Review of South African flight Kinshasa Johannesburg in Business

Airline South African
Flight SA59
Class Business
Seat 4D
Aircraft Airbus A320
Flight time 03:50
Take-off 03 Jan 16, 00:30
Arrival at 03 Jan 16, 05:20
SA   #64 out of 139 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 54 reviews
Nick
By 2390
Published on 21st March 2016
This is the sixth report in a series covering my trip to Europe and Africa around New Year's. The trip involved three nested itineraries (which turned into four). A OneWorld roundtrip itinerary from the US to Milan, a Tunisair roundtrip itinerary from Milan to Tunis, Tunisia, and a Star Alliance roundtrip itinerary from Tunis to Windhoek, Namibia. The return portion of the Star Alliance itinerary would turn into a one-way itinerary on Qatar Airways due to South African Airways delays (hot weather), horrible customer service by South African Airways and United Airlines, and a cancellation of the remainder of the Star Alliance itinerary. I submitted a claim to World Nomads travel insurance for the Qatar Airways ticket I had to buy because I had faced a 24 hour delay by Star Alliance. World Nomads rejected the claim (as well as my appeal). According to them, they're off the hook unless the "common carrier" is completely shut down for 24 hours due to weather or a labor strike. The verbiage in the policy doesn't include "common carrier" though. It's ridiculous to think that if your airline operated any flight anywhere in the world during your 24 hour delay, World Nomads wouldn't have to honor the contract. I submitted a complaint to the California Department of Insurance, but they don't actually do anything besides forward the information to the insurance company, who had already ruled on it anyway. My only recourse left is a small claims lawsuit, which I'm considering. I can't recommend using World Nomads travel insurance. I've bought five travel insurance policies through them. This is the first time I made a claim and it was not a good process.

The OneWorld itinerary was an open jaw from Chicago to Milan in Economy, and Milan to San Diego in Business. The total cost was 63,000 AAdvantage miles and $84.10. Normal cost would be 70,000 miles (20,000 for the outbound in Economy and 50,000 for the inbound in Business). However, I was able to get 10% back thanks to my Citi AAdvantage MasterCard.

The roundtrip cost for the Tunisair ticket was $182.48, bought through Vayama.

The roundtrip cost for the business class Star Alliance ticket was 70,000 United MileagePlus miles and $135.00. On the surface, this is an incredible value. However, as I'll explain later, my faith in Star Alliance has been completely shattered and I don't think I'll ever take advantage of this intra-Africa MileagePlus fare again.


—– Chicago O'Hare to Berlin Tegel (AirBerlin Economy): http://flight-report.com/en/report-13019.html
—– Berlin Tegel to Milan Linate (AirBerlin Economy): http://flight-report.com/en/report-13101.html

———- Milan Malpensa to Tunis (Tunisair Economy): http://flight-report.com/en/report-13169.html

————— Tunis to Istanbul (Turkish Airlines Business): http://flight-report.com/en/report-13349.html
————— Istanbul to Kinshasa (Turkish Airlines Business): http://flight-report.com/en/report-13576.html
————— Kinshasa to Johannesburg (South African Airways Business): You Are Here
————— Johannesburg to Windhoek (South African Airways Business)
————— Windhoek to Johannesburg (South African Airways Business)
————— Johannesburg to Lagos (South African Airways Business): Cancelled Flight
————— Lagos to Istanbul (South African Airways Business): Cancelled Flight
————— Istanbul to Tunis (Turkish Airlines Business): Cancelled Flight

———- Tunis to Milan Malpensa (Tunisair Economy): No Show

——————– Johannesburg to Doha (Qatar Airways Business)
——————– Doha to Milan Malpensa (Qatar Airways Business)

—– Milan Malpensa to Miami (American Airlines Business)
—– Miami to Chicago O'Hare (American Airlines First)
—– Chicago O'Hare to San Diego (American Airlines First)


There's no formal path for transit passengers at FIH. So here's what happened. I first explained to the immigration officer that I was a transit passenger connecting to South African Airways. So he walks me from the immigration counter over to the South African check in counter and I think that's the end of it. No. He talks to someone at the check in counter for a while, then we go back out of the check in area to this more lobby-like area and go to a South African ticketing office and he tells me to stand in the line and then he walks away. I get to the front of the line and the guy (actually pretty friendly) asks me for my "ticket" so I hand him a print out of my itinerary and he checks some list and then tells me to go back over to the check in desk. To get to the check in desk you have to pass through a checkpoint and the officer there is asking me for a "Go-Pass" and I have no idea what this means. The officer and a nearby tout start to explain that I need to buy a $50 Go-Pass from this office on the other side of the lobby. I immediately think this is some sort of scam and I just need to put up some token resistance to get past it. So I tell the officer, in French, that I don't understand and that the guy at the ticketing desk told me to go over there (pointing to the check-in desk). Doesn't work. So I said it in English thinking that maybe he'll think I'm too hopeless to communicate with and just let me through. Doesn't work. At this point, another passenger tells me this is something that everyone has to do and I'm coming to the realization that I'm going to have to buy this stupid Go-Pass. So I walk over to one of the offices (there were two) with the tout tagging along and buy this $50 Go-Pass and pay another $6 for a departure tax. I walk back over to the checkpoint with these forms and the guy lets me through. The tout was telling me how he was my friend and maybe I could help him out, but I've heard it a million times and was in no mood to shell out any more cash. They didn't allow the tout past the checkpoint for the check-in area. As I was waiting to check-in, I saw almost everyone holding Go-Pass receipts, even people with DRC passports, so I knew it wasn't an informal scam, but still a very annoying cost to be blindsided with. They checked Go-Passes and tax receipts before going out through passport control and security, and again on the tarmac. So it wasn't just a matter of getting past that first checkpoint. I emailed United Airlines to request a refund and explained that they should've collected these taxes when I bought the ticket or at least given me a heads-up. That was over a six weeks ago and I still haven't gotten a response. Standard United customer service.

photo Kinshasa Tax Receipts - Cropped


I made my way over to the check-in desk and managed to figure out that the business class line was on the far right even though it wasn't marked at all. I was third in this line and it took about half an hour from getting in line to finishing check in.

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Some more shots of the check-in area.

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After check-in I headed to passport control and the security check (and had my Go-Pass verified again).

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Like most African airports of this size, there's only one waiting area for all the flights. Ours was the only one leaving around this time though.

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Future rendering of this terminal I assume. Time will tell if this pans out.

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There was this coffee shop in the rear part of the waiting area.

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My French is terrible, but I think this says something along the lines of "We're building an all new business lounge for you. We hope to have you with us here next time." Please correct me.

photo IMG_0349


The departures waiting area is adjacent to the immigration area. A bus will take all the passengers from an arriving aircraft to the door of the immigration area, then back up about 50 feet to get in front of this door for the departures area. Everyone has their boarding passes scanned at the desk inside, then proceeds onto the bus and over to their plane that likely just arrived. I tried to be one of the first people outside so I'd have time to snap some pics outside before getting on the bus.

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Congo Airways A320.

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After getting off the bus, everyone had to have their tax forms and Go-Passes verified before getting on the aircraft.

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In the lower left of this photo you can see everyone queuing to have their tax forms and Go-Passes checked before proceeding towards the aircraft.

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View of the old terminal building from the top of the staircase.

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Control tower.

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Shot of the aircraft before I stepped inside.

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South African has a pretty decent short haul hard product, although there's no IFE.

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The meal service seemed pretty standard. They somehow forgot to bring me a main dish, but it wasn't a big deal. They prepared the braised lamb for me after I reminded them and they apologized sincerely, which was nice.




No jetbridge for us. Snapped this pic from the top of the staircase.

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Deplaning and heading for the bus.

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After we got inside I followed the signs for transit passengers, got through passport control and security, then headed for the Baobab Lounge.

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Verdict

South African

6.3/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew7.0
Entertainment/wifi4.0
Meal/catering6.0

Kinshasa - FIH

4.4/10
Efficiency0.5
Access5.0
Services4.0
Cleanliness8.0

Johannesburg - JNB

6.2/10
Efficiency7.0
Access6.0
Services6.0
Cleanliness6.0

Conclusion

The onboard product was decent, nothing spectacular. The seats are pretty nice for short haul business despite the lack of IFE. The real story with this flight was the airport experience. I don't fault them for not having a dedicated transit path because very few people probably transit through here. However, being forced to pay $56 in taxes before I was allowed to check in was not an enjoyable experience. The legit airlines, like South African, that fly out of FIH should figure out some way to collect this taxes when tickets are purchased, not when people show up at the airport. I asked United over six weeks ago to address this issue and refund the taxes to me and of course they haven't responded, not even with a refusal.

Related

17 Comments

  • Comment 160765 by
    padawan 1448 Comments

    Welcome in the fabulous world of Central-African airports :D
    Indeed, very few airports in Central Africa are equiped for transit passangers. I don't know any actually, the nearests being ADD and NBO (thanks to their national cariers).
    I guess Brussels Airlines and Air France (the biggest companies on the African continent) have tried for years to include this gopass tax in the fare, but that's it, the local authorities prefer the cash, making sure the companies will not cheat lol
    It also used to exist in Tchad, Cameroon and Congo ;)

    On-board services seems nice, maybe shall it be quicker on this very short red-eye flight.

    • Comment 337348 by
      Nick AUTHOR 172 Comments

      Thanks for the comments Padawan. I can understand that airports in the developing world need hard currency to run their operations, but I would have preferred not to be blindsided with it.

      Service wasn't bad. I was hoping they'd get through it quickly so I could get to sleep, but it ended up going pretty slowly. I don't remember if I ended up getting any sleep.

  • Comment 160776 by
    Alosh 31 Comments

    this the first report i see for that airline , its nice ! thanks Nick

  • Comment 160794 by
    FFlyerCDG 3013 Comments

    I don't know if you're an experienced African traveler - and I'm not talking about NBO, ADD or JNB - but all this was a pretty smooth and extremely well organized connection in a brand new airport thanks to the Go Pass which was created in 2009.

    The money collected through this tax, whose official name is Taxe de fonds de développement pour les infrastructures aéroportuaires (IDEF) is used to improve all airports in the RPDC and, as you could see in FIH, was very well invested !!
    50$ for all international passengers and 10$ for domestic passengers.

    Eric Kayser in RPDC... If someone would have told me this 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed it :-))

  • Comment 160824 by
    East African 1519 Comments

    Another great report Nick,

    For sure, interesting transit experience in this new and modern looking Ndjili. Everything has been said about the taxes and fortunately DRC has improved (and cleaned up) drastically its infrastructures, not only at FIH.
    I love the single jetbridge for EK A380... considering all the checks you stated before it would take ages to get onboard lol
    On a ET report from FIH published recently here in French, there are a few pics about the lounge - honestly it doesn't look bad!
    Amazing shots of Congo Airways, from what i've been told they are doing pretty well and i hope they start internationnal services soon like JNB where a huge Congolese community is established!
    This seat is great for daytime flight probably not for a red eye!
    Catering looks decent!
    Very surprising to see a RwandAir aircraft docked on to an jetbridge and not your plane!
    Thanks a lot for sharing Nick, and as always looking forward to more :-)

    • Comment 337420 by
      Nick AUTHOR 172 Comments

      Thanks for the comments East African! They have a very basic lounge up and running. I went in there, but it turns out there's an entry fee as it's not associated with SAA or any alliance so I just stayed in the main seating area.

      I'd love to see Congo Airways do well and bring some more competition to intra-Africa routes.

      The seats weren't great for sleeping, but they're about as nice as you can expect on short haul aircraft.

      Catering wasn't bad at all. It was nice to have a protein (duck) as part of the appetizers.

      The way they divvy up gates at JNB is a mystery to me. On my Qatar flight a few days later, we didn't even have a jetbridge.

  • Comment 160842 by
    beijinner 167 Comments

    Wow wow wow!
    A connection in FIH between two international flights, that's a first on this website I think. That's quite courageous to connect in this country.
    You are really lucky that it is in their brand new airport!
    They allowed you to take pictures? Because usually they are quite upset about it.
    Nice flight from South African but the timing is definitely really bad.
    Thank's for the report and I am waiting for the next part of your adventure.

    • Comment 337421 by
      Nick AUTHOR 172 Comments

      I had a choice between a few other connection points, but most were airports I had already been to before and all seemed boring compared to FIH.

      No one said a word to me about taking pictures. I'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission.

      It was very weird timing and actually quite strange that the layover worked out so well between these two flights.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  • Comment 160864 by
    marathon GOLD 9596 Comments

    This transit tax is not much different from the departure tax which was until very recently paid in cash in the Indonesian airports. I also remember being annoyed to discover that there was an exit tax at PNH a few years ago. In both countries, there was no doubt it wasn't a local ripoff. Major airlines and tiny local ones alike could not include in the ticket fare that tax, which for domestic flights out of a small Indonesian airport could be less than 1 USD, but was close to 20 USD out of DPS on an international flight.

    How long did it take to get through the transit procedures ? The signage was insufficient, but it did not seem that bad, compared to the 2h45 (there is no typo!) needed a couple months ago for a harrowing night transit in CAI (from AUH, to IST) by a French Flight Reporter. There is much to be said about going through the US immigration in LAX on a PPT-LAX-CDG flight, too, and that transit is also charged separately through the ESTA.

    Your French is very good. I would translate this sign as follows We are presently building a brand new Business Lounge for you. We rejoice to welcome you in it soon.

    Like Beijinner, I am amazed by the local photo OK policy, compared to many other African airports.
    Your excellent pictures and an equally good narrative combine into a fascinating report. Thanks for sharing !

    • Comment 337500 by
      Nick AUTHOR 172 Comments

      It depends what you count as the transit procedure. From the point when I got to Immigration control to the point where I had to buy the Go-Pass, probably only 20 minutes elapsed. Check in took a long time (about 30 minutes), but not longer than I expected. At the passport check on the way out they put me in to a small room for questioning because the officer didn't realize I was a transit passenger and thought I was missing a DRC visa in my passport. Once that got ironed out I got through quickly and the security check was pretty fast as well.

      I'm not sure if allowing photos on the tarmac is their policy or whether no one cared enough to stop me, but either way I was glad I was able to snap some pics.

      Thanks for the comments!

  • Comment 161305 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5139 Comments

    Thanks for this very exotic report! What an interesting connecting experience...to say the least.
    50 bucks is a hefty sum for this Go-pass thing..the departure tax is fine and it never surprises me in some 3rd world countries when you have to pay cash for departure taxes. Good thing you had that much cash on you. I often don't carry that much cash and I wouldn't be keep on using my card in a situation like that--if it were even allowed. I totally get where you are coming from with the resistance, I would have thought it is shady too.

    That was over a six weeks ago and I still haven't gotten a response. Standard United customer service.
    - Yeah, I wouldn't expect anything except maybe a form letter apology and a standard response like it's the passenger's responsibility to be informed about any visa requirements and taxes/duties that can't be included in the ticket price or some crap like that. If airlines had their way, they would collect all taxes/duties etc in the price of the ticket, unfortunately, governments aren't always down with that. Maybe you'll get lucky and get some miles out of the deal. If you have *A status, that can help.

    I was third in this line and it took about half an hour from getting in line to finishing check in.
    - Good Lord...I'd be cranky as hell, especially after the whole connection debacle

    My French is terrible, but I think this says something along the lines of We're building an all new business lounge for you. We hope to have you with us here next time. Please correct me.
    - Your French is actually pretty good. My translation would be very close: We're currently in the process of building an all new Business Lounge for you. We hope to have the pleasure to welcome you [here] very soon.

    Too bad the lounge was closed, because I would have needed a nice stiff drink (or 3) after that hot mess of a connecting experience, LOL.

    After getting off the bus, everyone had to have their tax forms and Go-Passes verified before getting on the aircraft.
    - It's more like a Stop. Ok, now Go-Pass

    The onboard product seems fine. I like the new seats; they're much better than the old 2-3 configuration. The meal looks ok with big portions, but then again, that could just be your extreme close-up of the main, LOL.

    Question...did they make any announcements in French onboard? Did any of the FAs speak French since the Congo is French-speaking?

    Interesting report!

    • Comment 337804 by
      Nick AUTHOR 172 Comments

      I usually carry a few crisp $50 and $100 bills on me for changing into local currency because you can usually get a better rate on those than smaller bills. Because such a large share of the economy in these countries is informal, it seems that they place high taxes in places where it's easy to collect. My friend in Zambia had an imported Japanese car for which they place pretty high import taxes on. There's no way they're collecting taxes from the tomato or charcoal vendor on the side of the road.

      I had nothing to lose by complaining to United about the Go-Pass. I understand it's probably the DRC government that's pulling the strings in this situation, but I wish United had at least told me about it beforehand.

      In the spectrum of African transportation, a 30 minute wait like that didn't seem bad to me. I was just glad that they were somewhat organized, even if it took a long time.

      Thanks for the translation! They actually do have a business lounge up and running that didn't seem that bad. However, I was told that entry requires payment, not just a business class boarding pass (it has no affiliation to Star Alliance). So I just waited in the normal waiting area.

      The onboard product is definitely better than the 2-3 configuration, which I've been on once. That was a pretty extreme close up of the lamb! The portions were pretty normal, but it was nice to have a multi course meal on what was basically a short haul flight.

      I really don't remember the announcements as I was pretty exhausted.

      Thanks for all the comments!

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