Review of South African flight Johannesburg London in Business

Airline South African
Flight SA235
Class Business
Seat 5A
Aircraft Airbus A330-200
Flight time 11:10
Take-off 29 Jul 15, 20:20
Arrival at 30 Jul 15, 06:30
SA 54 reviews
hometoyyz
By BRONZE 5324
Published on 19th August 2015
After just under two days in Johannesburg, it was time to head home to Toronto. This report has been all about lounge-hopping, so I decided to keep that up, showing up early at OR Tambo in order to give my Priority Pass card a workout.

Priority check-in was wide open when I showed up at the airport, and within a minute or two, I had my boarding passes to London and on to Toronto. Security and passport control were similarly painless, and after just a few minutes, I was airside at Tambo, where terminal A is currently getting a bit of a facelift, so there’s scaffolding everywhere on the concourse.

My first stop was the Bidvest Premier Lounge, located upstairs just off the main entry point to the concourse. I’ve been to this lounge once before, a few years ago when I took Swiss home from Johannesburg. At the time, it was their contract lounge. The Bidvest Lounge is large, and the seating is comfy, but I find it unpleasantly dark, even on a sunny South African winter mid-afternoon. There are large airside windows in the distance, but no viewing from this lounge, unfortunately. When I was there, it was pretty lightly-attended, as outside of regional routes, the majority of international departures from JNB seem to be in the evening. There is an unfortunate scarcity of power plugs, which I think is an oversight.



There are a number of snacky options, but it’s light on heavier items, with just one dish, a chicken casserole served with rice. There’s a pretty extensive self-sere bar, and I’m drawn to the Stoney ginger beer, which I’ve never had before. It’s delicious, with just the little burn in the back of the throat you look for in a ginger beer. The food was nothing special.



With that done, we’e of to the Shongololo Lounge, which is downstairs towards the end of the main branch of Terminal A. This lounge is operated by Menzies, the same company that operates the Ses Fikile Arrival Lounge I visited on arrival at JNB, and it shows in the decor, particularly the chairs. This is also a Priority Pass lounge, and they proudly show a sign declaring this location the Middle East and Africa Lounge of the Year for PP. This lounge is also pretty lightly attended at this time of the afternoon, and there are some interesting nooks with TVs and couches. There is a little bit of airside viewing available, but only a corner of the tarmac. It is definitely a bit brighter than Bidvest.



The food spread is also a bit more impressive, with greater variety of both hot and cold dishes, as well as a decent bar, which both lounges have. I decide on a beer, a little bag of Simba potato chips, and some Moroccan chicken stew as well as an African beef dish. All are decent enough for a snack.



Given a choice between these two, I think Shongololo is the clear winner. And not just because it has a very fun name. Shongololo. Heh. (By the way, it’s a type of millipede, Wikipedia tells me.)

Our next, and final, stop on the tour circuit is South African’s own Boabab Lounge, the business class portion of its Flagship Lounge. There’s also a Platinum side, which is reserved for SA’s own top-tier members, and (I believe) those flying First on other Star Alliance carriers.

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This is a rather large lounge, and as it serves all SA flights other than domestic, as well as a fair Star Alliance crowd, it gets quite busy. I don’t rate it high on atmosphere, but the service is good. A bit more on that later. There are many nooks and crannies to it — a main seating area, a side area down a widened hall, a business area that’s just a semi-partitioned “room” with a big table in the middle, and some seating by the bar.



There’s also a large, staffed bar, and two buffets, each about 10 paces at most from the bar. One buffet is the “full” set, while the other one offers a subset of the other buffet. There are a few different salads, some cheese and fruit, a soup, and a few hot dishes. Nothing is labeled terribly well (or, at all, for that matter) so it’s hard to tell what you’re getting.



I decide to try a bit of the beef in a red sauce. It’s spicy and delicious, the best item I’ve had thus far at JNB. I grab a water from the giant wall of bottles of Valpre spring water (with the way SA features these in their lounges and in flight, they must have an ownership stake in the company…) and ask the bartender for a Bloody Mary. He smiles and asks, “Single? Double? Triple?” Just a single, I reply. I’m a lightweight.

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This all goes down well, and I’m hardly finished the first drink the bartender comes by my seat in the “restaurant” area by the bar with another in his hand. Oh, sure. Why not? I ask for a pack of chips to accompany it. For some reason, they’re kept behind the bar.

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One final treat before it’s time to go — I grab myself some gummi bears from a container on the bar, because I am, at heart, still a six-year-old.

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Having enjoyed my treats, I head on down to the gate where out A330 back to London awaits. Boarding at Johannesburg, in my (granted, limited) experience, is always a gong show. And tonight will be no exception. Priority and non-priority lanes are set up by a door, which seems to lead on a slope downwards in the general direction of the plane. When boarding is called, it starts getting silly. Theoretically, there’s an agent for priority boarding and one for regular boarding. In reality, it’s pretty much catch-as-catch-can, and between the two lanes and the passport checkers, it’s quickly a mess.

Fortunately, I’m located reasonably well in the mob, and I’m quickly through and into… the aforementioned ramp area. Our plane is, in fact, down a jetway somewhere ahead of us. But nobody’s here to open up the door. After a few minutes of the mob growing rather thick in this hallway, the door down the jetway opens up, and out come a couple of airport assistance crew, bringing back up the wheelchairs on which they had taken down some passengers. Only now they have to fight their way through this mob that’s been allowed to form in the hallway. Brilliant.

That aside, we’re free to use the jetway, and I take the first exit, headed for my ride down to JNB.

This time, I'm seated in 5A for my flight back to London, a window seat in the second row of the second three-row cabin for Business class on SA's A330s. Unlike my flight down, we are not a full load tonight. In fact, the business class cabin is quite light. I reviewed the seat and the details of it quite a bit on the flight down, which you can find here (http://flight-report.com/en/report-11235.html. Coles Notes version: Pretty comfy lay-flat, lots of leg room, but limited storage, and 2-2-2 is not exactly generous on an airframe the width of the A330/A340. Especially when I'm used to AC's 1-1-1 A330 configuration. Still, a fine product.



As if to foreshadow the future a bit, parked next to us is a TK A330, soon to be headed back up to Istanbul. This plane will figure prominently in my next trip down to Johannesburg, slated for early next year.

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A flight attendant makes her way around to introduce herself, and offers a bottle of water. It's the little bottle of Valpre that we haven't seen since the SA lounge, but is omni-present on South African. Oddly enough, they don't seem to serve water in a glass in J, even during meal services.

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As I ponder the relationship between Valpre and South African Airways, I notice that TK has taken its leave, and next to us is the Virgin Atlantic A340 that we will be basically racing into London tonight, and a Swiss A340 starts its trip back to Zurich behind it.

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Next up, a choice of juice or champagne. We all know how this one went. I can't recall which champagne SA serves in J, but whatever it is, I quite like it.

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As boarding continues, I snap a few quick pics of the lightly-filled business class cabin tonight.

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With that, the safety video is played, and we push back. Oddly enough, no menus distributed pre-flight tonight, unlike my trip down, or any other SA flight I've ever taken.

It's a short taxi, and we're quickly up and away into the night over Johannesburg.

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I gaze out the window during takeoff, and very quickly, the seatbelt light is extinguished, and server begins with tablecloths distributed, and hot towels handed out.

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The purser comes around, and apologizes for not having menus tonight, but explains the choices to be made. It appears SA is making some changes to its service standards, and I guess the menus aren't ready to match. Of note, it appears to be an enhancement. In the past, SA has offered canapes, an appetizer that's usually choice of a vegetarian soup or some sort of seafood item, and a small side salad before the main. Now, the appetizer choice is soup, salad, or a third item, which in this case is springbok carpaccio. Main courses are lamb, chicken, fish or pasta. The purser has a printout that describes each dish.

He also takes drink orders, and I take another bottle of water, as well as some more champagne. They are delivered with the canapes, which are a pretty enjoyable cocktail snack, and even the items that aren't great (I'm looking at you, prawn) are a change of pace from the usual ramekin of nuts.

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For the starter, I choose the potato and leek soup. I kinda regret not trying the carpaccio, just because springbok. But this is still a pretty enjoyable dish.

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The bread basket comes around, and the choices are pretty good, although not as exciting as what was on offer on the southbound trip. The garlic bread is tasty, but not nearly as tasty as on the previous flight.

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The lamb, my selected main, arrives next. This was definitely the highlight of the meal. A bit salty, but also a nice little bit of spice to it. I thoroughly enjoy it.

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Dinner concludes with choice of cheese or dessert, and as I am wont to do, I go with the cheese. Going with the theme here, similar to, but not quite as good, as the after-dinner cheese I had on my LHR-JNB flight.

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With the late-ish departure, time zone chaos, and now a decent-sized meal, I'm thinking I'm ready for bed, so as soon as the table is cleared after dinner – and it's cleared very quickly – I grab my toothbrush and bottle of water and head to the lav, then make up my bed with the mattress pad and duvet, and settle in for the night.

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I get a solid seven hours or so of sleep, although I do tend to wake up when I need to change positions, largely because the arm I have beneath my pillow has inevitably fallen asleep once again. I'm in an out of consciousness for the next little while, until the flight attendants start making their way through the aisle to set up for breakfast.

Breakfast is also a little different than I've seen in the past with SA. The flight attendant walks me through all of the various items available, and returns with a tray with my selections – in this case some muesli, some yogurt, the hot dish which in this case is a frittata with some sausage, a grilled tomato, and some cheesy spinach. The bread basket is also offered, and I grab a croissant.

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Breakfast is acceptable, although the frittata is more accurately an eggy puck, and I'm not terribly impressed with it.

With the meal complete, the cabin crew busy themselves with clearing the tables, and finding homes in the overheads for the now-used mattress pads and duvets. SA seems to demand that business class passengers stow their screens very early, so all that's left to do is take a look at the morning unfolding outside. It's a beautiful morning.

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Soon, we're crossing the southern shoreline of England.

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And then, a fairly straight line into Heathrow, without the usually pre-requisite morning holding pattern.

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We touch down gently, and make the long taxi around LHR, before settling into our spot at T2B.



The crew wishes us a fond farewell, albeit not one as colourful as the one offered on our arrival into South Africa, and we're on our way, done with another adventure on South African Airways.

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I'm catching the early-morning Air Canada flight back to Toronto, so it's a pretty short connection. I won't have to really hustle, but I won't have much time to relax between flights. We'll cover the (somewhat silly) T2B transit process at the kickoff of our next trip report. See you there!
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Verdict

South African

7.6/10
Cabin8.5
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi7.0
Meal/catering7.0

South African Airways Baobab Lounge

8.1/10
Comfort7.5
Meal/catering8.0
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Services9.0

Johannesburg - JNB

7.6/10
Efficiency8.0
Access7.0
Services7.5
Cleanliness8.0

London - LHR

7.9/10
Efficiency6.0
Access7.5
Services9.0
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

Another fine flight between Johannesburg and Heathrow on South African, although the seemingly quickly-introduced catering enhancement is not a very welcome development. I've enjoyed every flight I've ever had with SA, and this is no exception.

Information on the route Johannesburg (JNB) London (LHR)

9 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 146442 by
    Caribel 113 Comments

    The lounge hopping report must have left you exhausted. Any shower facilities?

    Completing meal ordering without menus places a stress on the crew. Perhaps it would have expedited matters for the FA to show a picture of each choice from previous flights.

    Any amenity kits? Were the headphones noise cancelling? Did the bathrooms get cleaned during flight? What programming was offered in the IFE?

    Dankie. Ngiyathokoza!

    • Comment 325017 by
      hometoyyz BRONZE AUTHOR 542 Comments

      Thanks for the feedback.

      The lounge-hopping wasn't too exhausting. Kinda fun since I hadn't been to any but the SA-operated lounge before. All three lounges have showers, although I did not partake, as I had slept in in Sandton, and had a shower before hopping the Gautrain back to JNB.

      To answer your questions:

      - Yes, there was an amenity kit. It's featured a bit in my report on the flight from LHR to JNB, linked above. Should have at least mentioned it here, though.
      - The earphones provided are noise-cancelling, but not great. Noise-cancelling enough that I kept them on while sleeping to help keep the noise down, put it that way.
      - I didn't see the lavs being cleaned personally, but they were still decently tidy on my last visit pre-arrival, so I presume some care was taken with them. The J lavs on SA never seem to get as dirty as they frequently do in AC J.
      - IFE was decent... of the flip-out variety which isn't great. SA has about the usual run of Hollywood fare... I found it had about the same offering there as AC. They seem to have a greater variety of international films, particularly Asian, although not a lot of African films. Over on the TV side, though, there's usually some good documentaries on South African history and the like, and the travel channel on TV features destination films on many of SA's major destinations that, while a little propogandistic, do provide a decent overview.

  • Comment 146445 by
    SKYTEAMCHC GOLD 9199 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this report. I must admit I would not have had the will to do such a complete lounge hopping as I love to seat back relax and enjoy the comfort of a lounge. You did it and thanks as it allows us to have a very good idea of the different offers.
    The flights looks good but I though the meal on your way down looked better. The bed looks very comfortable and the length of the flight allowed you to have a good night !
    Your reports made me reconsider the opinion I had on SA as they you look than what i thought.

    • Comment 325020 by
      hometoyyz BRONZE AUTHOR 542 Comments

      Thanks for the feedback. I came into my lounge-hopping well-rested, and two of the lounges were new experiences, although in the case of the Bidvest, I had been there, but that was a few years ago.

      I agree with you on the catering assessment, generally I've found SA's catering to be better ex-LHR than ex-JNB. Having an outstation providing better eats than your home base is bit unusual, but then I suppose not every outstation is LHR. For the record, I've generally found AC's catering ex-LHR better than ex-Canada as well.

      Although it's apparently bleeding money and would probably be in big trouble if it weren't a crown corporation, SA in long-haul J is a pretty good option. The main weak point is that J isn't all-aisle-access.

  • Comment 146453 by
    Benoit75008 7247 Comments

    Thanks for your report,

    For sure SA is not at the same level as TK but it seems to give pretty good service for long haul flight.
    Long way home to YYZ, you were flying with AC for the second leg?

    Dziekuje :)

    • Comment 325021 by
      hometoyyz BRONZE AUTHOR 542 Comments

      Thanks for the feedback!

      I've yet to try TK, although I have three long-haul flights with them in December and January, which I'm very much looking forward to.

      It is a long way home... but any route from South Africa to Canada is going to be long. (Even if AC decides to put one of its upcoming 787s on a direct route, which is something of a possibility.)

      But going back is actually considerably shorter than going there, because of the way flights are timed, from Canada to South Africa requires a long layover in Europe, whereas coming home, one can generally reduce the time spent waiting in Europe by a great deal.

  • Comment 147119 by
    airtraveladdict 119 Comments

    Thanks for the report. A great detailed review and I really enjoyed it.
    I don't read about SAA often so your TR taught me a lot of the airline.
    I wasn't aware they have flat beds, I thought they were still flying recliners.
    That JNB-LHR is competitive, I see like 5 daily direct flights, with both BA (a380) and VS offering flat beds, so I guess SAA have to maintain good standards to keep up with BA and VS.
    The lounge food offering looks generous, I've had worse offerings in main hubs like Singapore and Seoul, so thumbs up again to SAA.
    The onboard catering looks decent too, thats generous serving, 4 courses, if you count appetizer, soup, main meal and dessert or cheese.
    Shame its dessert or cheese choice and can't have both, I really dislike when airlines do it, because I like both.
    On the ground, I normally have dinner and dessert then finish with cheese.
    The breakfast presentation looks good, its a shame the egg didn't taste good.
    Since you fly Star Alliance, you should try this route in LH and SR too. I suspect LH flies the old product to JNB.

    • Comment 325624 by
      hometoyyz BRONZE AUTHOR 542 Comments

      Thanks for the feedback.

      SA is a fine longhaul carrier. I keep reading, though, that it's losing a lot of money on its JNB-LHR route, but I guess it feels compelled to keep it because it's a flagship route. Surely BA must be making money off its South African operations, given the amount of heavy metal it sends to JNB and CPT.

      I've found the food on SA to be excellent. A bit disappointed that it seems they're dropping the small salad that was previously presented along with canapes, apetizer/soup, main, and dessert/cheese, but I guess I can understand it. Service has almost always been good, and best of all, Canada-South Africa in J seems to be regularly available at a decent price... and frequently lines up with very generous promos AC seems to run yearly that can give you 10s of thousands of extra Aeroplan miles for flights from Canada to/through Heathrow.

      It's been years since I took them, but I have in the past taken returns that involved LH (my first A380, actually), and LX. (Had to look up SR. I had forgotten that code...) LH was obviously the old slip-and-slide seat at the time, but I believe they've now completed refitting everything that's still flying with the new business class seat. I'd like to try them again to sample it, although neither LH nor LX are very generous on P fares credited to Aeroplan (100% versus 125% for SAA or TK).

      If I keep finding myself in Johannesburg on a semi-regular basis, I'll try to work them in for some variety. Unless that London promo is running when I need to go there.

  • Comment 147245 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6051 Comments

    Thanks for an entertaining and well written report as usual. Lounge hopping is always fun and a Priority Pass certainly helps with that. I really like the look of the Shongololo lounge (I think I spelled that right...too lazy to scroll up and check, lol). It's especially nice that it was practically empty. The SA lounge, which nice looking, seems less pleasant due to the large size and crowd.

    The onboard product is solid even through 2-2-2 forward facing on an A330/340 is starting to become outdated. At least the seats are full flat and the seat pitch looks very good. And it must be comfortable if you got 7 full hours of sleep. The meals look good overall. I like the idea of canapes with the pre-dinner drinks. You're right, it's a nice change from warm nuts.

    I like the SA colors on the tail and the winglet. I see the SA plane here in IAD all the time, and those nice colors just make me wanna jump onboard and head to Jo'burg. Come to think of it. It's been 2 years; I should plan another trip :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

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