Interestingly, this was my first ever flight with South African Airways. I had always known or at least read that South African Airways had innovative online products, world-class in-flight services and unrivaled on-time performance. So when the opportunity came from South African Tourism to travel to South Africa with South African Airways, I grabbed it with both hands hoping to finally experience all of those ‘good things’. And soon enough, the appointed day came. Since this was my first time flying with South African Airways, I was naturally full of expectations. You might want to stick around to see if my expectations were met or not.
DATE: 18 November, 2018
SCHEDULED DEPARTURE: 10:15 pm
ACTUAL DEPARTURE: 10:30 pm
SCHEDULED ARRIVAL: 5:00 am
ACTUAL ARRIVAL: 4:57 am
EQUIPMENT: Airbus A330-200
FLIGHT TIME: 5 hours, 30 minutes
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
This was a group trip, so I didn't bother to check in online. Not that this service wasn't available, it was my decision not to use the online check-in option. I arrived the Murtala Muhammed International Airport at 6:30 pm, about 3 hours before the scheduled departure time of 10:15 pm.
Check-in was timely, seamless and hassle-free as the South African Airways check-in staff were very helpful and efficient. The only problem was that I didn't get a window seat which I wanted badly, I got an aisle seat rather which turned out to be good. As an aviation geek, window seats are always a good companion for me. They allow me to 'poke-nose' and observe the flight from a vantage position. Anyway, with my boarding pass, I proceeded to immigration and security and then to the boarding gate.
Boarding commenced by 9:30 pm, beginning with passengers that needed assistance (example wheelchair and sick passengers). That was followed by Economy Class passengers in rows 55-68, then those in rows 45-54 and finally, Business Class passengers. Boarding was orderly and the Cabin Crew was very welcoming. My seat was 63C, so I was among the first group to board. The row-by-row boarding is not rocket science, but it definitely made the boarding process faster and less stressful.
THE AIRCRAFT AND THE SEAT
The aircraft was a familiar type - Airbus A330-200. I had had a few flights on this aircraft type, perhaps the only differentiating factor with this one was the configuration. After stowing my hand luggage in the overhead bin and locating my seat, the first thing I did was to check out the aircraft.
This Airbus A330-200 was configured in two classes: Economy Class and Business Class. As with most Airbus A330s, the Economy Class cabin had a 8-abreast seating configuration in a staggered 2-4-2 layout. The staggered layout made movement within the cabin easier for both passengers and crew. As an aviation geek, I 'poke-nose' a lot, but I found the aircraft very clean and in good shape.
My seat was 63C, an aisle seat in the rear economy class cabin. In as much as I don't hate aisle seats, I don’t like them either (I already explained how I ended up in one). Anyway, the seat felt quite comfortable. I didn’t get to measure the seat width and the seat pitch, but both the seat width and the leg room were very generous. Seat pitch was probably up to 32 inches, which is better than the industry's standard.
For comfort during flight, all economy class passengers were provided with amenity kits including a pillow, a blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, eye pouch and a pair of socks.
THE FLIGHT AND THE CREW
We pushed back by 10:13 pm, and after about 15 minutes of taxing to the runway, we took off by 10:30 pm from runway 36L following a beautiful takeoff roll. The takeoff was gentle, calm and at a nice angle, we made a left turn and gently climbed to a cruising altitude of 39,000 ft above sea level. Our (ground) speed was 887km/hr.
The first 2 hours of the flight were punctuated with mild to moderate turbulence which even delayed the in-flight meal service. Barring the pockets of turbulence, the flight was generally uneventful and smooth. The Airbus A330 handled the flight very well, I found it to be pretty stable in the air.
The flight was commanded by Captain Iain Cameron who was assisted by Senior First Officer Norman Fick. Both handled the flight very well. The captain's briefings were like a lady's underwear - short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the subject matter.
Led by Purser Lisa, the Flight Attendants were extremely friendly and professional both on ground and throughout the flight especially during the turbulence. They were responsive and attended to passengers politely. I even had a chat with them at the galley during the cruise phase of the flight.
Possibly due to the turbulence, dinner service commenced rather late at 11:25 pm, almost an hour after takeoff. Meal options on the flight included beef sauce with rice; fish stew with jollof rice and a vegetarian dish - all with a choice of wines, fruit juices or soft drinks. I opted for the fish stew and jollof rice dish, and sadly, this was where and when I had my very first disappointment.
From check-in to departure, every thing had been okay until at this point. The meal wasn't good except for the fish. The rice wasn't tasty, the green beans was overcooked and didn't have that fresh and crispy feel. Apart from quality, the quantity of the food was too small for a one-off meal service on an almost 6-hour flight.
Unfortunately, due to the pockets of turbulence, hot beverages including tea and coffee were not served with dinner. This wasn't the crew's fault. However, I expected them to do a quick hot beverage service of tea and coffee before landing when there was no turbulence, but that didn't happen. This was an over night flight, but there was no hot breakfast service. For me, this was another let down in the in-flight service.
I don't know about other routes, but I think South African Airways should improve on their in-flight meals on this route with respect to quality, quantity and even frequency.
For in-flight entertainment, each economy class seat on this flight had a personal touchscreen monitor that featured AIRSCAPE, South African Airways audio-video on demand (AVOD) in-flight entertainment system (IFE).
Both local and international movies, TV shows, music, interactive games and a variety of audio channels were all available on the AIRSCAPE. Sadly, my IFE screen froze and became unresponsive intermittently, but that didn't stop me from watching and enjoying "The Wedding Party 2".
The AIRSCAPE was good enough to keep me busy throughout the flight, however, I think South African Airways should add (a lot ) more contents to their IFE. Although, the use of personal electronic devices was allowed during the cruise phase of the flight, there were no AC power ports in the Economy class cabins.
Following a 5 hour, 30 minute flight, we touched down at the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg before schedule at exactly 4:57 am local time. The landing was as smooth as silk, well, almost. After the aircraft came to a complete stop, I made my way to the cockpit where I chatted with the Pilots before leaving the aircraft. The cockpit crew was warm and friendly.
THE AIRCRAFT: 90%
THE CREW: 90%
THE FLIGHT: 90%
THE SEAT: 90%
IN-FLIGHT MEAL: 60%
In more ways than one, this flight was a nice experience. Apart from the in-flight meal, other elements of the flight including check-in, boarding, departure and arrival, were all on point. The ground crew was helpful and efficient while the flight crew was very friendly and professional. The aircraft was clean and in good shape. I found the seat to be quite comfortable and the economy cabin spacious enough. I would say that South African Airways met my expectations, I will totally fly them again.
SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS CONTACT:
NB: The South African Tourism provided the ticket for this flight, but the opinions are strictly mine and are without bias.
Chidozie Uzoezie is an aviation geek, a frequent flyer, and a Travel & Tourism Blogger. He blogs at www.afritraveller.com. He is also the creator/admin of the African Aviation Group on Facebook. Follow The Afritraveller on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.