I recently had the chance to fly South African Airways onboard the A330-300 in business class from Johannesburg to Accra. It turned out to be a very pleasant flight experience that greatly exceeded expectations.
South African Airways is operating under “business rescue” protection with an outside administrator imposing severe austerity measures on the beleaguered carrier.
As a result, what is the onboard product currently like?
Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly when you consider how great Alitalia, which finds itself in a similar position, is), the onboard product blew away my expectations.
I knew what kind of seat I would be getting: similar to business class on SAS. That did not disappoint and proved quite comfortable for the 5.5 hour flight to Accra (which then continued on to Washington Dulles).
But what pleasantly surprised me was the rest of the product, some big things, some small touches.
For example, real towels in the lavatory. Heck, some carriers cannot manage that in first class and most do not in business class.
Service was also excellent. Flight attendants were engaging and certainly not trying to get by doing the minimum. For example, I wanted a glass of white wine with my fish and asked for a pairing suggestion.
The flight attendant responded, “Let’s have a wine tasting,” and proceeded to pour me two glasses of wine, both from South Africa. I went with the Chardonay.
Unlike some carriers that drag out meal service for hours, meal service was lightning fast on South African…and I’ve come to love that whether the flight is long or short. Immediately after takeoff the table was set for dinner and a choice of beverage was offered with nuts.
Next came an appetizer choice with hot bread. I chose carrot soup with dill, which was hot and delicious.
The pan-fried sea bass with risotto for the main course was a difficult choice over grilled rib eye steak (a novelty compared to the usual “short ribs” served in business class), but it was the right one. The fish was cooked perfectly, moist and flavorful, and also beautifully presented.
Next came a cheese course, followed by ice cream. Cappuccino was available, but powdered so I passed.
The entire meal was complete within 45 minutes, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the sunset and then take an extended nap.
I’ll have more details about the amenities, meals, and service in my full review, but this was an excellent flight…I far prefer South African to either EgyptAir or Ethiopian Airlines, its two Star Alliance counterparts in Africa.
Were you also pleasantly surprised by South African Airways?