Review: South African Airways Business Class Review – Johannesburg To Cape Town

Johannesburg to Cape Town is one of the most traveled domestic routes in the world. One of the most prominent carriers on this route is South African Airways, the flag carrier of South Africa. So, for my last segment from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I opted to book with them.

SAA A320 Business Class
South African Airways Business Class on an A320. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Booking

South African Airways offers multiple daily flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Some of these are operated on long-haul aircraft like the A330 and A340. Those are equipped with lie-flat seats. Although, for a two-hour flight, you’re likely not going to be able to make much use of a lie-flat.

I parted with $297 for this flight. This included a $5 carbon offset. For just over a two-hour flight, I found this to be priced fairly. I don’t recommend using miles for a short-haul flight. Aeroplan charges 40,000 miles for this one-way flight, which would be a very bad redemption in my opinion.

Airport experience

Checking in was easy. I presented my passport, placed my bag on the scale, and cleared security. With the help from a Lufthansa representative courtesy of my First Class flight, I completed the entire process in about 20 minutes. Then, I waited in the SAA domestic lounge.

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Boarding started about 40 minutes prior to departure. Gate agents didn’t announce boarding. Instead, they just started.

Onboard

I stepped onboard and turned right into the Business Class cabin. Oh boy, this was one old aircraft. My first impression was initially negative. I stowed my bag and made my way to my seat– 2F. I then made myself aware of the seat features.

First off, the seat was painful. It was old and lacked a lot of padding. I could feel parts of the seat structure poking into me. This is one time where I would have appreciated a pillow.

Power outlets were available in the armrest. There was one for each passenger.

SAA A320 outlets
SAA A320 power outlets. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

In terms of storage, there was a little pocket underneath the armrest by the seat control buttons and entertainment options.

SAA A320 J Armrest
Armrest storage, seat control buttons, and entertainment options. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

There was no seatback entertainment on this flight (grrrr). Instead, SAA opted to introduce a tablet holder, USB power outlet and offered some magazines.

SAA Seatback
South African Airways business class seatback. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Legroom was decent and similar to domestic premium classes in the United States. The seat had two options for customization. You could recline the seat and deploy a legrest. For some reason, my seatback would not recline and my legrest would not deploy fully. The cabin crew were also unsuccessful in getting my seat to recline but mentioned maintenance would look at it eventually.

Inflight entertainment

South African Airways provided entertainment monitors at the front of the cabin that displayed a cooking show throughout the flight. However, no headphones were provided, and unless you had two-prong headphones in your possession, you’re stuck with reading subtitles.

What is more interesting is South African Airways’ device policy. South African Airways does not allow electronic devices (even in flight mode) to remain powered on during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Normally, on flights without entertainment, I like to listen to music. I’ve never seen this kind of policy on any airline, especially in 2019. They billed it as a device in flight mode being unsafe to the aircraft’s navigation system, although I’m not entirely sure how that would be possible. Readers, do you have any insight on this policy?

Meals

There was no pre-departure service, which was very disappointing. It was hot on the ground and I could have used some water. However, about thirty minutes after takeoff, flight attendants performed a meal service. After some very detailed explanations, I selected a fish curry.

Saa Domestic Business Class Lunch
South African Airways lunch. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

The salad was absolutely disgusting and the bread was very hard and lukewarm. However, the fish curry and dessert were quite wonderful. I appreciated how the curry was spiced and had a wonderful aroma. I’ve had some past meals on different airlines where the aroma just ruins a meal. As for the dessert, which seemed like a chocolate muffin, I found it simple and just right for this flight.

Flight attendants performed two beverage services. One was before the meal and one after. They heavily pushed some South African wines and sounded more like a marketing team for South African wines. I opted for water to combat dehydration.

Cabin crew

The crew wasn’t very enthusiastic or friendly. However, the one flight attendant who greeted me at the front of the plane was fantastic. She had a huge smile and was directing passengers to their seats. Unfortunately, she worked economy on this flight.

The business class crew were two senior flight attendants who were thorough and went through all the motions. However, I didn’t feel particularly welcomed onboard; it seems they were tired from working.

Overall

No amenities, an uncomfortable seat, but a decent meal was the basic summary of this flight. I think the least South African Airways could do to improve this flight would be to offer headphones. It doesn’t make sense to me to offer inflight entertainment without headphones.

However, I wouldn’t actively avoid South African Airways. I thought their pricing was competitive and their catering was fantastic. In addition, their lounge in Johannesburg is quite nice. And, if you’re able to score a seat on their newer A330-300s, you’ll likely have a great flight. I just hope they can keep flying.

Would you fly South African Airways? Have you flown South African Airways? Let us know in the comments!

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Catharina Lombard

Maybe not for British Airways on this route next time. SAA doesn’t have a clue when it comes to service up front.
No I do not ever use SAA on this route. I live in CT and have businesses in JHB and Limpopo so travel this route often in BA business. Tried SAA once but never again

Dean

SAA are bad. It is run by the government who cannot run a country. SAA is governed by politics and was used as a private fleet for the members of parliament. I stopped flying SAA years ago opting instead to fly Emirates where ever possible from South Africa, via Dubai. Just this past week the SAA CEO resigned citing government stopping him from doing his job. SAA has about 10 CEOs in as many years and the poor taxpayer keeps putting in billions of dollars to keep it afloat. Its a disaster thats been unfolding for 15 years unfortunately. So… Read more »

Luther

I always fly BA/Comair on this route. Pre flight drinks, great food and service. The lounges are some of the best.