Flight Review: South African Airways A340-300 Business Class Johannesburg to Hong Kong

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This was the first leg of my trip home from Cape Town, South Africa, to see reviews of other flights I enjoyed on this trip with Lufthansa and EVA Airways, click here.

SAA 286

Johannesburg (JNB) - Hong Kong (HKG)

Wednesday, November 15th

Depart 5:40pm

Arrive 12:45pm (+1 day)

Duration 12hr 50 min & 6640 miles

Aircraft: Airbus A340-300

Seat: 2A Business Class

 

Points redeemed for this direction of travel (Africa to Continental US via Asia): 75,000 Aeroplan miles, transferred from American Express Membership Rewards

Points accrued primarily from spending and signup bonuses on the following credit cards:

This was the start of a looooooong travel day. I arrived at JNB a lot earlier than necessary because I flew in on Mango Airlines from Cape Town as it was extremely cheap and easier than trying to add a 4th leg to my trip. I checked in at the Premium check-in and left my two large bags sitting, as far as I could tell, unattended and out in the open for someone to gather on my behalf. This made me pretty nervous since there were clearly some valuable inside (they were hard sided cases), but they arrived at my final destination with everything inside.

SAA Premium Check in

After check-in I went straight to the Baobob lounge, SAA's flagship lounge at JNB. It was huge! I have a priority pass membership and visited the other lounges at this airport to which I had access as a result of my membership and I felt that this lounge was the best one, in terms of food, space and design. There were multiple seating areas, two large buffets full of great food and fruit (mango and kiwi) a section full of actual La-Z-Boy chairs, and a bar with a bartender.

After a relaxing hour in the lounge, I walked to the gate and boarded our A340 to Hong Kong. We entered the boarding area through a door and it was a free for all to do so, but once I made it to the other side, business class customers were given their own line for boarding. After another extensive jet-bridge walk, I made it into the aircraft.

SAA's A340s are configured 2-2-2 across meaning window seats don't have direct aisle access. Because of the metaphorical significance of doing so, I prefer climbing over people than being climbed over (sarcasm). These seats definitely show their age, while they did lie flat, they are not remotely private. That being said, there is a ton of legroom and you don't have the small cubbies for your feet like you do when flying on some of the pod style business class seats. 

The cabin. May have caught the passenger in 3J digging for some gold...

South African Airways A340 Business Class seat controls 

Seat controls. well used, to put it lightly.

Storage: This seat lacks significant storage. What you see below is essentially it. The back of the seat in front of you has three compartments, one for safety cards, magazines, etc., another below that which worked well for the amenity kit, and one at the bottom where I kept my shoes. Keep in mind, the two cubbies in the middle are shared. Immediately next to the seat cushion is a small compartment that's good for phones, wallets and has a power supply with a 110V plug, but no USB, which was unfortunate because literally all my devices could have made use of that.

Seat and Amenities: This seat folds completely flat, but the first time I tested this out, I didn't believe it was going to get there. It makes a loud mechanical sound as it changes position and because there is no foot rest, the bottom section of the seat must extend quite a bit to form the bed. That being said, once in the bed position, I fit on the bed without any issues and I am 6' 4" (I feel like people who've read multiple reviews of mine will just be yelling "we get it, you are tall!!!" but I'm not sure how else to quantify that. Stay tuned!). The controls on the arm rest are all you need to change positions and they are pretty straight forward, though it is a very slow moving seat.

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Amenities were standard, socks, eye mask, ear plugs, chap-stick, moisturizer, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste. None of it was particularly memorable but the case itself seemed like it was above average quality.

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Comfort: While this seat doesn't exactly evoke thoughts of modern and contemporary aircraft interiors, it was still comfortable. Much to my pleasant surprise, I slept 8 hours, I think in large part thanks to a combination of the seat having considerable width, the cabin temperature being perfect (if the cabin is too hot, it doesn't matter how comfortable the seat is), and the bedding being soft and thick. I neglected to take photos of the blanket, but it was a comforter with a medium weight fill, so it was cozy.

 My seat on the right, 2A

My seat on the right, 2A

Cool to see an engine so far out there on the A340. 

 View from my seat shortly after take-off.

View from my seat shortly after take-off.

Although the entertainment system was new in 1974, unfortunately I was flying in 2017 and thus, it was quite old. I stuck with watching the air-show as I found the entertainment selection to be dreadful combined with the abysmal quality of the screen, which discouraged me from trying to watch anything. Thankfully I had a lot of work to do and slept a full 8 hours. 

 It's hard to tell, but it actually says South African Airways in the bottom right corner of the screen.

It's hard to tell, but it actually says South African Airways in the bottom right corner of the screen.

The controller was in the arm rest and I barely used it because the main screen was touch screen and folded out right in front of your face, but I may have been a bit more responsive than the screen.

 This controller has truly been around the world a few too many times. 

This controller has truly been around the world a few too many times. 

The Meal Service: This was perhaps the only true highlight of the flight. Everything I ate was tasty, not incredible, but I liked it all. Service started with a pre-departure drink, I chose champagne.

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I enjoyed the menu and chose the fish. The assorted canapés were tasty, as was my broccoli cheddar soup. The service was a bit odd though, I have never felt so rushed through a meal. I think the flight attendant came and asked me at least four separate times if I was done with my main course even though I had barely eaten it. Eventually I finished it and it was cleared before my fork even hit the table.

Final Thoughts: It's tough to sing the praises of South African Airways, they are working with a very outdated hard product, but do offer friendly service and solid food. They have begun adding a modern business seat to their A330s (similar to what you'll find on SAS), and while I have yet to try it, I would image the combination of friendly service, a private mini suite, and above average amenities and soft-products would be a winning combination. Given the choice to fly SAA or a European competitor between South Africa and Europe, I would definitely book with a European competitor if I couldn't get on a plane with the new seats. From JFK (the only direct flight from the US to South Africa), I would stick with the outdated A340 vs. adding a stop somewhere to gain comfort.

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