South African Airlines Business Class from London to Johannesburg

After landing in London from our journey on Virgin Altantic Upper Class, we decided to check out the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, as it is apparently one of the nicest lounges in the world. Unfortunately, we were REJECTED by the lounge! Apparently, in order to enter the lounge, you must have a departing flight on Virgin Atlantic. Bummer. After having gone through security to get there, we we then went through security again to get to the Star Alliance Lounge, a far less exciting prospect, but at least we could hop in the shower and charge up some electronics before our next flight on South African Airways from London to Johannesburg.

We had done the quick hop from SFO to LAX, and then we flew all the way to LHR. It was funny knowing that our upcoming flight was even more miles than the one we had just finished! We were booked in business class, and when it was time to board, we proceeded to the gate, trekking down the long halls of Heathrow. Just like the previous flight, we were again on an A340, this time of the 400 variety, rather than the 600.

Unlike the suite-style seats of Virgin Atlantic, South African Airways Business Class is in a 2-2-2 configuration, where you actually sit next to someone. The cabin is filled with earthy tones, and it's a very nice looking product. The seat was quite comfortable to sit in, and the only thing I noticed was that the cabin could use just a bit of extra cleaning. For example, the little pocket inside my seat had some extra dirt and hair in there, which was a bit gross. I actually cleaned it myself with a kleenex, but I don't want to give off the impression that the cabin was dirty. I've seen far worse Delta planes :-). It's just that they could have given it another once over.

My attention shifted to the amenity kit. While the features inside the amenity kit were quite standard (toothbrush, socks, lotion, etc), I think the actual case might become my new toiletries bag! When closed, it is very compact, but it opens up into a hanging toiletries bag. Very nice. Considering that I had been drinking on the Virgin Atlantic flight, and I had a beer in the lounge, I figured I might as well start this flight off with another sparkling wine!

I kicked off my shoes, and I thought it was neat that the seats in front actually have a shoe holder.

After take off, the flight attendants came by and put mattress pads and blankets by everyone's feet. There is a LOT of legroom so when I say they put them by our feet, that means that they were actually pretty far away. The flight attendants, particularly the one in our section, had a great sense of humor. When I kissed my wife on the cheek, she told us to get a room. When I thanked her for something, she said, "Well you know they don't pay me for my good looks!" The flight attendants definitely made our flight more enjoyable, and I commented to my wife how refreshing it is to see flight attendants that actually enjoy their job on two flights in a row! We were passed menus, and I won't waste the screen real estate with all the menus, but if you're interested to see them, here are the four pages: one, two, three, four, five, and six. Before deciding on our meal, we were given a small plate of "canapés."

As an appetizer, we had the choice between a chicken + shrimp salad or pumpkin soup. I got the salad, which was tasty, and my wife got the pumpkin soup, which was AWESOME.

It is worth noting, in terms of service, that our dinners were served on trays. We had nice plates and such on top of the trays, but I only bring this up because the Virgin Atlantic flight we had just disembarked from set our tables individually with a full place setting. I also decided to make the switch from sparkling wine to beer, and I went with Hansa, a South African pilsener.

We had a bunch of different options for our our main course (consult the full list in the menu link above), but I went with the fish, and my wife took the pasta option. My fish was okay. I don't know how to describe it, other than it tasted like average fish. It came with peas, and I don't even really like peas. Thus, I'm not sure why I picked it haha. I much preferred my wife's pasta dish. Hers had much for flavor and substance to it.

The dessert was nothing to write home about. It was some type of fruit cake. Don't get me wrong… I ate every last bite of it :-). It didn't wow me or anything though, like the bread pudding on the Virgin Atlantic flight did. My wife opted to not get the dessert, instead of going for the cheese plate. I'm not a cheese-o, but if you're a fan of cheese, it looked like a pretty good cheese plate.

After clearing everyone's dishes, little dark chocolate bars were dropped off by the flight attendants, and then it was time to relax. I wasn't quite sleepy yet, considering that I had slept five hours on the previous flight. My wife and I are huge fans of Mad Men, and we have fallen behind recently so she rented a whole bunch of episodes so that we could catch up on the plane. We watched a couple on our laptops, and it's worth noting that at this point the service seemed to drop off considerably. Nobody came around periodically to see if we needed a drink or anything like that. I know most of the cabin was sleeping, but it would be good to make a round every 30 minutes or so just to see if anyone needed anything. In this regard, the service reminded me of my local carrier of choice. After a couple episodes of mad men, it was time to hit the sack and rest for a couple hours.

I put the seat into "bed mode" to get it ready. Unlike the Virgin Atlantic seat that flips forward to make a real bed, this seat follows the more standard method of reclining all the way until it is in bed mode. I believe South African Airways classifies this seat as a flat180 degree bed. In practice, it's a bit 'lumpier" than that. By this, I mean you can feel the natural bends in the seat when you're laying in it, which is very different than the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bed.

How does it compare to the flat-bed seat of United or Air Canada (trip reports here and here)? I think United and Air Canada have a slight more comfortable seat in their natural states (and Lufthansa's angled flat doesn't even come close). So while I think the United and Air Canada seats are slightly better, South African Airways provides you with a mattress pad, pillow, and blanket. The provided blanket is thick and feels much more like bedding than the thick sheet United provides. The mattress pad, pillow, and blanket make a HUGE different. These allowed me to get a great rest and fall asleep pretty quickly. I'd love to see this enhancement to United's product. Both Virgin Atlantic and South African Airways provide their business class customers with some real bedding, and this makes all the difference!

I didn't sleep as long on this flight as I did on the previous one. I slept just a hair over three hours, but that was plenty, given that my body was so messed up in terms of time zones anyways.

After waking up, I played my PS Vita for a bit and messed around with the in-flight entertainment. There is a 7"ish screen that pulls up from the console between the two passengers, and it has a touch screen, which is really nice to navigate around with. There was a pretty decent selection of movies, TV shows, etc, but I think United actually has the best business class in-flight entertainment of any carrier I have flown yet. My favorite part about United's implementation is that because the screen doesn't pull out, you can start watching a movie before the plane ever takes off, as nothing needs to be stowed. Thus, the ending of the movie times nicely with finishing meal service. In any case, I would still say that South African has a quite good in-flight entertainment system.

There's a USB port on the screen. I'm not sure if this is designed to charge an iPod or play some media on a flash drive, but I can tell you that I tried both :-). Neither worked… It is worth mentioning, however, that South African Airlines does have 120V USA power sockets in their internationally configured premium cabins. This was great! It's always nice to land in a destination with fully charged devices.

Soon it was time for breakfast service, and unlike the previous flight <link>, I opted to have the full breakfast. Before getting our breakfast main course, we got a fruit plate, some warm bread, and cereal / museli. I had egg florentine with spinach and bacon. Really well done! The egg was nice and runny, and the bacon was hot and thick. My wife had the option of cured meats and cheeses. If that's your thing, I'm sure it was good - but that sort of thing ain't my bag, baby.

We landed in Johannesburg, South African Airways's hub, and we still had one more flight to hop on before getting to Mauritius. Man… it sure is a pain to get all the way over there! Three flights down… one more to go!


Nice review. Looks quite nice. We don't see this product reported on often.

UA-NYC October 26, 2012 at 08:54 pm

Those seats look slightly updated from the ones on the A340 I was on on the spring...they were white/dark navy (these images are all over the web).

viesturs February 2, 2015 at 08:53 am

how was their JNB>Mauritius business class product? Was it worth getting the business class seat over economy for the 4hr flight?

Kevin February 2, 2015 at 12:22 pm

@Viesturs, I thought it was nice :-). It's akin to a domestic first class hard product in the USA, but the food was much better. If I were only booking JNB-MRU, I probably wouldn't worry about the business class. But if part of a bigger itinerary, definitely worth it.

Denali-Flyer February 14, 2015 at 05:45 pm

Thanks for this comprehensive report. I'll be flying SAA Business Class between Sao Paulo and JNB next month. Hopefully the product will be comparable despite the lack of quality competition on the route.

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