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Review: South African Airways business class from London to Johannesburg – Part 1

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This is our review of South African Airways business class on the new A330-300 service between London and Johannesburg.

Even by our standards, early April was a little bit crazy travel-wise.

After having spent some time with my family over Easter, I stayed at the INNSiDE Hamburg for one night (reviewed here), flew to London, stayed at the incredibly dull Pullman London St Pancras the following night, woke up and took the inaugural Eurostar service to Amsterdam (reviewed here), spent the next night at the Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam (review to follow), flew back to London and then three days later headed off to Johannesburg on board a South African Airways A330-300.

South African Airways had launched their new business class product on the A330-300 at the end of March.  We were invited on an organised press trip which didn’t work in terms of dates, which was a shame as it included a couple of nights at Sun City which Rob recommended.  SAA generously gave me a return ticket for a later date for a solo trip.

South African Airways has recently changed their flight schedule from two daily flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg to one, with a new A330 brought onto the route.  The new flight leaves London at 7pm arriving in Johannesburg at 7am the next day. (The second slot has been leased by British Airways for 5 years).

I flew out Monday evening and arrived back on Friday morning which gave me 61 hours in Johannesburg – or rather at the InterContinental Sandton Towers (review to follow) and the two shopping centres next door.  HFP paid for its own hotel costs and other expenses.

At London Heathrow

South African Airways is part of Star Alliance which means they use Heathrow Terminal 2.

There was a dedicated line for Platinum and Premium check in so the process was very quick. Using the fast track security line I was airside within a few minutes.  I had more issues coming back but I will go into detail in my SAA Johannesburg lounge review which we will publish on Sunday.

Click on any of the images to enlarge:

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

My flight was out of the satellite terminal 2B, which meant I had to walk for about 20 minutes to reach the United Club lounge.  I could also have used the Air Canada or Singapore Airline SilverKris lounges, but the United Club lounge is by far the best out of the three in our opinion.  Rob reviewed the United Club lounge in Heathrow here.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

The plane

South African Airways new A330-300 has a total of 249 seats including 46 in business class.  There is no premium economy or First Class.  The 46 seats are split across two zones, with the second smaller section being in the middle of the plane right in front of the first economy row – with no cabin divider.   This means that the larger zone at the front of the aircraft is recommended.

All business seats have aisle access due to the staggered 1-2-1 configuration.  All seats are forward facing.

There is one toilet at the front and two in between the two business class sections as well as further toilets in the economy cabin.

This is the front section of the business class cabin.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

…… and this is the same section viewed from my seat.  As you can see, this 1-2-1 layout is a world away from the 2-4-2 layout used by British Airways in its Club World cabin.

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

The crew

I loved the energy of the cabin crew members and thought it needed to be mentioned.

All flight attendants in the business cabin, especially on the outbound flight, were very bubbly, friendly and attentive.  You can’t always say that these days.

My seat

I was sat in 6A on the outbound and 4A on the inbound which were pretty much identical.

The seats have a 46” pitch and 24” width which made the seat almost 8cm wider than the Aer Lingus business seat I reviewed last year. The seat reminded me a bit of the Aer Lingus business seat though it did not have the massage function and not as much storage.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

A blanket and a seat topper that you could put on top of the seat once it was fully flat, were stored underneath the seat in front of me.  This still allowed for a lot of leg room.

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

In fully flat mode the seat was almost 2m long and wide enough for me to not bump into the armrest when turning around. The blanket was not fluffy but large and warm. Unfortunately the seat was a little bit hard which made it uncomfortable to sleep on my side but it was perfectly fine when lying on my back.

The IFE screen was not tiltable which meant you couldn’t watch movies when lying down.  But perhaps I’m the only person that tries to do that …..

I had problems sleeping on the outbound flight. I’m starting to think that it’s due to the fact I’m tired when I get on board an overnight flight and then have to stay up to eat which fuels my body and makes it very difficult to drop off.  On the inbound, however, I did sleep for about 5 hours.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

The seat didn’t have a lot of storage. The only area by the seat where you could put a couple of small items was a little shelf with a hook for the headphones. I was able to store my purse, phone and a bottle of water, the rest had to go in the overhead locker.  On an 11 hour flight a little bit more storage by the seat would have been great.

There was also a socket and USB port on the wall of the shelf as well as a reading light and the seat control panel.

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

The remote for the IFE was hidden under a flap with a mirror but I only used the touchscreen.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

The seat had an additional shoulder seat belt which had to be worn during take off and landing. I don’t remember using such a belt on a plane before.

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

The IFE screen was 15” and had a good selection of new and classic movies (over 100) and TV shows. It was available from 10 minutes after the seat belt signs were switched off until about 10 minutes before landing.

I watched ‘The Greatest Showman’ to try to understand the hype – and it was indeed a fantastic movie.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

Interestingly there were two different wash bags on the outbound and inbound flight.  This was the wash bag on my outbound flight:

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

…. and this was the one on the inbound flight.

Review South African Airways A330 London Johannesburg business class

The contents were the same with a toothbrush, hairbrush, socks, sleeping mask, earplugs, face cream and lip balm.

Face cream and lip balm were by Crabtree & Evelyn and smelled lovely.  Unfortunately the sleeping mask and ear plugs weren’t great.  The sleeping mask was too tight, even after adjusting the velcro, and was pressing too firmly on my eyes. The ear plugs were a bit too big.  I really need to buy a proper sleeping mask as I’m yet to come across an airplane sleeping mask that actually works for me (I’m thinking of buying this one, please let me know if you know a better one.)

There was body lotion and room freshener in the toilets and paper as well as cotton towels.

South African Airways SAA business London to Johannesburg

My SAA business class review concludes in Part 2 (click here) which covers the food and drink you’ll receive and includes a video.  I hope you’ve been able to see from the first half that South African has a high quality product which is well worth a look if you are heading to the region.

Please click here to go to Part 2 of our South African Airways business class review.

Comments (54)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Michael says:

    Eye masks: the price is absurd, but after much experimentation I have not found a better one than these Really comfortable and the large area is great for total darkness.

  • Czechoslovakia says:

    I got caught out too with the 3 point belt on a SWISS A340 to LAX earlier in the month. It was hiding under the headrest. Something new?

  • Jk says:

    The QF J seat which has been around for a couple of years now has this type of seatbelt (the seats look similar too). Main advantage is you can take off & land with the seat partly reclined which is nice on redeyes.

  • Jameesay says:

    Yes most airline masks are unsuitable for many reasons. Do go get any kind of mask that is contoured and stays off the eyelids. I buy a brand called Bucky in Bed Bath and Beyond and love them.

  • FlyUpTop says:

    Looks good, some nice freebies thrown in and puts some other airlines to shame!

  • Memesweeper says:

    CORRECTION: the Greatest Showman is in fact an abysmal rambling pile of drivel…


  • John says:

    What time do you normally eat? I wouldnt expect problems sleeping with an 8-9pm dinner.. When the destination time zone is similar.

    I usually don’t eat if heading to Asia since it’s already past midnight on a UK afternoon deparrture.

  • Kevin says:

    I’m doing an SA / Mauritius trip in a few weeks, flying SA biz from JNB to MRU.

    I see there’s been an equipment change, and I’m flying on the A330-300 on the outbound leg. Seems SAA are finally starting to figure out how to use an aircraft during the day instead of just letting it sit at a remote stand!

    • Rob says:

      They need to find a way of using it in London! You could do a 4 hour flight and back ok. Would need to be under another airlines flight code though.

      • Catalan says:

        Rob, many years ago I remember Qantas doing seasonal charters from London to Barcelona to maximize aircraft utilization.
        It didn’t last too long though. If the aircraft got stuck in Barcelona for any reason it was chaos back at Heathrow.

        • @mkcol says:

          I recall that QF LHR-BCN rotation – think it was for the cruise market.

      • Kevin says:

        @Rob – any seat recommendations? We’ve reserved 1D/1G (middle front) at the moment.

        And yeah, they definitely need to find something to do with that plane during the LHR wait!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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