of last night’s flight.

While I’ll save the details for the review, I will say that there are pros and cons to the A330 and A340.

I slept extremely well on the outbound on the A340-600, though I found the cabin design to be rather ugly, the entertainment to be outdated, and I didn’t like that business class consisted of one cabin with 42 seats, where you really felt like you were part of an assembly line.

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