I'm going to start out with the tourism bonus. It's a bit long, but this fascinating and beautiful country deserves decent exposure.
South Africa really is an amazing place. It's a country with a violent past, but a bright future. What struck me the most about South Africa were the contrasts: Contrasts between the natural beauty of the savannah and the steel and glass skyscrapers of the big cities; the luxury of large shopping districts, casinos, and large homes surrounded by high walls and electified fences and the extreme poverty of the shantytowns and townships. These contrasts make for a very interesting place and I will not hesitate to return to South Africa.
After a Pretoria bonus in the last FR, this time I will take you to Pilanesberg National Park and Johannesburg.
The drive from pretoria to Pilanesberg is about two hours. The roads are good and there are some interesting things to see.
Like this waterfall right next to the N4 motorway!
…or this shantytown, which I first mistook for a garbage dump :-(
Pilanesberg National Park is a reserve situated in an extinct volcanic caldeira. The park is therefore surounded by a beautiful mountain range, presumably the rim of the volcano.
At Pilanesberg, you have the option of visiting the park, essentially going on safari, in your own car! What an amazing opporunity to be able to get so close to the wildlife! Of course, you have to be very prudent and the park rangers brief you prior to entering; you are also handed a guidebook with very good information on the wildlife and safety information. It's important to follow the guidebook's instructions as you get VERY close to the wildlife.
Like this Blue Ox that came only a few feet from our car. Good thing he seemed to be in a good mood :-)
Different animals gathering around a watering hole.
Two Impalas on the lakefront.
So amazing to have zebra so close!
Babar and friends :-)
There are also a lot of giraffes in the reserve.
Rhinos tend to be shy. They were often hiding in the brush so it was difficult to take a decent picture.
We were very lucky to have a chance to see the Hippos. Apparently, most visitors do not get to see the as they don't start coming out of the water until sunset.
Sun City, the Las Vegas of South Africa; it is just outside Pilanesberg.
We also wanted to visit Soweto, but made sure to get a good guide for the tour of the township as it can be dangerous and it is not recommended that tourists venture there on their own. For information the name Soweto is derived from SOuth WEstern TOwnship
This black township was created in the 19th century to accomodate the black population who were forced out of their homes and banned from living in central Johannesburg–these were the beginnings of what later became the official policy of Apartheid.
The towers of the old electric plant. Ironicaly, or rather unjustly, the majority of households in Soweto did not have electricity. This plant powered the center of Johannesburg (i.e. the white population)
Today the towers are covered in art. There is a bar/restaurant at the foot of the towers and those who are adventurous enough can do bungie jumping between the towers.
Anti-Apartheid monument in Soweto.
One of the poorest sectors of the township–this is truly shocking to Western eyes.
Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived on the same street in Soweto…two Nobel prize recipients on the same street, how amazing.
Une window of the Regina Mundi church
To continue with the Nelson Mandela theme and bring back the concept of contrasts mentionned earlier, let's head to Nelson Mandela square. The square is located in Sandton, a wealthy (majority white) suburb of Johannesburg and the new business district for Jo'burg. At the end of Apartheid in the early 90's, the Central Business District of Jo'burg was all but abandonned as the city saw a mass exodus of the white population who came to Sandton and established this new district. I find it somewhat ironic that the name of the central square is Nelson Mandela.
It's hard to describe the square as a true square, as the white sectors in and around jo'burg are surrounded by fences and security, you have the feeling of being inside a compound more than a town square.
Sandton City is a luxury shopping center with all the brand names you would find anywhere in the West.
Prior to heading to the Airport we were going to visit the Apartheid museum but it was closed so we headed to the Casino at the Gold Reef City amusement park across the street.
Views of downtown Johannesburg–many of the buildings are still abandonned today.
I hope you've enjoyed this little visit of the Johannesburg area.
Now, on to the Flight-Report.
We head to O. R. Tambo International Airport on the R24 motorway.
Looks like we're headed in the right direction.
The Terminal's grand central hall.
The check-in counters were a total mess. The staff did a very poor job of crowd control. Luckily, there were not too many people in the SkyPriority line. We asked the agent if there were any upgrades being sold to Premium Economy or Busines. He informed us that Premium was fully booked but to chech at the sales counter for upgrades to Business class. At the time, Air France had just begun experimenting with discounter day-of-departure upgrades, as KLM has done for years. We didn't care how much it cost, we wanted to upgrade as this was a long night flight and we had a long layover in CDG the next morning so we could use a good night's sleep!
There were only two agents at the sales desk and we stood in line for a good fifteen minutes only to be told once we got to the agent that they had been told by the station manager not to sell upgrades today because the flight is oversold in economy. I told her Ma'am, that doesn't make sense, wouldn't you prefer customers pay to buy up to Business rather than having to upgrade someone for free? She was not even hearing it and just repeated in a rude tone that she could not do upgrades. OK Air France, you don't want my money? Fine with me! Needless to say that I was none too pleased to have stood in line for 15 minutes only to be treated rudely–that's no way to treat two SkyTeam Elite+ members!
As if that weren't annoying enough, once we got to security it was a total cluster F&%^! I asked an agent if there was some sort of priority lane and, of course, there was not…go figure.It took over an hour to get through security and passport control! It was such a mess…people were literally screaming at each other because the line was not clearly marked and so some people were inadvertently going to the wrong side, while others were clearly doing it on purpose. We tried to get the agents to try to put some order and organize people, but they were content just to turn their backs and ignore the fiasco. Gotta love that IDGAS attitude! Thank goodness we got to the airport 3 hours before departure!
Just after passport control I see this sign…it was too much! LOL. The SLOW lounge? Everything is bloody slow in this airport!
Pic of some planes parked while heading to the lounge.
The lounge is pretty nice for an out-station lounge.
One of the nice things about this lounge is that there are four showers, so I did not have to wait for one.
Travel documents. AF puts both flights on the same boarding card.
Boarding was called in the lounge and we headed to the gate.
There was a SkyPriority lane at the gate but it served no purpose as you have to stand in a line with everyone else first to get your passport and BP checked again, plus once we got up to the door, noone was controlling access to the SP line anyway.
Our big Airbus
And another whalejet nextdoor.
We took the jetbridge for the upper deck.
View from my seat
SAA A330-200 next to us
Surprisingly we pushed back a few minutes early despite the chaotic boarding process.
Taxi time was short and we were off to Paris.
The airshow predicts an early arrival.
Our mini Y-cabin on the upper deck. I really like the intimate feeling of this small cabin and the mood lighting adds a soothing touch.
The airshow is really night, definitely way better than the old IFE on the KLM 777 on the way over.
We've got a lot of distance to cover.
The IFE is pretty nice like I said and has a wide choice of movies, shows, music, etc.
I'd been on the A380 several times, but I'd never tried the Chat feature.
Well, I guess nobody else thought of trying it, there was noone in the chatroom.
Champagne before dinner as usual. This is one of the nice things about AF. They serve the same Champagne in economy that DL serves in Business.
My meal choice was chicken; however, our charming flight-attendant sincerely apologized as my choice was no longer available. I was disappointed but she handled the situation very well, she said in French I'm really sorry! I'll bring you all the champagne you want to make up for it! I replied Thanks! That's very sweet and I'll hold you to that :-)
So apparently I must look like an alcoholic, LOL
She kept her promise and refilled my champagne glass twice, once right before the meal service, and once as she came with the cart. She also gave me two bottles of wine for the meal.
And then she offered me two bottles of Poire-Williams for the digestif.
After the meal, there was still a long flying time to go, which would have been ideal for a full night's sleep, but I was not sleepy at all.
My friends couldn't sleep either so I decided to show them around as this was their first time one an A380. Since we were in Y, we couldn't see the other cabins, but I took them downstairs.
The rear cabin of the main deck.
As I walked back upstairs, I found our lovely FA who offered another glass of champagne. How could I say no :-) We got to chatting and had a nice discussion for over an hour. We talked about how I worked for AF a long time ago and my time in the industry, my AvGeekiness and Flight-Report.com. During our conversation and inflight supervisor (Chef de Cabine) joins us and seems very interested to hear my opinions as a former industry insider and now SkyTeam Elite. It was nice to feel that someone actually cared about I you had to say and I could tell they had a passion for their profession. As an aviation and travel enthusiats, it is nice to see this quality in flight crew! During our conversation, I mentioned the whole upgrade fiasco at the check-in counter and of course they told me that there were 8 seats open in Business! I told them I thought it was really a shame that AF passed on the opportunity to gain extra revenue by selling those seats and they agreed. My take on it is, if you want a guaranteed Business class seat, you buy a full-fare seat ahead of time. If you are a leisure traveller like me and there are seats left open, why not get some extra revenue by selling empty seats last minute. I didn't expect them to be dirt cheap; I would have payed $400-$500; I think that's reasonable considering I only paid $300 for the upgrade on KLM from AMS to JNB.
As I was continuing my discussion with the supervisor with another glass of champagne our FA excused herself and came back with a trio of desserts from J class. Seriously, can you ask for a better more attentive crew??! I was flying Y and got better treatment than I do in J most of the time! But then again, I tend to be lucky with crews. It may be because I used to work in the industry. Either way, having this great crew made for a very pleasant flight!
After a very pleasant time spent in the galley, I went back to my seat with a Poire-Williams nightcap to try to get some sleep.
Wow, still 8 hours to go. This was my first flight on the A380 in Y. I have flown the A380 in Business and Premium Economy, but never in economy so I was worried I wouldn't get a good night's sleep.
Self fulfilling prophecy–we pass the equator and I still can't slee.
So I start to watch a French movie, Stars 80.
As a child of the 80s I really enjoyed it.
After the movie I was finally able to take a little nap. It's not that the seat is uncomfortable, because it is quite comfortable, especially at the window where you have extra lateral room because of the large bins next to you, so I'm not sure why I couldn't sleep.
The mood-lighting is turned on over Corsica. Much more pleasant to wake up to moodlighting than full-blasting lights.
I headed to the lav to go brush my teeth. As I came out our FA greets me from the galley and says Monsieur, I didn't forget you…She hands me three amenity kits from Business class that she had hidden in a cupboard for me and my friends! Wow, what a nice surprise. I really hit the jackpot with this crew. I made sure to write a nice letter to AF about them (of course I didn't mention the freebies as I wouldn't want to get them in trouble).
Shortly after, breakfast was served. It was alright…definitely better than what you get on a transatlantic flight.
After the meal, the in-flight supervisor comes by to offer my friend a 50 Euro voucher because his IFE hadn't worked during the flight and there had been no free seats to move him to, except middles. I had offered to switch with my friend, but he didn't want to. It is definitely a nice gesture. We'd already gotten the royal treatment on this flight, I was certainly not expecting anything more.
Flying over Turin…I think.
I fell back asleep during the descent and was awoken by the rough landing, as they often are on A380s.
We got to the gate 10 minutes early.
We arrived at Terminal 2E M gates, also known as S4
My departing flight will be leaving from S3 (L gates)…too bad, I was hoping to get to try the new S4 lounge as it is the nicest.
I still tried to get through to the M gates by going to the security checkpoint and pretending like I didn't know any better, but the little scanner told the agent I was supposed to be in another concourse so they politely asked me to leave. Hey…I tried :-)
Honestly it doesn't make any sense that you can't freely move between concourses in Terminal 2E; they're all non-schengen so I don't see the problem. In ATL, for example, once you are past security you have access to all 7 concourses so, if time permits, you can choose whichever lounge you prefer.
Thanks for reading this long report! I'll post the last leg shortly.
Air France Lounge - Business
Johannesburg - JNB
Paris - CDG
For my first time in Y on an AF A380 I was really pleased with the experience! The seats on the upper deck were comfortable--they are wide with a good seat pitch and when you are in the window seat have a lot of storage with the bin along the sidewall. This also gives you extra shoulder room, which is nice on a long flight. Of course, the AMAZING crew on this flight is really what made this a special flight. I normally have good luck with flight crews but this one was one of the best, if not THE best crew I've ever had. Aside from the atrocious airport experience at JNB, everything was great!
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