FLIGHT REVIEW: South African Airways: Johannesburg to Cape Town
My last domestic flight with South African Airways was in 2018 - from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It was a flight I thoroughly enjoyed, and that made me look forward to having more flights with the airline. But that took a while. So, when the opportunity to fly with South African Airways again presented itself, I grabbed it.
This was a connecting morning flight to Cape Town, having flown from Lagos to Johannesburg the previous night. Both flights were booked by my host, South African Tourism, at whose invitation I was visiting South Africa.
Date: 13 October, 2022
Route: Johannesburg - Cape Town
Flight number: SA317
Equipment: Airbus A319
Scheduled time of departure: 8:05
Actual time of departure: 8:11
Scheduled time of arrival: 10:15
Actual time of arrival: 10:01
Flight time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
As I mentioned earlier, this was a domestic connecting flight following an international flight from Lagos to Johannesburg, operated by the same carrier. I had checked in online for the two flights and selected my seats in advance. At Lagos airport, my luggage was checked in through to Cape Town, although I was going to change plane in Johannesburg. My boarding pass for the onward domestic flight to Cape Town, was also issued in Lagos. But there was a big issue on landing in Johannesburg.
The Luggage Scare
After landing in Johannesburg and clearing immigration, I began what turned out to be a long walk to Terminal B for my connecting domestic flight to Cape Town. On my way, I asked two airport security officers for direction, and I got a scare, a very big scare. But instead of directing me, they asked me where my luggage was, and I told them it was through-checked in to Cape Town in Lagos. Their response stunned me.
According to them, even though my luggage was checked in through to Cape Town in Lagos, I still needed to reclaim and recheck it in at Johannesburg airport. That sounded unusual to me, and I initially didn't believe them. How could I? That's not the industry standard, and the check-in agents in Lagos didn't warn me about it. As a through-flight, I wasn't supposed to touch my luggage again until after arrival in Cape Town. Anyway, the two security guys kindly followed me to the baggage carousel, but we didn't find my bag. At this point, I was more confused than I was afraid.
In fairness, the security guys were far too kind, and they went out of their way to help me. They both followed me to the unclaimed luggage office. My luggage was not there, but there was a record that showed that it had passed through the office. The next stop was the airport police station, but it was not there. They referred me to South African Airways baggage handling office, but it wasn't there either. However, the gentleman I met told me that the airline’s staff must have intercepted it and checked it in to Cape Town. I wasn't convinced, but I had to reluctantly go, with lots of doubts and fear.
It was a morning flight, and even with the notorious morning rush, security clearance went by quickly. The downside was that, having spent more time than was necessary at immigration checks, and spending even more time tracking my luggage, I didn't have enough time between security and boarding. And the thought that my checked in luggage could actually be missing, made the wait for boarding long and anxious.
Boarding commenced around 7:30am at gate D4. On stepping onto the aircraft, the cabin crew welcomed us with warmth and the signature friendly smile. I found my seat in no time, stowed my carry-on, and quickly settled in. The entire boarding process was orderly, smooth, and quick.
From the flight deck, came the sonorous feminine voice of our lady captain, it was firm and reassuring. The captain was professional and courteous. After greeting and thanking the passengers for flying with South African Airways, she went ahead and briefed us about the flight, including weather conditions en route.
And with boarding completed and the aircraft’s door armed and cross-checked, we pushed back at 8:00am and taxied to the runway.
The Aircraft and the Seat
The flight was performed by ZS-SFJ, an 18-year old Airbus A319 delivered brand-new to South African Airways in 2005. The aircraft appeared to be in good shape and spotted a modern and spacious interior. This particular aircraft was configured with a total of 120 seats in two classes, including 25 Business Class seats and 95 Economy Class seat.
My seat was 21F - a window seat in the economy class cabin. I had deliberately selected seat 21F in advance while checking in online. I love window seats. Well, the seat was reclinable, comfortable, and offered generous legroom. I didn't have to take measurements, but as per seatguru.com, the aircraft’s economy class seats offer pitch of 31-32 inches, and width of 17 inches. I found the seat very ergonomic for the sector length.
The Airbus A319 aircraft didn't have personal Audio Video on demand (AVOD) on individual seatback screens. However, it featured ceiling-mounted IFE screens across the cabin. And besides, watching the in-flight safety videos, I'm not the rest of the passengers and I found any need for the ceiling-mounted IFE screens. Anyway, it was a short haul flight, and I couldn't care less.
There was in-flight meal on this service. And I was very impressed by both the quality of the meal and the manner in which it was served. My last domestic flight with South African Airways was in 2019, on the same aircraft type, and on the same route. And coming back from business rescue, I had assumed the airline would water down its in-flight meal service or even scrap it entirely. But, I was wrong.
The in-flight meal on this service was even better than what it was in 2019. It was a pleasant surprise. The breakfast meal was basically a platter of mixed fruits, with favoured dairy snack, served with smile and friendship. The smooth and creamy Danone Nutriday yoghurt was particularly yummy and delicious. The meal was followed by a choice of beverages and fruit juice. I went for Cappy Still breakfast blend. Open confession: the meal was so inviting that I forgot to take photos before descending on it.
The 'Unmanned' Flight
We pushed back at around 8:00am and made our way to the runway for takeoff. Powered by two IAE V2500 turbofan engines, the A319 rattled down the runway on a beautiful takeoff roll and lifted off for a westerly departure. The bankings and the climb were smooth and aerodynamically adventurous.
Perhaps, the best part of this flight, for me, was discovering that the flight was operated by an all-female cockpit crew. Wasn't I lucky? Well, in command was Captain Annabel Vundla, who was assisted by Senior First Officer Denise Bye. It was literally an unmanned flight. And together, they handled the Airbus A319 with dexterity and utmost professionalism. We cruised at 36,000 feet above sea level.
Captain Annabel's briefings were very much like a lady's underwear - short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the subject matter. During the pre-departure briefing by the cockpit crew, the Captain had announced that there would be mild to moderate turbulence en route to Cape Town. But, Captain Vundla and the co-pilot made the flight as comfortable as it could get, by avoiding all the bad spots, from takeoff to landing. It turned out to be a turbulence-free flight.
In the absence of a personal Audio Video on demand (AVOD) in-flight entertainment system (not that I cared), the window seat was my companion, much more than my seat mate. And even more than the in-flight entertainment system would have been.
I watched as the Airbus A319 broke into the clouds with ease, and cruised turbulence-free at 36,000 feet above sea level. And I watched as the aircraft began its initial descent and final approach, in preparation for landing.
On final approach, the weather was overcast, so overcast that visibility was greatly reduced, until 30 seconds before touch down. However, the crew skilfully maneuvered through the thick clouds and made a safe and smooth landing. It was actually a 'butter' landing.
And finally, I watched, in admiration, as the aircraft gracefully touched down at the Cape Town International Airport at exactly 10:01am local time. And that was 14 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of arrival. Deboarding was orderly and smooth. Kudos to South African Airways for ensuring schedule reliability, even in the midst of JET A1 scarcity. And yes, my luggage arrived safely in Cape Town.
From check-in to landing, Flight SA317 was handled professionally. Both cockpit and cabin crews were friendly and went extra miles to make sure we were safe and comfortable. Boarding process, in-flight service, on-time performance, the crew, and the actual flight were all outstanding. My expectations were exceeded by significant margins. Overall, I score the flight 93%. If I have the opportunity, I will totally fly with South African Airways again.
If you are looking for a safe and reliable way to fly within South Africa, especially between Johannesburg and Cape Town, South African Airways is your best option. Now under a new management, the airline perfectly combines punctuality, safety, and comfort. I strongly recommend South African Airways without any reservations. Book your flights now at www.flysaa.com.
Check in: 90%
In-flight service: 94%
The flight: 95%
Seat comfort: 93%
Cabin cleanliness: 90%
South African Airways Contact :
NB: South African Tourism provided the ticket for this flight, but the opinions are strictly mine and are without bias.
I am an Aviation Analyst, Content Creator, Newspaper Columnist and In-flight Magazine Contributor. You can reach me on mobile: +234(0)8063724208 or WhatsApp: +23408178379876. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com