FIRST IMPRESSIONS The South African Airways (SAA) check-in desks are located at the far right-hand side of Heathrow Terminal 1. SAA flies once a day to Cape Town and has a two-class service. I arrived at 1930 for my 2105 flight to find one person ahead of me in the premium queue. As soon as the first class desk was free I was called across, so I didn’t have to wait for the business desk. Check-in was swift and I was given a pass and directions to the lounge as well as information on the fast-track facility. I found only one person ahead of me at the x-ray machine and was airside in a matter of minutes.
THE LOUNGE The SAA business and first class lounges are situated near Gate 23. I was given a warm welcome and entered the business class lounge, which was busy but not overcrowded. It had an African feel, in brown and terracotta colours and a mixture of textures and decorations with wood, cloth and reeds. The lounge had a staffed bar with a good selection of drinks. Snacks included crisps, nuts, cake and biscuits.
There was a mixture of seating including armchairs or stools, plus a smoking room, showers, a large TV in the area near the bar and a playroom for children. If you want to work there are six desks, two with computers, and the lounge is covered by a T-Mobile hotspot.
BOARDING The flight was announced 40 minutes before departure. Boarding was swift, although another security check on the way to the gate took some time. As this was likely to delay the flight, the people behind me were let through without any further check. We boarded on time but pushed away from the gate almost 10 minutes late at 2114. We were airborne at 2130. On boarding my jacket was taken from me but I seemed to miss out on being offered a drink.
THE SEAT The premium section of the Airbus A340-600 is fitted in a 2-2-2 configuration over seven rows. The plane felt modern and the seat is fully adjustable into a comfortable flat bed position. The seat measures 61cm width and 185cm pitch. It had lumbar adjustment, a massage facility and a pop-up divider for extra privacy. Storage was good with two seat-back paper racks, a storage bin under the seat in front, a hole in the seat in front for water and amenity kit, and a small area right by the seat. Sleep was aided by a comfortable pillow and duvet. The only drawback was the headrest, which was rather hard and got in the way a bit when the seat was fully flat. The seat also had a reading light and both EU and US power supply.
The SAA in-flight entertainment (IFE) is video on demand, and features can be stopped and started at will. It has 15 movies, TV channels, 12 CDs and some games.
THE FLIGHT 20 minutes after take-off the in-flight service began, with drinks and nuts followed about 40 minutes later by the meal service. We made a choice from the menu which, confusingly was labelled “London to Johannesburg”. To start with there was a choice of trout or salad followed by lamb, perch, chicken or a vegetarian option of baked red peppers. To follow there was either cheese or pear and ginger torte. For passengers who are in a hurry to get some sleep there’s an express menu consisting of both the starters and the cheese plate.
Passengers can choose whether to be woken for breakfast and at what time. If you wake 90 minutes before landing you can have the full breakfast of cereal, fruit, yoghurt, cheese omelette with bacon and mushrooms, pastries and cold meat/cheese. If you want more time asleep, then a light breakfast of yoghurt, fruit and pastries is served 60 minutes before landing.
ARRIVAL We landed at 0940 and arrived at the gate five minutes later (10 minutes ahead of schedule). After clearing customs the number of my flight’s carousel flashed up, although our luggage had already started to appear on the one next door. Within 25 minutes of landing I was clear of the terminal.
VERDICT SAA has a good seat in business class and provides an efficient service with speedy ground handling on arrival.
PRICE Online agent Travelocity (travelocity.co.uk) quotes £2,800 for a business class return with SAA.