When last we saw each other, dear reader, your humble reporter had just hopped across the pond from Toronto to London with Air Canada (http://flight-report.com/en/report-11008.html), and having sampled a pair of Heathrow arrival lounge options, had a goodly amount of time to kill before catching a connecting flight to Johannesburg.
Having just arrived landside at LHR, it was time to do what seems natural and logical when one has pretty much a full workday before one’s next flight. Hop on the tube and go see one of the world’s great cities? Yeah, sure. That’s an option. But in this case, we’re in it for the flight report, so instead, we’re going to go back airside immediately, and spend some time getting to know a plethora lounges at Heathrow before it’s time to go south.
I step outside of Heathrow’s Terminal 2, catch the escalator up to the departures level, and since I already having my South African boarding card from checking in at Pearson, within seconds I’m in a very short FastTrack lane for security. Nice to see that SA (and presumable all Star Allliance airlines?) are no participating in this program. In the past, I’ve been able to use FastTrack when coming onto or off of an AC flight, but no such luck when SA is involved. Not the case anymore.
There’s just two passengers ahead of me in line, a couple with Eastern European accents who seem to be struggling with arranging their carry-ons, The somewhat flustered woman of the pair offers to let me go first if I’m in a hurry, but I smile and respond that I’m not in a hurry at all, and let them finish their preparations. All told, I’m through security and back airside in less than five minutes. It’s pretty quiet at busy Heathrow this early afternoon.
My first stop is at the Plaza Premium Lounge located in Terminal 2A. This is my first time visiting this particular facility. I’m immediately impressed by the size, scale and decor of the PP lounge at Heathrow. My previous experience with PP lounges have largely been in the U.S. and Canada, and have not exactly left me super-impressed. But this is a big, comfortable lounge with a separate bar area, showers (although I decline to use one), and a fairly decent spread of eats. The place is a little dark, but is nicely decorated. Unfortunately, no windows to the outside world from here. The lounge is conveniently located on the main departure level, just beyond security, and just beyond the point where connecting passengers are spit out into T2A.
I’m still pretty full from my previous flight and lounge adventures, so I decide on a small snack, although the midday spread is fairly impressive. As for the food… the garlic bread is pretty good, and the curry chicken is, well… airport lounge curry chicken. Nothing terribly exciting, but tasty enough.
A small sample of Plaza Premium under my belt, it’s off to the other lounge in T2A to which I have access, this one operated by Lufthansa.
With this lounge, LH crams a Business Lounge and a Senator Lounge into one facility, with the Business Lounge serving as the “main lounge.” Those who have access to the Senator Lounge — LH’s top-tier pax and Star Gold types — are given a little card to drop in a receptacle by the door to the Senator Lounge. It’s always been a little surprising to me that with this system of two lounges, LH essentially treats other airlines’ Star Gold passengers better than it treats its own Business Class passengers. I guess not so surprising at a place like Heathrow, where LH departures are short-hauls on narrowbodies with “Euro J” seating… but it would have to be disappointing if I were paying the big bucks for a long-haul Business Class flight to North America or Asia from Germany. But I digress.
We start off in the Business section of the lounge. This is a larger space, with plenty of seating. It’s decently comfortable, and plugs are just about everywhere, which is always a plus. As far as the buffet goes, there’s a station with fruit and desserts, there’s a coffee and tea station, and there’s a long section with a number of hot dishes, as well as salads and a decent self-serve bar. No surprise, there’s a type of chicken curry on offer on the buffet.
After getting the vibe in here, I drop my magical card into the magical slot, and I’m whisked away to the Senator Lounge beyond the doors in the far end of the lounge. The deal here’s about the same as back in Business… the seating might be a little bit more comfortable, and the food and bar selections a little more high-end. But there’s not a heck of a lot of difference. The Senator side does seem to be a little bit busier this afternoon.
At the far end, there’s a relaxing space with some reclining chairs, and images of greenery on the walls. It’s not quite the gardens of Changi, but it’ll do, I guess.
The buffet and bar situations isn’t all that different from what was on offer back in Business, and the setup is even similar.
I’m still not feeling all that hungry, but there’s some champagne available at the bar, so why the heck not, huh?
Both lounges offer a decent view the tarmac, and the terminal (and lounge) run parallel to a runway, so there’s good spotting to be had, if somewhat obscured by the metal window infrastructure that makes up the outside of T2A. At the very least, the view is enough to see the comings and goings from the terminal, and to ponder why heck there’s an Air India 787 parked at the terminal on the other side of the runway, amongst DL, MH, AF, QR, and other miscellaneous airlines. I thought everyone in Star Alliance was supposed to be over in T2 now?
With Lufthansa out of the way, we’ve exhausted our options in T2A. It’s time to head back out onto the concourse, and begin the long trip down the escalator and across the underground tunnel over to T2B, from which most Star Alliance non-EU flights seem to operate. It’s a pretty long trip. But more on that later, on the return trip, when connecting makes this setup seem a little silly.
T2B at Heathrow presents the Star Alliance Gold or premium cabin flier another three options for lounges, as Singapore, Air Canada, and United offer lounges here. AC and SQ are up the same elevator, so we’ll start with them. It’s worth noting that the elevator seems somewhat confused about where it is. Silly lift. This is Heathrow, not Stockholm!
Having reached the Lounge Level, we start with what is new territory for me. When last I passed through these parts, the Singapore Lounge next to AC’s Maple Leaf Lounge was still being built. So let’s take a quick look at what the Silver Kris Lounge at Heathrow has to offer, shall we?
The Silver Kris Lounge is a smallish place, and looks to have some of the same features as other SQ outstation lounges I’ve seen in trip reports, including little “cubicles” for working and lounging. The seating is fairly comfortable, except for the cubicles, which I found a little too deep and without enough back support. There’s a limited view of a sleepy bit of tarmac between T2A and T2B, mostly inhabited by various Star Alliance narrowbodies. The spotting is not quite as good as in AC’s Maple Leaf Lounge next door, which is “further along” T2B and gives a better view of the action.
The buffet is quite extensive, with a variety of hot and cold snacks, and some hot dishes like Pad Thai and mushrooms stroganoff. There’s a separate bar area, and several “hydrating juices” which seem to be watered down juices, with peach and blueberry on offer. I’m still not exactly starving, but I’m intrigued by a sweet little combination treat — strawberries and cream popcorns, and a little tub of salted caramel ice cream. Good stuff.
Treat done, we’re moving on to our penultimate (per-flight) lounge stop, right next door at the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
The MLL is a little larger than its SQ cousin next door, and as mentioned before, has the better views. They’ve gone with the same “grooved wood” panelling they introduced with the new Frankfurt MLL here, and with chairs of mostly grayish beige leather. It makes the place generally pretty bright. The lounge is pretty busy in the AM, but as there are fewer AC departures back to Canada later in the day, tends to be pretty quite by mid-afternoon, and it’s getting to late afternoon when I find my way over here. One pleasant surprise are these little relaxation cubbies with a lounge chair and personal TV. Seems like it might be a good place to get some rest between flights.
The buffet/bar has a different aesthetic to it, with dark wood and red highlights. The bar is staffed, but there are some self-serve options. Food options are pretty standard, if a little bit lighter than some of the other lounges here. A handful of hot items, leaning towards mini-pies and spring rolls, and a variety of salads and sandwiches, cakes and cookies. I missed it, of course, but the breakfast service is quite good in here. Once again, I decline to eat. I’m still feeling a little bit full, and I tend to enjoy the catering on South African, so I want to be sure I’ll appreciate it.
The last stop on our lounge tour of Heathrow’s T2 is the United Club, located by itself on the “other side” of the central area of T2B from the AC and SQ Lounges. For all UA does wrong in its domestic lounges, the few international lounges I’ve been to — LHR and HKG — are pretty good. Although the spotting is mediocre because of where the lounge is located atop the terminal building, the lounge if bright because of big windows, and features a long staffed bar for your drinking pleasure. There are a number of ways to take a seat - belly up to the bar, traditional leather lounge chairs, or seats at a low marble table for those that want to work (or play) on their laptop or other devices.
The spread here is quite decent. Perhaps not as varied as SQ, but it includes a hot Indian meat dish, a starch, and some vegetables, as well as a similar lineup on the other side, often a pasta dish, some potatoes, and a veggie dish. There are also cookies and brownies for the having, a salad bar, and a few select cold nibblies, like cheese and meat. I have some cheese and salami, as well as a little brownie and blondie, to tide me over until it’ flight-time, which is rapidly approaching.
With such a variety of lounges, it’s hard to say which is best and why — overall, if it’s not crowded, I think I’d give the overall edge to the UA lounge, although any of the four I visited this day makes a fine place to visit.
It’s rapidly approaching boarding time, so I make my way down to the gates. The gate for my flight hasn’t posted yet, but it’s pretty easy to figure out — the earlier SA flight to Johannesburg has already left at this point, so the one left with a South African Airbus is my ride. I find it, and find the cabin crew hanging out by the gate, talking amongst themselves.
In my YYZ-LHR report, I talked a little bit about how many flights AC does to Heathrow. It’s worth taking a look at the frequency between Heathrow and Johannesburg as well. On this night, there’s two SA flights, both a A330-200s, although they sometimes throw an A340-300 in to mix it up, whilst Virgin Atlantic throws in an A340-600 of its own, and BA sends both a 747 and an A380 down to Johannesburg. All of these flights leave within two hours, between 7:00 and 9:00 in the evening.
My flight this evening is the last of those five planes to depart, SA237. It’s being operated by an A330-200 that flew into Heathrow last night, then hung around the airport all day. Kinda like me.
Shortly after 8:00, the gate area was just about filled in, and the gate agents begun their explanation of the boarding process. After that, they call priority boarding, and after some polite excuse mes to get through the milling masses, they give my passport a quick check and away I go. After they scan my passport, I get a warning beep, and the agent asks me if I have checked bags. I reply that I have not, I’m just traveling with carry-on. This seems to surprise her, but she types a few things into her system, re-scans my boarding pass, and it’s much happier to see me this time.
It amazes me that SA and other manage to squeeze a 2-2-2 configuration into A330/A340 airframes, given that AC’s pods are 1-1-1 on their A330-300s. Business on these planes is divided into two three-row cabins, one between doors one and two, and one aft of door two. I like the colour scheme and general aesthetics on the SA A330, and thus far, it seems the whole fleet is the same, quite unlike the A340-300 fleet, where there are different configuration and colours on various planes in the fleet.
For this flight, I’m seated in 4A, the port window seat in the second business class cabin. I’ve been watching the seatmap all day on ExpertFlyer, hoping that the seat next to me will remain open. If you do a seat assignment by calling in to SA’s offices, the airline seems to have the habit of “blocking” the empty seat next to a solo flier (at least on the window pairs) between 48 and 72 hours out. Of course, this presumes there’s not a full flight, as they will no doubt release the “blocked” seats closer to flight time if need be. This has worked well for me a number of times on SA flights — in fact, every time I’ve flown them, except one time where the guy in 4C decided he didn’t like the way the seat was exposed to the aisle and the lav, and ditched his father-in-law to come sit beside me in 5C. But that’s another story.
In this case, EF was showing C1 for this flight, so I figured odds were pretty good I’d have a seatmate. I quickly stowed my gear overhead, and settled in to take a look around the seat. The seat comes with a (way too small) pillow, a small black amenity kit, and a reasonably comfortable, if not high-quality, set of headphones.
Because these are straight forward-facing lie-flat seats, legrooms is, needless to say, ample. Although it seems to be less in this bulkhead row than in rows where there's a seat in front.
Controls are located in the central console, with seat controls on top, and AV controls underneath. There’s also a power outlet tucked away under the between-seats armrests.
The amenity kit is basic, but I appreciate the hard-shell case for the earplugs — too many times with AC’s previous light fabric amenity kit offered to Premium Economy passengers and previously on business class day flights, I’ve received pre-smooshed earplugs which are basically useless.
As boarding continues, I’m offered a newspaper, but politely decline. Pre-departure beverage service of sparkling wine or orange juice is offered next, and I do not decline. I don’t want to be rude, after al.
There’s an SQ A380 parked next to us, and before we started boarding, I noticed an SQ 777-300 parked directly across from it, beginning to board for its homeward-bound trip. The big bird still impresses me, and I wish SQ made at least J rewards available to Star Alliance partners, as I believe it’s the only *A A380 I’ve yet to sample.
Boarding continues, and it seems like we’re getting near the end, and 4C is still empty. Have I lucked out? Alas, no, as a young woman sits down next to me as boarding is almost completed. She’s on her way from London to Sao Paulo via Johannesburg, and judging by her struggles with English — and particularly the accented English of the SA flight crew — and her own accent, I presume she’s Brazilian.
With both seats occupied, these seats seem a little bit tighter, and the lack of storage shows. Still, it’s quite a comfortable seat, and the only real downside is the lack of direct aisle access.
The flight deck introduces itself over the PA, and says we’ll be pushing back shortly, expecting us to leave just about on time, and to probably arrive into Johannesburg a few minutes ahead of schedule. With that, we push back, and a short taxi later, we’re off, just about 15 minutes behind schedule.
Climb is smooth, and soon enough, the seatbelt light is extinguished. I take off my shoes, and find a comfortable semi-reclined position in my seat. The IFE screen is of the flip-up-from-the-console variety, and while small and somewhat inconvenient, it’s about the only way it can work well on these seats given the enormous distance between rows. The flight attendants begin their in-flight service by distributing the sleeping kits, consisting of a mattress pad and a comfy duvet, by plunking it on the floor in front of each passenger.
Next up, it’s hot towel service.
And then menus are distributed.
The drink trolley comes around, and I request some champagne. It’s served with the canapés described in the menu, which are quite nice, particularly the roast beef.
When it comes to meal orders, I request the soup, which turns out to be tomato, and the chicken. My flight attendant frowns slightly and says he’ll have to see what other flight attendants have, as he’s “sold” all the chicken he has. A few minutes later, he comes around and offers his apologies, but there’s just the fish and the polenta left. Oh, the joys of being last to be asked in a full cabin. I decide to go with the fish, because the polenta dish doesn’t grab me much. The flight attendant is profusely apologetic throughout. I’m also asked if I wish to be woken up for breakfast. I say yes — this flight is actually long enough that one is hungry again come breakfast time.
Dinner begins with the soup and the salad. I’ve almost invariably had the soup, which is always vegetarian of some sort, on SA, and it has invariably been very good. This rich, deep tomato soup is no exception. The salad is also quite pleasant, with big chunks of feta and olives.
The bread basket comes around next, and I select a couple of pieces of very nice garlic bread, and a great pretzel roll.
Next up is the main course, and I’m quickly not so displeased with my limited options. The fish is firm, nicely prepared and delicious. It’s safe to say that this cod easily beats up the cod served on my AC flight from Toronto to Heathrow and steals its lunch money. A pleasant surprise, and a very enjoyable main. I even enjoy the mashed peas, even though I’m not much on peas.
Dinner finishes up with a choice of cheese or dessert. I’m a little resentful that both cheese and dessert are on offer on AC, and the one time I asked for a bit of both on an SA flight, I was politely declined. In this case, I go for the cheese, and it’s a great choice. The goat cheese is particularly good, but all three selections are quite enjoyable.
To cap things, I’m presented with a couple of small pralines, that provide a nice little sweet note to wrap things up.
With dinner done, I head to the lav to brush my teeth, and on return, my seatmate has done the same, providing me the opportunity to position the mattress pad and get set up for bed. Unfortunately, she returns before I can snap a picture of the bed setup.
I settle in, and return to the film I was watching, a generic romantic comedy that didn’t do much for me, but gave me something to watch while I ate dinner. As it wrapped up, I donned the eyemask and ear plugs from the amenity kit, and called it a night. By this time, the lights were turned down, and having just slept a few hours the previous night on my Toronto to London flight, it isn’t long before I’m out. Although I’m still not entirely sure I believe that these seats are 180 degrees flat — it always feels like my legs are drooping downwards a bit — I find them quite comfortable to sleep on. My only problems are that I tend to sleep with an arm underneath my pillow, and with the hard-ish seat below, I wake up frequently with a numb arm, and I wish they provided a full-size pillow like the one AC now provides in international business class.
Despite those small challenges, I sleep well and with a relative minimum of tossing and turning. When I wake up enough to realize what’s going on around me, other passengers are already drinking their orange juice, so I realize breakfast service must be about to begin. I take off the eye mask and earplugs, and decide to just chill out for a bit. I’m woken up by my flight attendant, telling me it’s time for breakfast.
Not pictured are the hot towel which precedes breakfast, or the glass of orange juice offered with the wakeup service.
Breakfast begins with a cold plate — fruit, yogurt, muesli and natural yogurt, along with a muffin from the bread basket. All are quite good. A cup of coffee, which is of decent strength, accompanies.
Then comes the main course, a full breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potato, and a grilled tomato. The eggs on SA are pretty good, particularly ex-LHR, and I thoroughly enjoy breakfast, and I’m quite full by the time it’s over.
By the time breakfast is wrapping up, we’re beginning our descent, so I open the window shades to see the world around me.
I really like the colourful splash of the SA logo, and I think it looks great out there on the inside of the winglet.
Soon, we’re descending over the outskits of Jo’burg.
And then we settle onto the runway, and begin our short taxi to the main terminal at OR Tambo International.
The captain comes on with a pretty standard “thanks for joining us,” except for telling us that if we’re flying again soon he trusts we’ll “do the sensible thing, and fly South African Airways.” The wording strikes me as funny.
We pull in next to an Emirates 777 (coming from Toronto, where EK is the one airline that sees fit to bother sending an A380, this seems like an insult… “Your airport’s so insignificant, Emirates only sends a Boeing. Oh! Burn!”) and our long journey comes to an end about twenty minutes ahead of schedule, just as promised.
It’s a relatively short walk from the gate into the fairly-crowded customs hall, where my passport is quickly stamped, and I’m free.
But we’re not done quite yet.
First, there are a couple of arrival lounges to check out, conveniently located together just before one leaves the baggage hall and is released into the arrivals area of OR Tambo.
We start with SA’s own Arrival Lounge, which is open to its business class passengers, as well as its own top tier elites. I’m not sure about *A Golds. The lounge consists of a small room, with a few light snacks on offer, and a few seats.
But mostly, you’re here for a shower. And there are a number of shower rooms available, decently equipped and relatively attractive.
I grab a shower, and take a quick look at the food and drink offerings, but nothing calls out to me. So I head across the hall to the Ses Fikile Arrival Lounge, which I use my Priority Pass to access. Although the catering is nothing special, the offering is better than SA’s own lounge, and there’s a much wider array of seating options. This is just generally a much more inviting lounge, with a friendly, homey feel to it. There’s more food available, and a self-serve bar for those who feel like a little bit of a wakeup call.
I wasn’t going to check out the shower room, but having been impressed by the lounge, I decide to give it a look. It’s also well-equipped.
The SA Arrival lounge does a good job of its get-in-get-a-shower-get-out job, but if you don’t have access to it, or if you have Priority Pass, I strongly recommend Ses Fikile.
Having had two showers in less than an hour, I’m refreshed and ready to go, so I go landside, head up the escalators, and grab a ticket for the Gautrain for the short trip in to Sandton, where a couple of days of conferences, sightseeing, relaxing, and good eats await.
United Club - 2
London - LHR
Johannesburg - JNB
The lounge hopping made for quite a long day, but interesting to see the various offerings.
A good business class flight SA. I really enjoy their friendly but not overboard service, and the catering is generally good. The seat is acceptable, although all-aisle-access is certainly preferable in long-haul business class. Still, I'd recommend SA as a great way to visit this part of the world.
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