South African Airways (SAA) has establised its dominance as Africa’s most awarded airline, taking out the “Best Airline in Africa” by Skytrax for fourteen consecutive years.
Travel writer Kate took the airline for a test flight, from Perth to Entebbe return in Economy Class to see if SAA lived up to all the hype. Here is what she thought.
Flight: SA281 – Perth (PER) to Johannesburg (JNB) / SA160 – Johannesburg (JNB) to Entebbe (EBB)
Seat: 54G – Economy Class – Aisle / 17F – Economy Class – Exit Row – Window
Flight time: 11 hours / 4 Hours
Timing: All flights were on time and checking through customs and exiting Entebbe airport is a quick process (under 30 mins) as long as you have pre- processed your entry visa online.
At the Airport
If you are flying in domestically from other cities in Australia to Perth to meet the SAA flight I strongly recommend a Virgin Australia domestic flight. Generally, it will be a through fare on the one ticket, making transit in Perth a breeze. If like me, you booked the domestic separate, at least the Virgin Australia domestic terminal is connected to Perth International Airport, so you do not have to get a transfer bus (unlike flying into Qantas domestic terminal).
The check in staff were friendly and happy to assist with seating preferences and general information about the airport. I was relieved to find my bags would be checked all the way through to Entebbe, Uganda. Nothing worse than having to transit and collect bags only to check in again. Nightmare!
Transiting in Johannesburg on the flight over is a bit frustrating due to the early morning arrival, not much is open throughout the airport. There are only a few coffee shops offering that caffeine gold to tired travellers. Once the shops do open however, make sure you visit the Out of Africa shop, definitely a favourite of mine.
Flying Economy Class, there was no lounge access included, but Business Class or Gold SAA Voyager Frequent Flyer members or higher can access the shared Qantas lounge in Perth International Airport.
I was lucky enough to have lounge access to the SAA Premium Lounge, and passed the transit time enjoying the relaxing hub of my private little sanctuary. Lounges certainly do make the time pass fast. Once I had showered and freshen up for my next flight to Entebbe, sussed out what the lounge had to offer and grabbed a bite to eat, it was time to depart again.
Flight SAA281 from Perth to Johannesburg in Economy Class on the Airbus A340-300 has 216 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, separated into two sections.
At check in I opted for seat 54G on the aisle in the middle set of four seats, and because the flight was not full, I had the two seats next to me empty. This allowed me to spread out a little bit more than just occupying 17-inch-wide and 33.5 pitch seat. Always a bonus when flying Economy. The seat is just like any other airline seat, has its gadgets to allow the seat to recline, a little foot rest tucked below. I am pleased to see there is in seat entertainment. Something about holding the remote and controlling my viewing is comforting on such a long flight.
One of the best things for me about flying SAA is the wine selection. I am a big fan of South African wines so it is good to see they are sourcing local for their inflight offering.
An à la carte menu is paired with these South African wines, soft drinks and warm beverages. I am not overly a fan of airplane food but I did like that SAA offered a selection of chicken, red meat and vegetarian. I chose the vegetarian option of ravioli with sweet potato mash, vegetables and pesto sauce. It wasn’t too bad at all. I wish I could say the same for the breakfast of omelette, soft potatoes and baked beans.
Each seat is equipped with Audio-Visual-On-Demand system and a choice of over 100 movies including the latest blockbusters, games, radio stations and selection of recorded music. I opted to use my own headphones instead of the noise cancelling headphones supplied.
Settling into an 11-hour flight, I mapped out my assault on the inflight entertainment. There is actually a decent selection of viewing material and I mentally saw the hours dissolve into movies, documentaries and various destination guides.
The music play lists were a little dated and I am thankful I downloaded my Spotify playlists to fill the hours when I just need to chill out to some tunes. I was a bit disappointed to see that there was no USB charging jack, so keeping my phone juiced up meant I had to rely on an external battery pack.
It was a comfortable flight with the long distance made bearable by the friendly staff, who were keen to chat about South Africa and what I was doing when I got to Uganda. I think after a total of 14 hours flying you will start chatting to anyone to pass the time.
The routing was what appealed most about this flight, with only one transit leaving Australia via Johannesburg to get to my final African destination. You can also chose to collect frequent flyer points with SAA Voyager Frequent Flyer Program (free to join) or with Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer Program (also free to join)
For more information, head over to South African Airways.
Kate flew as a guest of South African Airways.