Going to South Africa on safari? Perhaps visiting Capetown and surrounding wine country too? An obvious airline choice is South African Airways.
SAA flies non-stop daily between New York and Johannesburg. There’s also another daily direct flight from Washington (but it stops on the way in Dakar, Senegal).
South African Airways within Africa
Once in Johannesburg, the airline flies to nearly 20 destinations in South Africa and more than 25 cities across the rest of the African continent.
And we wished we had booked SAA – voted “Best Airline in Africa” for 11 years in global customer surveys by Skytrax World Airline Awards – for our onward flight to Zanzibar too.
It would have been less expensive and aggravating to return to Johannesburg, overnight at an airport hotel, then fly out from there, rather than the long and uncomfortable flight we took on another airline from Zambia (where we went on safari again) to Zanzibar.
Hey, the flight’s on time!
All our SAA flights left on-time – critical if you have ongoing connections.
The airline actually boasts a terrific on-time record. It was recently declared the most on-time airline in the world in a June, 2013, report by FlightStats – snagging a 90% on-time performance rating (compared to an average of 75% for most international airlines).
Ahhh… business class
If you can, business class is the way to go for the 15½-hour flight from New York. Because the seats are arranged side-by-side (configured 2-2-2), you can talk to your partner more easily than on some other airlines, where seats are laid out in a herring-bone style. But if you don’t know your seat mate and want privacy, you need only to raise a small divider.
Best of all?
The seats go back a full 180 degrees, so you can actually sleep on a flat seat-bed.
And, for extra comfort, you’re given a thin cushioned mattress pad, as well as a soft big pillow and cozy duvet.
We also liked the cute beige socks in the amenity kit – with brown non-slip stripes on the soles, they reminded us of the zebras we’d be seeing on our safari.
And don’t get us talking about the South African wine selection onboard in business class! An elegant 2007 Bosman Cabernet-Sauvignon, matured in small French barrels for 18 months, went down very smoothly with the beef tenderloin we chose for lunch.
Half-way through the flight, a warm spinach-and egg quiche was quietly served in the darkened cabin to passengers who weren’t asleep – along with more wine.
The back of the bus
Since we had one business class and one economy ticket between the two of us on our recent African trip (and we traded seats on the return), we also experienced economy class. Now, we won’t go quite so far as to say we enjoyed it.
Can anyone honestly say they like flying in the back on a long-haul flight?
But we can say that it was considerably better than some other international economy flights we’ve taken. According to SAA, their flights offers more leg room than competitors (34 inches of seat pitch), and every little inch makes a difference.
Economy passengers also receive amenity kits with eye masks, ear plugs, toothpaste and toothbrush – and the same zebra socks. All seats have their own on-demand TVs too.
Hanging out in the airport lounge
On the return to North America, SAA’s new Baobab Business Class Lounge in Johannesburg is a pleasant place to while away the time after checking in.
As SAA is a member of Star Alliance, Gold members can use the lounge even if they’re not flying business class. Very futuristic in feel, with curved slate walls and concrete floors, it has smashing views of the runway, a fun colorful children’s area and a staffed bar for more of those luscious South African wines.
We hope to return to South Africa one day. And when we do, we’ll have no hesitation booking South African Airways again.