London to Johannesburg in SAA business class
BACKGROUND The A330-300 is SAA’s newest aircraft having entered service in December 2016, but with the majority of aircraft delivered in 2017. This latest business class product has been on the London to Johannesburg route since March 2108. There are five in the fleet, each with a capacity of 249 passengers, 46 of these in business.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Heathrow T 2 at 1630 for my 1900 flight, SA235. At checkin area D issuing of the boarding pass and passport check was quick (when flying to South Africa you should have two consecutive empty pages in your passport for entry stamps). The agent informed me that I could use any of the Star lounges, but that the Singapore Airlines and Air Canada ones were closest to the gate, with the United lounge just a couple of minutes’ walk away. So I asked which lounge was best of the Star Alliance options, and was told that Air Canada’s one had the best beer.
THE LOUNGE I went to the Singapore Airlines lounge, which is by gate B42; it was quiet as the Singapore Airlines’ flights leave a bit later. There was a good choice of hot and cold Western and Asian food – salads, sandwiches, curry, pad Thai, boeuf bourguignon, soup, cake and biscuits as well as lots of snacks (crisps, nuts, Bombay mix, popcorn, ice cream). There was a good selection of UK and Singapore newspapers and magazines.
BOARDING The aircraft was parked at gate B43, just two minutes from the lounge. Boarding began at 1811 with premium customers first. The crew were attentive, taking my jacket quickly. When most of the passengers had boarded they offered newspapers and a choice of juices or sparkling wine. The plane pushed back at 1910 and was airborne at 1931 for what was to be a 10 hour, 40 minute flight.
THESE AT Business class is split between two cabins with rows 1-8 in the first and 9-12 in the second separated by a galley and two toilets. The configuration is 1-2-1 (A-D, G-K), so all seats have direct aisle access.
The space feels generous for sitting, sleeping and storage. The seat is upholstered, except for the leather headrest, and is adjusted using two sets of controls, one for when sitting up and another when lying down. When fully reclined into a flatbed the seat is almost 2m long. The armrest on the aisle can be adjusted, although I kept mine up so I was not knocked during the night. There is a goodsized pillow, mattress protector and duvet. The amenity kit contained an eye mask and earplugs, as well as face cream and lip balm from Crabtree & Evelyn.
In the sitting position, the seat was 23 inches wide with footrest. Good storage was on hand nearby for small items including a water bottle, and at my feet was a generous magazine rack and storage box which could take shoes and a laptop with room to spare. For take off and landing there was also a shoulder strap that came out from the back of the seat and crossed the body fixing to the buckle.
For working there was a good-sized, solid table, international power plug and USB, as well as an adjustable reading light.
BEST SEAT I was in seat 1 K. While it was at the front of the cabin, which gave it privacy from other passengers, it looked diagonally into the galley, so it was not the quietest option – there are better choices.
I asked which lounge was best of the Star Alliance options, and was told that Air Canada’s one had the best beer
The same applies to 1A – not a quiet option. So if travelling alone, I would opt for a window seat (A or K) as these have more privacy. The middle seats (D and G) are better for those travelling together. As these seats are not in line with the window seats, it would be hard to talk across the aisle if you wanted to.
As to which row to choose, I would opt for the middle of the first cabin (rows 3-5) as these seats are further from the galleys which were noisy (both are used), as well as further from the toilets and the likely positioning of bassinets in row 1 and 9. The rear cabin is also right in front of economy and bassinets are likely to be placed on the wall directly behind row 12.
THE FLIGHT Shortly after take-off there was a drinks service and menus were handed out. I opted for a glass of white wine and was offered either a South African chenin blanc or unoaked chardonnay. The wines were not detailed on the menu, so I went for chardonnay which was good. Canapés were served with the drink.
When the flight attendants came to take the food order, they realised that the wrong menus had been loaded, so then went to the galley to see what they had. They returned a while later offering a choice of three starters (soup, tuna or salad) and four mains (beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian pasta). Descriptions were limited due to the lack of menus, but I opted for the chicken. This was a chicken breast served with rice, what I think were onion bhaji (or similar), chickpeas with some spicy sauce and garnish. It was tasty, fresh and nicely presented. For dessert I was offered trifle, cheesecake or cheese. I went for the cheese and crackers, which included three cheeses, grapes and dates. I was offered a glass of port as an accompaniment. The food tray was promptly taken away, and shortly afterwards a small box of chocolates was offered.
At this point I reclined the seat, made the bed (the duvet and mattress cover being stored in the feet area, or under the seat in front) and went to sleep. The bed was comfortable and very generous in size.
Having slept well, I woke an hour and 15 minutes before landing and was almost immediately offered a towel and a choice of juices, shortly after which breakfast was served. Though menus were lacking, I was offered a choice of cereal, muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, pastries and cheese omelette and sausage, among other options.
I didn’t use the IFE, which has a 15-inch screen and noise-cancelling headphones. On offer were 82 movies (including several recent releases), 67 TV programmes, 15 games, 14 radio stations and 160 albums. The IFE can be controlled by touchscreen or using a trackpad/button on controls under a cover by the seat. Next to the screen there is a space for your own tablet.
ARRIVAL We landed at 0715 and were at the gate just seven minutes later. From there it was a very short walk to immigration.
I had no luggage so walked through the baggage hall to the SAA Arrivals lounge, just after customs. There is a small lounge area with seven tables and 15 chairs, and four large shower cubicles. I showered and changed, then did some work in the lounge, which was empty when I arrived. There was a coffee machine, a good selection of teas, fruit, yoghurt, cheese, pastries, toast, cereal, crisps and hot food including eggs, bacon and tomatoes. VERDICT This flight boasts a very generous-sized seat that provides plenty of space for sleeping and working, with service given by a warm and cheerful crew.