I recently did a trip on South African Airways, to the States, in economy class. It was quite memorable as I haven't flown long-haul on SAA in a while.
JNB/ATL via CPT and SID (SA209)
Check-in at Johannesburg International went quite smoothly, as I reported at SAA counters about 4 hours before departure. I got my reserved aisle upperdeck seat, 81H, as prebooked by my travel agent. The hours literally flew by and quite soon our flight started boarding at gate 8.
Boeing 744 ZS-SAX (Kemptonpark) was ready to take us down to Cape Town and pretty soon the door was closed and the tug started pushing us back. Much to my joy, most of the upperdeck was empty. There was only about 10 passengers upstairs. However, my bubble was burst when one of the male crew member's told me that I should enjoy the space for a while, as the flight would fill up to near 100% capacity in CPT. The 2 hour flight down to CPT was a breeze and we were offered a full bar-service and snacks, consisting of tasty rolls filled with either a vegetarian or chicken filling.
We landed in Cape Town on schedule and bid our cabin crew farewell, as they were replaced by a new crew. Unfortunately we had to stay on board the entire time while on the ground and had to remain seated when the refuelling process started. The cabin was cleaned and freshened up by a cleaning service. Hereafter the bulk of passengers started boarding.
Seated on the upperdeck, overhead locker space is somewhat restrictive, yet many people (mostly USA tourists) try to cram as much handluggage + dutyfree shopping into totally inadequate compartments. I was quite puzzled observing some of the desperate attempts made. I'm convinced that this also attributed to our flight being delayed in the end, as these people couldn't seem to settle down.
At last everyone was settled and the safety demonstration started (as in JNB). By the way, SAA has an animated safety video, which I regard as the best that I have ever encountered on all my trips. Pretty soon we were in the air and beautiful Cape Town and Table Mountain could be observed in all it's night-time glory. Virtually immediately we started our 9 hour long journey over the Atlantic to the Cape Verde Islands for our next stop. The Sony Passport PTV system was activated and for those who were interested in some entertainment, there was quite a nice variety of movies, shows, comedies, documentaries and games on offer.
Once again a full bar service was offered. Dinner and hot rolls were served. Throughout the night, cabin crew offered juice and water. There was also a generous supply of boxed fruit juices and bottled water available on a tray for self-help purposes.
We landed at Amilcar Cabral International Airport on the Cape Verde Islands, sometime during the night, for a refuel stop. Somewhat disoriented at that stage, I can't recall the exact time we landed. The only disruptive aspect during this stopover being the fact that all passengers are required by US regulations to claim all their handluggage, whereafter ground security sweep the entire aircraft. Any "unclaimed or unaccompanied" handluggage or shopping bags are removed from the aircraft.
Once again our crew was replaced and after about an hour on the ground, we were on the next and final 9 hour stage of our journey to Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. About 2-3 hours prior to landing in Atlanta, breakfast was served. I'm glad to report that we landed on US soil, close to the actual scheduled time of arrival.
It was a cold, dreary and misty day. Once again I reported to check-in as early possible, to ensure my upperdeck seat, this time 83C. Boeing 744 ZS-SAV (Durban) was parked for our flight back to sunny South Africa. The dire state of Delta's terminal 3 at JFK certainly does not attribute to positive thinking, rainwater pouring through some of the ceilings! The lack of facilities such as proper dutyfree shopping made the waiting time even worse.
At last a boarding call was made and passengers started boarding. It did not take all that long, this time around, for everybody to settle down. Unfortunately some inconsiderate passengers boarded quite late and slowed us down a bit.
We started our push-back and shortly were on our way to the runway..... Just then the pilot informed us on the p/a system that there was a problem with the landing gear, which he was not happy about. We would be returning to our original gate for technical staff to sort out the problem. Once we docked and the door was opened, the "yellow jacket brigade" started filing through the upperdeck cabin to the cockpit. In the meantime the cabin crew served refreshments.
It took almost 2 hours to sort out the problem, but at last all the "yellow-jackets" left the plane and we were cleared for push-back....... The tug tried it's best but could not move the 744 even slightly. We were informed that the tug, that they were trying to push us back with, was too small and that we would have to wait for a larger one. In the end we left New York after a cumulative delay of about 3 hours, but at least we were on our way back home.
We had extremely friendly cabin crew and were offered the usual full bar service and dinner. This time around the food was not all that tasty. Fortunately there was once again more than enough juice and bottled water available throughout the flight. The PTV's was quite helpful during the 14h35 long flight, but there is only so much one can watch! Luckily the crew was quite attentive and even had the time to chat with those of us who could not sleep and were not interested in watching movies or comedies.
"Breakfast" was marginally better than dinner, but actually confusing as we already flew into late afternoon / early evening at that stage. The usual customs-and immigration forms were then distributed prior to landing. Unfortunately we did not make up much up time during the flight, to compensate for the delay in New York, and we landed in Johannesburg quite a bit behind schedule. This time we parked at gate 1.
Passengers booked on connecting flights were accommodated and rebooked on either the next flight or booked into airport hotels until there was available flights to their ultimate destinations. Personally I would have liked nothing better than to crash on my own Sealy Posturepedic after that long flight, but alas it was not to be. The next available flight to my ultimate destination was only the next day......
To avoid travellers blues, I think I should start planning my next trip immediately....... What's it going to be? Maybe JNB/SFO via SYD and LAX on QF and AA??