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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.

  • Chris A says:


  • Chris A says:

    Does anybody have much experience of redeeming VFC miles for SAA flights? I’ve flown SAA a couple of times internally, and once to Cape Town when it still flew direct from LHR. In all cases I experienced superb service.

    • Jamie says:

      I really like SAA, always great service. Only really worth redeeming in business though which is comparable number of miles vs Virgin on the LHR-JNB route. Economy is a whopping 70k miles – the same flight off peak with Virgin is 25k miles.

      • Radiata says:

        Redemption sales every now and then though which reduces the Voyager Miles required. I have flown in J for 70k miles LHR-JNB.

  • Radiata says:

    SA (in the air) my favourite airline LHR-JNB nonstop.

    Crew in J and Y usually, as per Anika’s experience, relaxed, competent and cheerful. On the same route BA can blow hot and (very) cold with VS sometimes a little over familiar and bonhomie occasionally seemingly forced.

    The tragedy lies in the breathtaking incompetence and corruption of the senior management appointed by the former President. That said to now be on the mend so we can but hope that when the second LHR morning landing slot returns five years hence from its lease to BA it will be back on its feet.

  • the_real_a says:

    Anika – the two hotels you didn’t like are omitted from the article and im curious!

    “stayed at the incredibly dull the following night”
    “or rather at the (review to follow) and the two shopping centres next door.”

    • Rob says:

      As Anika is currently on her way to Gatwick – there will be a review of IC Sandton, pencilled in for next Saturday (ie 5th May). There won’t be a review of Pullman St Pancras – she arrived late, left early, found the entire hotel very underwhelming and neither of us see it as a good use of time or space.

    • Andi F says:

      There’s been some bad comments in the FT thread about the Pullman recently – have a look if you want an up to date review. Lucky for me I am staying there next weekend. I stayed there a couple of years ago and loved it, and got full recognition for my Accor Gold status. Sounds like it’s gone downhill recently so not expecting much this time.

      • Rob says:

        No Gold upgrade, she was told she could have a free mini-bar instead, except that the mini-bar was virtually empty.

    • callum says:

      They aren’t omitted. Something has changed either on HFP or with the Adblockers and it’s blocking far more links. If you disable it you can see she was talking about the Pullman London St Pancras and Intercontinental Sandton.

      I don’t know if Rob isn’t aware that this is happening, or if it’s deliberate so you turn off the adblocker (I’ve turned mine off as every article from the last couple of days has read like it’s written in broken English!).

      • Rob says:

        Nothing to do with us. I don’t use AdBlockers so don’t see it. Only takes 5 seconds to whitelist us.

        • callum says:

          Ah must be the adblocker then (I use Adblock Plus). Sorry I didn’t whitelist you earlier!

  • guesswho2000 says:

    The shoulder belt must be an A330 thing, Qantas have them in their J cabins on the A330. I remember the first time I used it feeling odd because I was on an aisle with a strap over my right shoulder, and kept thinking it should be the other way around, like in a car!

    • Peter K says:

      Depends which side of the car you sit surely?

      • guesswho2000 says:

        Yes, though I meant as I was on the left (as in with the table, storage, etc. on the right, as the seats are staggered) I expected the seatbelt to be as it would be when sitting in the left side of a car…I’m very aware this is an odd and trivial thing for me to be (over) thinking about!

  • Andy says:

    Hi Anika.
    CX used to use the over the shoulder belts on some of their 744’s which have now been taken out of service. It was in the days of the coffin shaped seats and always felt slightly odd…

    • Michael Jennings says:

      The purpose of a seatbelt in an aircraft is generally prevent you from moving upwards (relative to the seat) whereas a seatbelt in a car is to prevent you from moving forwards (relative to the seat). From this perspective, wearing a shoulder belt might make some sense if you are lying down in a flat bed.

      Except that you generally aren’t lying down during take-off and landing..

  • Nobil Parvez says:

    Had that same type of belt recently when I travelled on Asiana’s New A350 from Hanoi to Seoul.Felt really odd to wear the seat belt like that wore it without the cross belt but the flight attended insisted I do.

  • Graham Cox says:

    We had this three point belt on both Lufthansa and Swiss recently in both business and first.
    Must be a new ‘elf and safety’ thing.

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

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