Good Advice Tried and Tested

South African Airways A320-200 business class

21/08/2014

CHECK-IN

I checked in online the morning of my 1550 flight to London via Johannesburg, changing my seat selection from 1F to 5F (I like to be able to keep my bag under the seat in front during take off and landing), and sending my boarding passes to my iPhone, which I then saved in my Passbook app.

I took a taxi to the international airport from Cape Town’s waterfront (the journey took 25 minutes) and headed straight for the premium check-in desks A1-3 to drop my suitcase off (A17-30 was for economy check in and bag-drop). There were no other passengers there so I was seen to immediately and also given two paper boarding passes. My case was checked all the way through to London so I didn’t need to collect it in Jo’burg as on the inbound service. (Click here to read my review.)

I then walked the short distance to domestic security (international is adjacent), where a member of staff scanned my boarding pass and directed me to one of several lanes. It didn’t take more that a minute or two to get through (laptops out but not liquids, plus a quick pat down). I then took a lift up to level four, where I made my way to the South African Airways business class lounge.

THE LOUNGE

The spacious SAA lounge is split into two sections, with the side on the left looking down into the airport check-in area, and the side to the right offering views of the stands and runway through floor-to-ceiling windows. Both areas had plenty of comfy seating and refreshment stations with nuts, crisps, crackers, cheese, fruit and self-service soft and alcoholic drinks.

There was also a bowl of coleslaw and some sandwiches that looked a bit stale, as well as some bulgar wheat salad, a Greek salad, cold cuts and crudite vegetables. Staff were on hand to clean tables and make cappuccinos.

The wifi was free but very hard to connect to – it took me 20 minutes to get online and even then I lost the connection several times after. The lounge also had a smoking room, TV room, a private lounge behind glass doors for meetings, workstations and big armchairs in the foyer for taking naps.

There were no flight announcements but screens throughout gave status updates – by 1520 my flight still wasn’t showing up as boarding so I went to check at reception what was happening. I was informed that the process would start at 1535 but at 1530 the member of staff I spoke to came over to say I could head to the gate. 

BOARDING

Boarding began from Gate A8 on level two (the same floor you enter after security) at 1530. I went straight to the front of the line and boarded via an airbridge on a lower level after having my documents checked. I was in my seat by 1540 and the plane pushed back soon after, at 1550, with a safety demo given on the over-head screens. There were no pre-flight drinks or snacks given to business class passengers on this short flight.

THE SEAT

The cradle-style business class product is upholstered in brown leather and arranged in a 2-2 (A-C, D-F) layout from row one to six on this A320-200. Power sockets are installed between each seat in the lower portion of the middle column, while tray tables slide out of the armrests and USB and iPad slots are on the seat-backs.

As opposed to the better-equipped A340-300 that plied the Jo'burg-Cape Town route on my inbound journey (click here to read my review) there were no individual IFE screens, just overhead ones playing random travel programmes with subtitles. However, the seat was wide (21 inches) and had a lot of legroom (39 inches). The cabin was pretty much full.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

You can’t really go wrong with the business class seats on this aircraft – it simply comes to down to whether you prefer being by a window or aisle. Sitting at the front means you will disembark and receive food and drink first.

THE FLIGHT

As we were taxiing, the captain came on to say the estimated flight time to Jo’burg would be one hour and 50 minutes. At 1600, we took off. At 1615 a light meal and drinks service began from the front, with the first trolley serving beverages (alcoholic and soft), while the second trolley was for meals.

There was a choice of two – a vegetarian option and a similar looking snack of grilled cajun chicken with two skewers of mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes drizzled with pesto with a side of cous cous. The tray also came with a nice-looking selection of freshly sliced fruit.

As I hadn’t known there would be a vegetarian option, I had pre-ordered a special meat-free meal and was given a variation of what I had eaten twice before on my two previous economy flights but this time worse.

It was a dish with a small portion of lettuce and cucumber, some strips of burger cheese and a weird mushy pile of cooked but cold finely sliced pieces of green and red pepper, carrot and courgette. It wasn’t a meal – it was an unappetising assemblage of leftovers. For dessert was a stale, unidentifiable cake that might have been chocolate cheesecake but was salty, didn’t taste of chocolate and was kind of chalky in texture.

After a mouthful or two of savoury then sweet, I felt a bit ill. I never understand why vegetarians are given a different, inferior special meal when there is a vegetarian meal on the menu as a standard option (apart from the fact that there might not be enough to go round so you aren’t guaranteed of getting it). When you are paying good money to be in business, just because you have ordered a special meal, it doesn’t mean you should have a worse culinary experience than your fellow passengers.

A second drinks service followed by tea and coffee took place at 1645, whereby trays were also collected.

ARRIVAL

The aircraft started its descent at 1720, landing in Jozi at 1750. We pulled up at a stand at domestic Terminal B, and exited swiftly via an airbridge. I then followed the signs to transfers in international Terminal A, and took the fast-track lane at security on the far right (sign-posted as for crew/diplomats/pass holders).

This was very quick as there were no other passengers. Beyond was a short queue for passport control, so I was airside again by 1815. I then followed the signs to the South African Airways Premium lounge about seven minutes away on the upper mezzanine level.

VERDICT

Compared with the better-equipped, wide-bodied A340-300 that also serves this route, the narrow-bodied A320 is an inferior product, as it doesn’t provide personal IFE screens or flat bed seating. However, for a short hop such as this, none of that is really necessary anyway. But if you have the choice, you will be better off booking the A340. My special meal was awful but the standard snack served to other passengers looked better. Crew were welcoming and efficient, and the service punctual.

FACT FILE:

  • SEAT PITCH 39 inches
  • SEAT WIDTH 21 inches
  • SEAT RECLINE 7 inches
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return midweek economy class flight from London to Cape Town via Johannesburg in September ranged between £997 and £1,902 depending on flexibility.
  • CONTACT flysaa.com 

Jenny Southan