After returning from Dubai in March, it was time to plan another trip - preferably a long-haul trip over a weekend. So I considered going to Canada, the United States or somewhere in the Gulf region again. I was planning to depart on Saturday and return on Monday or Tuesday. Additionally, I was trying to add some domestic hops to the itinerary. After checking countless flight options, I earmarked an itinerary including a flight on Austrian's Boeing 777 from New York to Vienna. That would have been a nice flight on a new carrier and a great plane, but I could neither find an overly exciting westbound transatlantic flight nor really interesting domestic flights.
Just out of curiosity, I checked flights to South Africa where I had always wanted to go. South African Airways - high on my list for a long time - had some special fares from Germany. After discovering an exciting itinerary including three interesting widebodies, I also found highly interesting domestic flight options. Now I couldn't resist any more and started booking. First of all, I booked Nuremberg-Frankfurt-Johannesburg (departure on Saturday) and Cape-Town-Johannesburg-Frankfurt-Nuremberg (arrival on Tuesday) on Cheap Tickets. Operating carriers: Lufthansa (A380), Lufthansa CityLine (CRJ700 and Embraer 190) and South African Airways (A330-200 and A340-600). Then I added a Johannesburg-Durban flight and a Durban-Cape Town flight on two different carriers (details to follow). Since I would spend two nights on the plane, I only needed to book a room for one night at a Cape Town airport hotel. Four days, three new airlines, three new airports, two four haulers and a brand new A330-200 - I was really looking forward to that short trip.
By the way, I also considered flying to/from Munich on SAA's A340-300 (in place of LH's A380), but I didn't want to end up on one of two former Iberia frames with original (out-of-date) Iberia interior. Those all-white planes, actually planned to be refurbished by mid-2011, have been used on all SAA A340-300 routes. And even though I had already flown on LH's A380, I didn't mind doing so again - actually I was even curious to find out how comfortable it would be on a 10 hour flight.
Saturday, May 2011
Frankfurt (FRA) - Johannesburg (JNB)
South African Airways SA261
Scheduled times: 20:45-07:15
Actual times: 20:46-07:14
Flight duration: 10:01 (hrs)
Distance: 5380 miles
Economy Class, seat 72K
ZS-SNC (MSN 426)
Delivered in 02/2003
There was no need to rush on departure day, because I had already conveniently checked in online for both the NUE-FRA and the FRA-JNB flights on the evening before. Actually I had even pre-reserved my seats on all three widebody flights shortly after booking. I had simply called SAA's office in Frankfurt and a female agent had blocked the desired seats for me.
Lufthansa CityLine CRJ700 D-ACPK - a new registration for me - flew me to Frankfurt in 31 minutes. During the bus tour to Terminal 1A I logged some registrations and was watching out for my SAA A340-600 which would be a special one as I had found out on ACARS in the morning.
Once at Terminal 1B, I went straight towards my gate. However, while walking, I suddenly spotted my plane being towed to the gate. I headed to the window and quickly took out my camera, but I had to wait because a cleaning lady was taking a picture of the plane with her mobile phone camera. Finally, it was my turn. Here it is, ZS-SNC, my favorite A340-600 in the SAA fleet - what a stunning bird:
ZS-SNC was delivered in February 2003 and painted in Star Alliance colors in January 2006. It's currently the world's one and only A340-500/600 wearing the Star Alliance paint scheme:
If SAA had asked me in advance which frame in the 9-strong A340-600 fleet I'd like to get, I would have demanded exactly that one. I couldn't get enough of it:
This was my third A340-600 now - and for the third time it turned out to be a special one. My first A340-600 had been Lufthansa's oldest frame (D-AIHA) and my second one had been Virgin's G-VGOA, the oldest A340-600 in commercial service. What comes next?
Numerous people were already waiting in the gate area, but it wasn't cramped. A gate agent announced boarding by row numbers, but after the process had commenced for priority passengers, I didn't hear any separate invitations any more. People were just lining up and I joined them.
A friendly female flight attendant welcomed me at the door, but two others further down in the aisle didn't greet. Finally, I arrived at my row in the very back of the world's longest plane in commercial service. The 17 inch wide Recaro seats were a bit hard, but still quite comfortable:
The interior was in good condition - and had been cleaned well:
SAA provides a generous 33.5 inch pitch on the A340-600:
Due to its location, the big old-style IFE box doesn't take away much room:
The aisle seat next to me remained empty for a long time...and luckily that wouldn't change any more. I was glad when I heard that boarding had been completed. There were several empty seats in the rear section, but I cannot estimate the load factor, because I didn't check the other two Y Class sections.
Two Russian speaking guys in the 40s were seated behind me and judging from their alcohol odor, they had already drunk too much...I wasn't amused, but once the air conditioning was turned on, I didn't smell anything any more.
What I found very nice was an announcement about the 60th birthday of a passenger. The flight attendant, most likely the purser, wished all the best on behalf of the crew - I guess the very passenger was quite happy about that special congratulation.
In-flight and shopping magazines:
Headphones and IFE controller:
Amenity kits in different colors were distributed, I got a beige/orange one:
German newspapers were also offered - in addition to magazines which had been available in the gate area. No doubt, I was quite impressed by SAA's pre-flight offerings.
SAA's winglets definitely belong to the prettiest ones in the industry, just like Virgin Atlantic's:
One of the pilots, most likely the captain, gave a short welcome speech and informed that we would take off in southerly direction. He referred to "good conditions for flying" and mentioned that we would only encounter some bad weather over Central Africa.
The following comic-style safety video was quite funny, but the reflection on the PTV screen was too strong for a decent picture. The flight attendants were really serious about safety, they even closed the seatbelt over blanket and pillow on the empty aisle seat next to me.
ZS-SNC was pushed back almost exactly on time and soon started taxiing to runway 18. I felt very comfortable and was really looking forward to the flight on this nice bird. Great reflection:
What I had been looking forward in particular were the tail camera views on SAA's A340-600:
Front camera view was also available, but that's not as spectacular as the tail camera view. It wasn't easy to get clear shots of the screen, so I was constantly taking pictures during taxi. Judging from his look, an older man in the middle row found that quite strange. Sorry, but that's what it is when travelling on the same plane as PlaneHunter.
Beautiful evening light:
Lufthansa CityLine E-Jet:
Now it was our turn. What a fantastic IFE feature:
"Springbok 261" almost ready for takeoff:
Some moments later, the four Rolls-Royce Trent 556 powerplants started howling and ZS-SNC lifted off gently after a long takeoff roll. Simply awesome view:
Gear up and locked, doors closed:
Breaking through the clouds is always such a pleasure, especially during sunset:
About 20 minutes after takeoff, two charming female flight attendants started serving drinks. They took their time and asked all passengers very nicely about their drink wishes. I ordered ginger ale with ice and got two cans (Schweppes!) as well as a bottle of water.
Now it was time to explore the AirScape audio/video on-demand IFE system. Welcome screen:
There's even a kids' main menu:
Touchscreen navigation is quite easy, you only need the handset for playing games. The system offers a choice of 40 movies, 50 TV features, 10 games and 102 music albums. As usual, I watched the airshow most of the time. You can zoom in and out if you wish to:
While certain carriers interfuse the airshow with ads, SAA chose health tips - actually a very good idea:
Menu cards would have been nice, but the dinner choices were only announced by a flight attendant. The announcement was difficult to understand, but when the "charming team" arrived at my row again, one of them kindly told me that beef, chicken and a vegetarian option were available. I ordered beef and got this highly impressive tray:
I was really surprised that an African carrier was serving German classics such as "Rinderbraten" (braised beef), "Semmelknödel" (bread dumplings) and potato salad. I usually love to eat these specialties and was a bit skeptic how this airline meal would turn out. The presentation was great - there was even parsley on the dumplings - but how would it taste? Tender meat, crisp vegetable, dumplings with "right bite" - apart from the bland sauce, the main course tasted very good. The potato salad tasted fine as well - and the cherry cheesecake was the perfect finish. No doubt, it was one of the best meals I have ever received in Economy Class.
After dinner, I leaned back and relaxed while watching the airshow and listening to music. I fell asleep after a while - not long after we had crossed the Mediterranean Sea:
I woke up several times during the next few hours and also noticed some turbulence, but always fell asleep again. When I felt fully awake again, I was quite surprised to find out than more than 5 hours had passed:
The small plane icon was still stuck in the top left corner:
Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Luanda? I'd opt for LAD in order to try TAAG's 77W:
Breakfast was served 1.5 hours before landing. There was a choice between continental and hot breakfast - I ordered the latter, of course. The presentation was very nice again:
The pancakes tasted quite good, but I didn't like the greasy baked-in pieces of bacon. Everything else was fine - it was a large and filling breakfast. I also liked SAA's black tea, but it was served a bit late.
Bright sunlight ahead...
...what a beautiful composition of colors:
The small sun on the winglet seemed to be rising as well - stunning views like these are one reason why I love flying so much:
Bright sunlight flooding the cabin:
20 minutes before landing, the IFE system was deactivated - camera views weren’t available any more either. However, I preferred looking out of the window this time anyway:
We touched down gently after a flying time of 10 hours and one minute:
After spending about 10 minutes on the taxiway, we arrived at the gate almost exactly on time. I was fascinated by the low clouds over the airport - and various aircraft on the ground. Here's an Arik Air 737-800:
Due to the central location of our arrival gate, it was only a short walk to immigration. After waiting about 20 minutes in queue, I quickly got my passport stamped - without being asked anything. As soon as I had changed some money, I checked in for my domestic flight to Durban and went straight to the observation deck on the fourth floor of the International Terminal:
This statue of anti-apartheid politician Oliver Reginald Tambo was unveiled on the occasion of the renaming of the airport in October 2006:
There's only a limited number of chairs, but I preferred standing after the long flight anyway:
The facility is not suited for photographers - as clearly visible on the next two pictures - but excellent for registration spotting:
I really enjoyed hanging around there - I was able to log registrations of most arriving and departing planes, all these interesting movements kept me very busy:
After 1.5 hours, it was time to leave, unfortunately. I didn't have enough time to visit the observation deck on the domestic terminal, but I was able to continue spotting for a while in the gate area. I logged a total of 62 new registrations in about three hours at JNB which was very pleasing. Story to be continued...
South African Airways was named the best airline in Africa at the 2011 World Airline Awards. Justified or not? Probably. What I can say without hesitation is that SAA belongs to the best long-haul airlines which I have flown on. Seating comfort, catering, staff and service were great - and even though the IFE system on the A340-600 is a bit outdated in general, it offers most enjoyable tail camera views. I wouldn't hesitate to take a SAA long-haul flight again, but I wouldn't want to get on the remaining A340-200s (to be retired later this year) or the two ex-Iberia A340-300s. I can only hope that the latter ones will get refurbished soon.
Palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1223 posts, RR: 17
Reply 3, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Hi PH - wow, I was not expecting this. I did not suspect you were off on another longhaul flight so soon after your Dubai adventures? A very nice report - thanks for posting.
SAA looks like they provided decent catering out of FRA. I work with a number of South Africans here in London who regularly fly SAA home ex LHR, and some of them have had some very poor experiences with food onboard SAA. Having said that, you get that with any airline from time to time.
The 340-600 looked good in the Star Alliance colours.
Good that you had the seat spare next to you too - makes it just that little more comfy for the long journey south. I've always lamented the fact that most flights ex Europe to SA seem to always be at night - I would love to do a day flight over Africa - I am sure when the weather is clear, the views must be stunning.
Great pics - I really love the sunrise pic you took as well. It's those times which I am reminded what an amazing place the world can be. Everything seems peaceful up there looking out the window.
Looking forward to the next parts of your report. Great stuff!!
fra-flyer From Germany, joined Jun 2009, 19 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
thanks for the Report!
ZS-SNC was one of the first 346 T flew with. Since I flew with SAA more then 15 times, I can only say that you are right. SAA is definietly a very good Airline. I flew the same route this summer with the LH380. Next time I´ll visit my South Africa I think i gonna choose SAA!
aflyingkiwi From New Zealand, joined Nov 2010, 515 posts, RR: 3
Reply 5, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Brilliant report PH, complete with an array of fantastic pictures. SAA's service looks very impressive, the food, the IFE & legroom all look absolutely amazing. Also congrats on getting on another special A346!
BTW you do have some dedication to do a long-haul weekend trip like that but I guess that's what you get when you're usename's PlaneHunter.
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6861 posts, RR: 77
Reply 6, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): Hi PH - wow, I was not expecting this. I did not suspect you were off on another longhaul flight so soon after your Dubai adventures? A very nice report - thanks for posting.
Hi Palmjet, thanks so much for your feedback!
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): I work with a number of South Africans here in London who regularly fly SAA home ex LHR, and some of them have had some very poor experiences with food onboard SAA.
That sounds quite bad.
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): The 340-600 looked good in the Star Alliance colours.
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): I would love to do a day flight over Africa - I am sure when the weather is clear, the views must be stunning.
Absolutely, yes. I thought about that on the return flight - would be so nice to see the different landscapes down there.
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): It's those times which I am reminded what an amazing place the world can be. Everything seems peaceful up there looking out the window.
I can only agree.
Quoting Palmjet (Reply 3): Looking forward to the next parts of your report. Great stuff!!
debonair From Germany, joined Jan 2004, 2445 posts, RR: 4
Reply 8, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): but I could neither find an overly exciting westbound transatlantic flight nor really interesting domestic flights.
WHAT?! I am very disappointed... I know plenty- Kuwait Airways B777 LHR-JFK. Not exotic enough? What about BCN-ORD on PIA B777? Well, BIMAN might be start B747 LGW-JFK soon (depends on traffic rights).
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): Then I added a Johannesburg-Durban flight and a Durban-Cape Town flight on two different carriers (details to follow).
Quoting debonair (Reply 8): WHAT?! I am very disappointed... I know plenty- Kuwait Airways B777 LHR-JFK. Not exotic enough? What about BCN-ORD on PIA B777? Well, BIMAN might be start B747 LGW-JFK soon (depends on traffic rights).
Yes, they're all very exotic - PIA in particular. But I should have said "...exciting options for a reasonable price".
Well, you'll get to see a Velvet Sky plane in the next report...but I chose to fly on two other carriers. Probably I'll be able to try Velvet Sky and a few other South African carriers in the future - I really want to go back there as soon as possible.
FLIEGER67 From UK - England, joined Sep 2003, 5176 posts, RR: 55
Reply 12, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
great stuff, well done.
For sure a pretty good evening read surrounded by nice pictures.
Neither been to Southafrica or on SAA, so much more interesting to follow for me.
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): It wasn't easy to get clear shots of the screen, so I was constantly taking pictures during taxi. Judging from his look, an older man in the middle row found that quite strange. Sorry, but that's what it is when travelling on the same plane as PlaneHunter.
The777Man From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 6608 posts, RR: 55
Reply 13, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Forgot to mention that you had an interesting routing; right on the border between Tunisia and Libya. I think if things would have been normal in Libya, you would have flown straight over Tripoli......
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): South African Airways was named the best airline in Africa at the 2011 World Airline Awards. Justified or not? Probably.
I think so too and I can compare with ET, KQ and MS.
Need a Boeing 777 Firing Order....Further to fly....CI, MU, LX and LH 777s
Quoting The777Man (Reply 13): Forgot to mention that you had an interesting routing; right on the border between Tunisia and Libya. I think if things would have been normal in Libya, you would have flown straight over Tripoli......
Ps76 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 17, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Many thanks for the report. I see South African Airlines' planes all the time at Heathrow near where I live in the UK so was nice to read about how they are and good to read you had a good time. You had some really nice inflight pics above the clouds and everything. Sunrises at 30,000ft are always something quite unique.
ROGERBCN From Andorra, joined Sep 2006, 1209 posts, RR: 20
Reply 20, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 1 day 6 hours ago) and read 32478 times:
Great reading in this dull and rainy morning.
Great to see that SAA delivers such a great product in Y.
Food, seat and IFE look very adequate and the charm of the crew you described seems to make really deserve the award of Best African Airline, probably not only Africa though; they seem to be quite above many European and American carriers as well.
Looking forward to reading the following ones.
"At reise er at leve" H.C. Andersen (Travelling is Living)
Quoting ROGERBCN (Reply 20): Food, seat and IFE look very adequate and the charm of the crew you described seems to make really deserve the award of Best African Airline, probably not only Africa though; they seem to be quite above many European and American carriers as well.
Yes, SAA easily beats most American and European carriers. I'd put it somewhere high up among the international top carriers.
Quoting Kaphias (Reply 21): Stunning pictures PH! Thanks very much for sharing, you're always an inspiration.
Hi Kaphias, thank you very much, that's nice to hear!
Quoting lychemsa (Reply 22): I am impressed. Not many airlines offer decent legroom, especially 33" ++ and a great meal in Y anymore. If they flew where I go I would pick them over US or European airlines.
Yes, SAA's product on the A346s and A343s is quite impressive. However, it seems pitch was reduced to 31-32 inch on the new A330-200s. More about that plane in the third part.