Date: 01 Nov 2002
Route: LHR – JNB
Sched Dep: 18:00
Act Dep: 18:18
Sched Arr: 07:05
Act Arr: 06:48
Photo © Jason Taperell
I drove to London’s Heathrow in absolutely pouring rain on a Friday afternoon, hoping that the M25 would not let me down and come to a grinding halt. The gods were smiling on me and although it took nearly two hours to get there, the traffic never came to a complete standstill for more than a few minutes at a time. I was expecting to be driven there compliments of SAA, but received a phone call at 14:00 that afternoon from a very apologetic lady whom I had done the booking through the previous day. She had forgotten to arrange the transfer and suggested that I take a cab or my own vehicle and send them the bill. I choose to drive myself. They have paid the bill for leaving the car with the chauffeured parking people. I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 1 at about 16:15 and since I only had hand luggage, was checked in a few minutes later. My seat was pre-booked in 1A.
Photo © Julian Whitelaw
There were only two people in front of me at the fast track section of security so it did not take me long at all to get to the very well appointed first class lounge, which is near gate 25. Since I pass through terminal one regularly and did not need to buy anything for my day trip to South Africa, I did not spend any time at the shops. In stead I remained in the lounge reading and enjoying a nice beer after the drive down from home.
We were called to board at 17:45 and since it was just a short walk to gate 30, I finished my drink at my leisure and then walked over to the gate, where I the line had mostly disappeared already. Soon I was welcomed onboard by the friendly ladies at the door and shown to my seat. I made myself comfortable and while sipping a glass of champagne, read the movie guide for our approximately 11-hour flight down south. The purser came around and introduced himself and the two ladies assisting him in first class. They were all very friendly and looked neat and fresh in their fetching uniforms. At 18:15 the captain welcomed everyone aboard and informed us that they were only awaiting clearance before push back would commence. In addition he told us that the first officer would be doing the actual flying that evening and that the expected weather conditions, once we had departed London was good. It was 18:18 when we pushed back and started the taxi to runway 27L. While taxiing the captain informed us that the aircraft weighed 361 tonnes and that we would be taking off at 325 km/h.
Since it was quite dark by now and I was still busy reading either the movie guide or the menu (I was starving), I did not really look out the window until we got to the holding point for 27L a which time I spotted several other aircraft waiting to take off. We did not have to wait very long though and rotation was at about 18:38, turning out left soon after take off. It was amazing how the weather had cleared, giving a nice view of the lights of London as we climbed out towards the south coast and France.
The ladies came around to take a drinks order and to offer me that lovely little warm towel I so enjoy. Opted for another glass of champagne to sip while reading my book again. Outside was too dark to see much and by now we were over the channel. At about 19:00 we encountered some very severe turbulence and we were instructed to remain seated with our seat belts fastened. The service throughout the aircraft was suspended until further notice. It was as good as it gets and lasted for nearly 45 minutes! The captain informed us that they had tried to go both higher and lower to avoid the turbulence, but could not find a smooth ride. Eventually he informed us that they had been in contact with another aircraft and were informed that we were about to exit from this rough patch. Moments later things returned to normal. Once things had calmed down sufficiently for the service to resume, the captain came down and reassured us that everything was fine. He was very friendly and apologised profusely.
I think everyone onboard had another drink before dinner was served. The menu this evening comprised of:
*Salmon & Avocado Terrine, green salad and peach chutney, or
Mozzarella Cheese and Tomato
*Choice of garden greens with either a mustard dressing or vinaigrette
Grilled Beef Fillet with Port wine sauce, Vegetables
Salmon Fillet with lemon and ginger sauce, Vegetables
Rotundi and Artichoke Pasta
*Chicken breast with Madeira sauce
*Seville gateaux with citrus zest and custard
Vanilla Ice Cream
*Selection of cheese and biscuits
*Coffee, tea, *chocolate pralines
I had everything marked with *. The food was excellent and the service great. The wine selection consisted of two white wines and two red wines, all from South Africa, but I did not make a note of what they were. I had white wine only.
During dinner I started watching Men in Black II and followed that with The Bourne Identity. I enjoyed both of the movies. The system onboard these aircraft is a movie on demand type system, which is really great. One can choose what one wants to watch and when to watch it. It is even possible to interrupt the movie, should you need to go to the toilet or for whatever reason. That makes watching a movie much more sensible and enjoyable. After this I was very tired and while I went to the toilet to change into my sleeper suit, the ladies covered my seat with a crisp white sheet and duvet, placing two lovely large pillows ready for me. Needless to say, I lay down and slipped off into dreamland without any problem. This not with standing the very rough and bumpy flight we were experiencing over central Africa. I woke up at about 05:20 local time and after refreshing myself, enjoyed two cups of coffee and a lovely croissant for breakfast. I’m not one for eating a large breakfast and did not have any of the fresh fruit, juices, yoghurts or cereals that were on offer. There were freshly boiled eggs, omelettes, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and pork sausages if one felt like something warm and off course bread rolls, tea and coffee.
Outside the sun was rising very rapidly and we had a clear view of the African bush below. Passing to the east of Pretoria and Johannesburg International, we made our very short final approach from the south of Johannesburg, landing on runway 03L at about 06:48 that morning. The sun was shining and the temperature was around 17 degrees C at this hour of the morning. We taxied to gate A5 and parked next to a 747 from Singapore, registration 9V-SMF.
I was the third person to clear customs and mad my way to the arrivals lounge on the mezzanine floor. This was just as clean and well appointed as the lounge in Heathrow. The lady at reception greeted me with a warm welcome and directed me to the showers. Each cubicle had a toilet, basin and shower. On a stool was a pile of fresh towels and all the amenities were displayed next to the basin. Feeling refreshed after my shower and shave, I had a cup of coffee, while I called my friends in Pretoria and told them that I was ready to be picked up from the airport for our meeting.
Date: 02 Nov 2002
Route: JNB - LHR
Sched Dep: 21:05
Act Dep: 23:31
Sched Arr: 06:25
Act Arr: 08:12
After a day in a very warm and sunny Pretoria, with a nice refreshing rain shower in the early afternoon, my friends dropped me off at Johannesburg International at 18:30. Since I was issued with a boarding pass the previous evening in London, I only had to make my way through customs, which was very busy, and head for the Cycad lounge. On arrival at the lounge, the lady at reception informed me that the flight was going to be delayed for three hours! I was very disappointed, because had I know, I would have spent more time with my mates. Well, there was nothing I could do about that now, so I left my bag in the lounge and wandered around the shops for a while, but I soon got bored with that and went back to the lounge. Like the morning, I went for a wonderful shower and in the departures lounge the showers have heads spraying water from above and the sides, causing a great massaging effect. These shower rooms were very well appointed and in general, I think that the Cycad lounge in Johannesburg is one of the best I have visited. It is tastefully decorated, with separate smoking room, library, business centre and bar area. They serve meals from a nice menu catering for the peckish to the more hungry passenger.
Eventually, at 22:45 we were called to board and it was a long walk to gate B29 where a bus ride to the aircraft awaited us. Since this was the exact same aircraft as I flew to Johannesburg with the previous evening, I shall not go into too much detail. Take off was at 23:31 on runway 03L again. We turned out to the left and soon turned right again. We climbed steadily to our cruising flight level. Dinner was much the same as the previous evening. I was very tired by now and after the meal, turned in immediately. The flight was smooth and very quiet. None of the turbulence of the trip down.
I slept like a baby and woke up at 06:15 local time. Outside it was typically winter weather and we could not see anything. I had the normal cups of coffee and read my book while we descended into Heathrow. The flight attendants were once again very friendly and helpful throughout the flight or at least that part of it that I was awake. We touched down on runway 27R at 08:12 and after a short taxi we were at gate C34 at 08:20. We disembarked through the front exit and I made my way to customs immediately. Once clear, I went outside to collect my car, which was waiting for me just outside the terminal building and headed for home, where I had a lunch date with some friends.