Tried & Tested

Flight review: South African Airways A330-300 economy class

11 Feb 2015 by Jenny Southan
South African Airways A330
CHECK-IN As I was transferring on an SAA flight from Durban to Johannesburg onwards to London Flight review: South African Airways A320-200 economy class, I had already checked in at Durban and been issued both my boarding passes. Once I had disembarked in Jozi, I was into the domestic Terminal B by 1945, following signs to international transfers in Terminal A. It was about ten minutes on foot to security and passport control, both of which were very quick as there weren’t many people there. BOARDING My flight to London Heathrow (SA236) was scheduled for 2140 from Gate A15. I walked most of the way towards the gate via various duty-free and souvenir shops, stopping for a quick bite to eat en route. I kept an eye on the departure screens and as soon as I saw boarding had started, I got up and left. But despite it being an eight-minute walk away (a little further than I thought), by the time I got there it was on its final call, which was rather stressful. In any case, I was welcomed on board and my documents checked by two members of staff before I crossed the airbridge to the A330. I then made my way to the back where I found my seat (60K). THE SEAT This two-class A330-300 has 36 business class seats arranged 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, H-K), and 186 economy seats in a 2-4-2 (A-C, D-E-F-G, H-K) layout across two sections (rows 45 to 54, and 45 to 68). The economy seat is quite hard but does have individual seat-back screens with entertainment on demand. There were a handful of recent release movies as well as old favourites and foreign films, but they were edited for content, which was a shame. The product is upholstered in grey striped fabric with brown armrests. It doesn’t look especially modern. Fixed-wing headrests bend around for support when sleeping, which is a great help when enduring economy over-night. Pillows with synthetic papery covers are provided, along with thin red blankets that don’t offer much warmth. Headphones are provided along with simple amenity packs containing socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and paste. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seat pairs A-C and H-K are probably the best, although if you are lucky enough to find yourself alone in the central block of four (as was the case for some passengers on this flight), you can stretch out to go to sleep as the armrests lift up. I would avoid sitting in rows 54 and 55 as they are close to the washrooms and bassinets that might have crying babies in them, although 55 is behind the bulkhead so offers a bit more space. If you want to be by a window, note that rows 46 to 54 are over the wing. THE FLIGHT After a safety demo via that IFE system, the plane pushed back and took off on time at 2140. Landing was estimated to be at 0640, 40 minutes earlier than scheduled. Once airborne, the cabin lights came back on and the meal service began, with drinks served first. Crew offered both an aperitif and wine to go with the meal so they didn’t have to come around twice, which I thought was a good idea. (I went for a G&T and a bottle of South African merlot.) I did some work for a while, but noticed the crew had to reboot the IFE system for 30 minutes at 2215 as there was a problem with it. (It did eventually start working again.) Special meals were given out first, followed by chicken, beef and vegetarian. My special lacto-ovo veggie meal was of turmeric rice with a few peas, carrots and onions thrown in (not very good), along with a side of cold roasted vegetables, a pack of cheese and biscuits, a roll and butter, and a piece of moist ginger cake that was delicious. Cutlery was metal. I watched a film before settling down to sleep – the lights went out at about midnight. I took a sleeping pill and managed to a decent amount of rest. I awoke as breakfast was being served – mine was tray of two poached eggs with mushrooms, which I didn’t fancy this early in the day (regular options were continental or omelette), along with some fruit, a vegan chocolate shake (quite tasty), tea or coffee. ARRIVAL The aircraft landed in London Heathrow at 0845 (0645 local time), after an 11-hour journey. Disembarkation was fairly quick, with passengers crossing an airbridge into the new Terminal 2. After walking to immigration, I went through one of the e-gates and then collected my luggage, which didn’t take long to come through. VERDICT The most important thing for me on this night flight was getting some sleep, which I managed to do in spite of the seat being quite hard – the fixed-wing headrest really helped. The food wasn’t great and there were problems with the IFE, although once it started working again it was fine. We landed about half an hour early, which was a plus. FACT FILE
  • SEAT PITCH 31-32 inches
  • SEAT WIDTH 17-18 inches
  • SEAT RECLINE 5-6 inches
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return midweek business class flight from London to Durban via Johannesburg in March ranged between £1,126 and £1,187 depending on flexibility.
Jenny Southan
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