SA 284 Johannesburg-Mumbai (JNB-BOM)
SA 285 Mumbai-Johannesburg (BOM-JNB)
Since I flew both directions of the Johannesburg-Mumbai route, I’ve combined both reviews into one, making a distinction only for the food service which varied between the two flights since one was an overnight flight and the other a daytime.
Aircraft: Airbus A340-300
Booking South African Airways Business Class with US Airways Miles
As of writing, it’s still possible to book South African Airways Business Class with US Airways miles even though it’s been several months since US Airways left Star Alliance. I booked a ginormous trip to Africa that included Europe as a stopover on non-one world partners of US Airways, including Jet Airways, Turkish and South African. You can read more about my itinerary here (coming soon). US Airways miles are the best deal to Africa because it’s just 110,000 miles for a round-trip in Business Class and you can stopover on another continent on the way there.
The thing with Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport is that signage isn’t clear and it can be hard to find your airline’s counters. You’ll often be approached by unofficial “airport guides” who will direct you to your airline’s counter, which might only be 30 feet away, and expect a tip in exchange for their “services.” To avoid this, ignore anyone who approaches you who isn’t wearing an official airline uniform.
South African Airways has both “Platinum” and “Premium” check-in counters. Unless you’re a Platinum elite in South African’s frequent flyer program, you’ll be directed to use the “Premium” check-in, even if you’re flying Business Class.
See my review of the South African Airways Business Class Lounge in Johannesburg.
South African Airways’ A340-300 Business Class seats all face forward, in a 2x2x2 configuration. The seat back in front of you is about six feet away so the cabin feels really open and roomy.
The major disadvantage with forward-facing configurations is that if you’re in the window seat you need to climb over your neighbor (if you have one) to get out. If the cabin is fairly full you might want to pick a seat in the middle column (between the aisles) where both you and your neighbor have direct aisle access.
Another disadvantage of South African’s Business Class Cabin is that you don’t have much privacy. One glance and you can see what everyone in your row is doing. The feeling of roominess, with about six feet of space between your seat and the one in front, made up for it in my books.
There’s also a small divider between the armrests that can be raised to give you a bit of privacy from your neighbor if you have one.
The Business Class cabin on South African’s A340-300 is divided into a forward cabin of four rows, separated from a rear cabin of two rows by a galley. I prefer the forward cabin because you get served first at mealtime, and because Economy Class passengers board through a door in the galley and walk by all the Business Class seats in the rear cabin on the way to their seats.
The amenity kit doesn’t jive with South African’s deep blue color scheme. But it offers all the essentials – a sleep mask, earplugs, socks, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand cream and lip balm. It’s also freestanding – whether open or closed, it stands upright, making it a great companion in the cramped lavatory where falling over into the toilet is a hazard.
Ratio: 12 passengers per lavatory
There were three lavatories available to Business Class passengers – one in the front galley and two in the middle galley. As there are only 36 Business Class seats on the A340-300, this was a good ratio.
In Flight Entertainment
The video monitors on South African Airways’ Business Class are stored in the armrests and swivel up into viewing position. The screens aren’t huge, maybe 12”, but they’re much closer to your face than seat-mounted screens.
A pair of noise-canceling headsets is provided at every seat. They were in pretty good condition.
I was impressed by the selection of movies, with about 25 new releases as well as a collection of about 50 contemporary titles. Many of the movies were available dubbed in German and Chinese, and there was also a wide selection of African, Asian and Kids movies.
The selection of TV shows was also quite diverse with a wide selection of sitcoms, drama and documentaries.
When fully flat, the seats in South African Airways Business Class are quite comfy. After the first meal the flight attendants come around with comforter and sleeping pad kits.
My only complaint with the otherwise comfortable bed set up is the pillows, which are shaped like logs and don’t support the head and neck very well.
I didn’t sleep on the SA284 Johannesburg-Mumbai daytime flight, but did get six hours of quality sleep on the overnight SA285 Mumbai-Johannesburg flight.
Tall people maybe find the seats uncomfortable. I’m about 5’6 (165cm) and with my feet at the edge of the footrest I had about 8” of head room to spare. If you’re taller than about 6’2 (185cm) you might not be able to sleep with your body fully straight.
80% of the Business Class experience is the food, and South African Airways totally blew it.
Flight SA284 Johannesburg-Mumbai departed at 11:25 am, and lunch service began as soon as we reached cruising altitude.
South African Airways has the most colorful in-flight menu I’ve ever seen. There’s lamb, chicken, fish and vegetarian choices for a variety of diets.
The meal started with a selection of canapés. The chicken skewer had a nice burst of flavor but everything else tasted like stale leftovers from the back of the fridge.
The smoked salmon and prawn salad was a bit dry but came alive once doused with balsamic dressing.
The garlic & chili lamb cutlets were a treat. They were tender, juicy and accompanied by a tangy tomato sauce. My only complaint was that the dish was WAY too small! The saffron basmati rice was well-cooked and not dried out, which is often the fate of airplane rice.
The raspberry cheesecake was delicious.
The blue cheese was way too strong, but the Camembert and fruit preserves made a nice duo on the crackers.
What I liked most about the food was that they made a point of serving all South African wines and cheeses. It also brings their costs down a lot (food and wine are cheap there), but hey, it’s authentic 😉
My taste buds were fairly satisfied with the lunch, but it wasn’t nearly enough to fill me. Look at the pictures above. I’m a growing boy. This is supposed to be lunch??? It’s basically a very small entree with the smallest of appetizers. But wait, it gets better!
Snack Galley (or lack thereof)
I was feeling hungry about three hours after lunch and went to the galley looking for snacks. Surely, there’s a basket full of crackers I could help myself to. “Can I help you?” the flight attendant asks.
Oh, just seeing if you have any snacks.
Nada. We have nothing. “I can offer you some more tea.” Really? My stomach is growling and the remedy is tea? This is Business Class!!! You’ve got to have something you could give me from all those carts!
I rummaged through my bag and found a flattened, neglected granola bar. It would the only thing to tide me over for the next two hours before the “light dinner.”
It wouldn’t have taken much to make me happy – a lot of airlines have ramen cup noodles, sandwiches, cakes (let me eat cake!), even small baskets full of cookies and chips. But not South African. You can drink tea.
About 90 minutes before landing, the flight attendants frantically began the light meal service. Finally, an end to the famine…
I have no idea what a blini is, but it seemed like some kind of cross between a potato pancake and a rice cracker. The salsa provided 99% of the flavor.
The bread selection was overshadowed by the steaming loaf of sliced garlic bread.
I picked the coconut chicken for the main course. I wolfed it down in my hunger. It tasted like $5 Indian fast food and it was just what the doctored ordered for my famished stomach.
Flight SA285 from Mumbai-Johannesburg departed at 1:35 am but this didn’t stop them from serving dinner once the plane was at cruising altitude at 2:30 am. I was tired and had a big first day in South Africa planned so I skipped dinner and slept. It wasn’t easy falling asleep to the scent of seared lamb…
I was woken 90 minutes before landing in Johannesburg for breakfast.
I was totally excited that poached eggs were on the menu.
But I was disappointed with the texture of the “poached” eggs.
Overall Service Quality
I found the service on South African Airways Business Class to anywhere between Good and Excellent, depending on the flight attendant. Meals and drinks were usually served with a smile.
Between meals when most people were sleeping, a flight attendant made occasional sweeps of the cabin to check on non-sleeping passengers and see if they wanted anything to drink (but not to eat!)
When I asked to change seats at the beginning of the flight to the front business cabin, a flight attendant walked through the cabin for me and outlined the options, which I really appreciated.
One flight attendant stepped on my feet while serving me drinks and told me to watch out. I think it was in good humor though. 😉
Overall, I’d rate the service average to above average for international long-haul Business Class.
South African Airways Johannesburg Arrivals Lounge
South African Airways has an arrivals lounge in Johannesburg with showers and breakfast for Business Class passengers arriving on South African flights. See my review of the lounge here. (coming soon)
South African Airways has a decent Business Class seat. I like that the seats go fully flat, but tall people might wish they had more room. I also wouldn’t mind if they moved to a herringbone or staggered configuration to give every seat aisle access.
The biggest letdown was the small food portions and lack of snacks. The good service compensated for that somewhat, but I wasn’t impressed that they’d be so skimpy with Business Class. Next time I’m bringing more granola bars. Which is sort of like bringing granola bars to a restaurant – it’s kinda sad. If you’re listening, South African, please, give us more than tea between meals. And maybe add an extra lamb chop or two to the main course. 😉