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New A330 and new seats on South African Airways London-Johannesburg – 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. 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 ….

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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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