New A330 and new seats on SAA’s London-Jo’burg – and the terrible economics of the route

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South African Airways has announced plans to upgrade their London – Johannesburg route to a brand new A330-300 from 25th March 2018.

To quote from the press release:

“We have decided to upgrade the service operating between Johannesburg and London Heathrow to the new Airbus A330-300 with effect from Sunday, 25 March 2018. This will afford customers a significantly improved on-board Business and Economy product, with state-of-the-art technology, increased comfort and capacity,” SAA CEO, Vuyani Jarana.

This is the new seat map (click to enlarge).

SAA A330-300 Seatmap

The new business class looks promising with 46 ‘all aisle access’ lie-flat seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration. In comparison the current A 330-200 has only 36 business seats.

Every seat comes with a 15″ touchscreen and customers are also able to download further entertainment onto their own devices via a new app prior to the flight.

That is the good news.

The downside, of course, is that SAA currently has two daily flights out of Heathrow (18:05 and 21:05).  From 20th April there will be one daily flight at 19:00.   The drop in capacity is likely to see fares rise even more (Johannesburg and Cape Town are rarely reduced, even in a British Airways or SAA sale).  As South Africa is an overnight flight in both directions with virtually no jet lag, it is not a great idea to save money by changing in the Middle East in the early hours.

South African has had well publicised financial difficulties recently.  The bigger problem with flights to Europe is flight times.

Let’s look at the new Johannesburg schedule:

From April, the aircraft is leaving Jo’burg at 20:00 and landing at Heathrow at 06.25

The aircraft sits on the tarmac at Heathrow for 12 and a half hours

The return flight leaves at 19:00, arriving back in Jo’burg at 07:05

There are two issues here:

Heathrow Airport charges substantial fees, by the hour, for parking planes

An A330-300 has a list price of $259m.  Whilst SAA or the leasing company will have paid less, probably $175m, it is very difficult to have so much money parked up for over 12 hours each day.

Given these factors it would be amazing if South African could make any European flight profitable.

We are hoping to review the new A330-300 when it launches later in the Spring.

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  1. Doesn’t BA have 2 A380’s tied up for a similar amount of time in JNB?

    • Yes, it used to be one A380 and one 747 but is now two A380s. It’s probably the recent replacement of the 747 with a second A380 that have pushed SAA to reduce frequency from 2 to 1, along with SAA’s need to reduce its aircraft leasing bill. Prior to the A380s arriving into the BA fleet It was not uncommon for BA to have 3 747s parked up at JNB all day on certain days.

    • Genghis says:

      And 2 744s in CPT

  2. The SAA aircraft after arriving at a LHR are towed to the maintenance base which significantly reduces LHR parking charges and allows maintenance. It’s a procedure that’s gone on for decades. Once these aircaraft arrive at SAA’s JNB hub they can turn-round onto other long haul routes within hours, just as BA can do when their aircraft arrive back from JNB into LHR.

    Airlines have tried daylight Europe-South Africa schedules without success, one exception, exception: KLM operates a morning departure from AMS (primarily to give good connectivity from Canada/USA) which immediately turn-rounds at JNB to do a night flight back to AMS (again with good connectivity to USA/Canada. Unfortunately arriving into JNB late evening and in the dark is not good for meet and great but KLM make it work.

    BA/SAA make most of their profits on the JNB route from point to point business traffic, hence why overnight schedules in both directions is key. SAA’s biggest issue to date has been a lack of enough J seats on their first departures from JNB and LHR, Good to see at long last they are taking action. Still no premium Economy product though!

    • Was going to mention the parking at maintenance myself. Used to be at the BD hangar by the level crossing; now it’s all BA long term leased land.

  3. I’ve read this comment on the economics of the route on the past, and never understood why they couldn’t do an overnight flight in one direction and a day flight back, then fly a shorter route with that plane the next day and have two planes covering the two day cycle. E.g. (all times GMT) Monday JNB-LHR dep 0700 arr 1900, LHR-JNB dep 2100 arr 0900, Tuesday JNB-LOS dep 1100 arr 1700 LOS-JNB dep 1900 arr 0100. Then repeat on Wednesday, with another plane starting the same cycle on Tuesdays. Or something like that. Would be interested to know why this doesn’t work (as I assume they must have considered and discarded the idea). Would be even easier for BA presumably.

    • I see the comment above answered my question as I wrote!

      • Virgin Atlantic also day stop an aircraft at JNB and simply use it as a great opportunity for scheduled routine maintenance.

      • If airlines were not limited by government protectionism, SAA could fly E.g. LHR-Moscow-LHR during the day.
        And BA could do JNB-Nairobi-JNB.
        The lack of Open Skies imposes as lot of inefficiency, and so higher prices for consumers.

        • Good point. Wonder if there are some ‘fifth freedom’ rights to exploit.

        • IndiGo are allegedly applying for route approval from Delhi to Gatwick with onward services through europe later this year. If granted may be some fifth freedom flights on their A330s.

        • BA don’t really like tag flights, with the crew slips and hotels, etc. They do it in Caribbean still, but they prefer to keep it simple.

          I once internally suggested the LGW-BDA continue on to MIA (or other US destination), since BDA is UK, but the crewing and possible fare dilution meant the idea went nowhere.

    • Graeme, indeed this would improve aircraft utilisation. However a day flight is wasted time for a business passenger, furthermore to depart at 0700 would mean arriving at JNB no later than 0500. So a waste of the previous night also.

      Most passengers don’t like travelling to/from JNB in darkness, whether departing or arriving due to perceived safety/security implications.

      • For me when I’m travelling on business a long daytime flight is great as I can get some work done without the constant interruptions of the office! Dreading the day they finally get decent WiFi on most planes!

  4. How’s *A availability on SAA flights these days. I gave up collecting Lifemiles after never seeing any SAA seats from London to SA (even max time out). Are any seats ever available in other *A programs (with the exception of Voyager).

  5. Glad to hear that BA have removed the ancient 747’s from this route. I flew BA down there in November and I think the plane was still in its 1995 makeup.

    Bit of a let down as I’d flown there in August on a Virgin 787 which was an altogether better experience, especially in the back (damn travel policy).

    Either way the cost of tickets was horrendous. £1500 economy and £2700 PE!

  6. Flew F to JNB about 4 weeks ago in a BA 380. Plenty of space and great service from crew as well. First time on a 380 and loved it. Back from Cape Town on a 747 which, whilst fine wasn’t a patch on the 380 was still a good experience.

  7. Couldn’t find any bargains in the South African sale. So we are going the unrecommended Doha route. We have 50 minutes to change planes at six in the morning. What could go wrong? Noticed this week that Qatar have switched the 777 for a Dreamliner for the DOH-JNB route.

    Of course Cape Town is very close to running out of water but I don’t think anyone has said they will stop flying there.

    • I’d say the worst thing about a short connection in Doha is that you have to clear security there even when transferring and that the airport is massive.

      No chance to enjoy the lounge either if you’re in business

      • Yes, we’re in business. We get a couple of hours to try the lounge on the way back.

        It was a choice between a six hour layover or fifty minutes and my wife preferred the latter. If we don’t make it I suppose we’ll be spending a day sightseeing in Doha.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Theres a very quick business fast track lane for clearing security

        • Globetrotter says:

          You can also use yr phone to map route to the gate of your connecting flight soon as you touch down in DOH (while inbound flight is still enroute to stand) so you can leg it thru the terminal as efficiently as possible.

        • All helpful to know, thanks. Is the map on the app?

          I imagine if we’re much later than scheduled there will be a nice person waiting with a buggy.

      • No need to clear security at Doha when arriving from UK and some other countries. We came back from India last week with a 1:10 connection at Doha, security was very quick and we still had about 30 mins waiting time in the gate lounge before boarding the London flight.

        • We’ll be coming from France. Qatar lounge there looks a lot like the London one but with two roof terraces.

          I’ve read (and the info could be wrong) that only a certain number of flights clear security a day and it’s random as to which ones.

          Important thing to know is that other people have successfully done similar – thanks.

  8. Froggitt says:

    I just got back from Vancouver. One 777 does two x ten hour flights a day, with two x two hour stopovers. Surely that makes more sense than having two large planes on a route of similar length, with parking charges on top. In fact, it would make more sense to have one day flight and one night flight a day, and try to get revenue from the planes, rather than them being a parking charge for half their day.

    • barry cutters says:

      Vancouver isn’t always 777. They run 747s normally and A380 in summer.
      flight times always same. 17.30 out of London, arriving early evening. and returning 9.10pm landing middle of afternoon in to LHR.
      I do this route monthly in the summer however actually prefer the 747 as i can get upstairs.

  9. Concerto says:

    I didn’t know airlines parked up for the comfort of passengers. They certainly never did on the transatlantic routes. A lot more competition there, probably.

    • Concerto says:

      Having posted before reading the other comments, I see some posters above have offered explanations for this.

  10. Can someone explain why BA can do 2 flights a day to Cape Town and another 2 to Johannesburg everyday – but now SAA and doing just 1 to Joburg and completely stopped it’s Cape Town flight a few years back.

    Also virgin stopped it’s Cape Town flight (which was UK winter only) but always packed ?

    • barry cutters says:

      Likely ba get a lot of connecting traffic to us and europe.
      and are generally a bigger business and have more planes, so dedicating planes to a route which is less profitable is less of an issue

    • For BA it is proportional to its network – it has 130 long haul aircraft and if a couple spend the day in South Africa then that is manageable, the rest are off to places where they can turnaround in 3 hours. For SAA, this problem would impact every European route.

  11. Mikeact says:

    My wife and I are going to give it a go, thanks to a contact in Europe who is happy to redeem two award business seats in exchange for me getting him two longhaul Avios seats that he’s after.

  12. Paul Satterfield says:

    Can you at least put a picture of the correct airplane at the head of the article. That picture shows an A340. Geezz

    • I do know that (only because I had captioned it as an A340!) but I had the picture in the system already cropped so it was easier to use it. This is not ….

  13. I don’t think prices are bad on this route. And, Norwegian have expressed in interest in servicing the ZA market. Purchased my first ticket to see my grandparents when I was 12; at around £675; today I’m still paying less than this price. Appreciate SA may have it’s troubles; but the team in London are fantastic and a true asset to SAA. Hope they are OK with the reduced volume on this route. All in all, I’ve always found most SAA outstations great; particuarly in the USA. Guess airlines like Ethiopian and TAAG are going to try and grab some marketshare.

    • Richard says:

      Outside of peak Christmas the economy prices are very, very reasonable – if you will connect. So much 1-stop competition from all across Europe and ME and Ethiopian.

  14. With 5th freedom rights, BA could presumably do JNB-MRU-JNB or JNB-SEZ-JNB; and even without them might be allowed to carry LHR-originating pax if not local traffic competing with SA & MK?

  15. I wonder how the numbers add up for KLM, the only European airline to fly to JNB in the daytime (and return overnight). Also I’m pretty sure parking at JNB is significantly cheaper than at LHR!

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