Hello all, this is my very first trip report, so please forgive me if the format is not up to ANets usual standard.
First some background - My sister and niece had decided to take a bit of a break to Mauritius before going back to work and college and I decided to go along with them. They had chosen a package with a local travel agent that included the flights and hotel accommodation on Mauritius. They were booked in Y and thats where I joined them.
When the agent couriered the documents to us I noticed that our outbound flight - SA190- which is normally a B738, had been upgraded to an A342. The return flight a week later remained a B738.
So on Tuesday 06 January 2009 we duly found our way to JNB to check in for our week in MRU.
Date: 06 January 2009
Carrier : South African Airways
Flight No: SA 190
Aircraft: Airbus 340-200
Dep JNB: 09h40
Arr. MRU: 16h50
Seats Nos: 74 K
Flight Time: 4 hrs 10 mins ( 3 hour time difference)
We dutifully arrived at OR Tambo International Airport about 2 hours ahead of departure and proceeded to Counter 4 in the International Departures Terminal where SA were checking in our flight. Prior to actually checking in we were required to weigh our luggage and were given a piece of paper with the weight on it which was handed to the young lady manning the computer at the counter. Thats where we ran into our first problem although to be fair if I had thought of it, it would not have been a problem. When I made my reservation I selected seats for the entire traveling party in Row21 ABC (on a B738). With the change of equipment to an A342 (seating 2-4-2) this was obviously no longer applicable, so at check in we were allocated seats on the centre block which I hate! I asked the check-in clerk if it would be possible to get a window and two aisles and she replied that she could do it but that it would be further back on the aircraft. We decided that we would be happier with the window and aisles so we were eventually allocated 74GHK at the back of the rear cabin.
Security was painless and quick while immigration was, surprisingly, quick, friendly and efficient (compared to my previous trip where I stood in a queue for almost 35 minutes at immigration). The departures area was busy but not as crowded as it gets during the late afternoon/evening push. Most international departures in the morning are into Africa and regionally, whereas the afternoon/evening push is essentially intercontinental. After stopping off at the news agents for some reading material my sister and some puzzles for my niece we went in search of some breakfast. We eventually decided on the Africa Cafe.
The restaurant was very quiet (only one other table) but service from the sole waiter was indifferent to say the least. We actually came to the conclusion hat he had been on the night shift and couldn’t wait for the day shift to arrive! It took almost 30 minutes for 3 breakfasts to arrive. The bill, however, arrived very promptly when requested! We then took the looooooong walk to our Gate A11, our boarding gate in the new pier. It was at this stage that I discovered that my niece, who had been taking the photographs for the TR with her new camera, had no photos at all! I still haven’t managed to figure out exactly how she managed to do it, so that is why there are no photos to this point. I then took the camera and took a few shots of the new pier and a few of the apron and one of SLC waiting for us.
Shot of the new pier with departure gates left and right
Our flight shown as MK 850 (Codeshare with Air Mauritius)
Apron view with unmarked Air Inter B727 (3D-AVC), an SA A346 in the background and a VS B744 behind the A346
ZS-SLC being fueled for our flight to Mauritius
Boarding started at 09h10 as stated on our boarding passes and at about 09h20 we walked down the jetway to the aircraft. When we got to the door of the aircraft we were greeted by a very friendly, young African FA and handed him our boarding passes. Just then he was joined by an older guy who was apparently the Cabin Supervisor. As this was my first flight on an A340 I asked him if it would be possible to pop my head into the cockpit on arrival at MRU and was given a very abrupt NO! answer. Not “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” – just NO! I was a little peeved and disappointed, but knowing the security concerns I wasn’t going to make an issue of it. We then proceeded to our seats and got settled in for take-off.
The SA A342’s do not have seatback IFE’s, but instead have screens built into the overhead of the centre seating. The screens are easy to see and perfectly adequate.
The doors were closed at 09h30 and Captain Richard Newton welcomed us aboard from the cockpit. LF was about 89% with 24 in J (full) and 174 in Y. Pushback occurred
9 minutes later at 09h39 and we powered away to the end of runway 03L for takeoff.
The throttles were advanced on our “hairdryers” and we rotated at 09h51. What impressed me was just how quiet those hairdryers were! I was amazed at how little engine noise there was in the cabin. A drinks service was done soon after takeoff followed by a hot lunch service. Lunch choices were beef, chicken or vegetarian pasta and I chose the chicken. The less said about it the better and it certainly was not worth a photo! It was beige! Uninspiring, colourless and bland! The best thing on the tray was the cheese and biscuits! Service from the FA’s was, however, quick, friendly and helpful. Lunch was followed by a tea/coffee service. Once the trays had been cleared way, the lights were dimmed and the feature movie was screened (I didn’t watch it – I gazed out the window and tried to take photos) and the duty free trolley moved trough the cabin.
Just after crossing the Mozambique coast , the ocean disappeared under a blanket of cloud with only intermittent breaks all the way to Mauritius.
Reunion hidden by cloud as per the cockpit
We commenced our descent into MRU at 16h00 MRU time, about 20 minutes early. The approach into MRU was mildly bumpy but not uncomfortably so and we landed at 16h32 and taxied to the terminal where we had to stop on the taxiway for about 15 minutes, waiting for an Air Austral 737 to depart to St. Denis, Reunion. We then taxied up to the terminal and, once parked, disembarked via the jetway.
Crossing over the coast of Mauritius on descent
Taxiing in after landing. Sorry about the blur – windows were smudged!
MRU was hot and humid and not well air-conditioned at all. Immigration was not quick (45 minutes), but once through immigration we quickly collected our luggage, met our representative and boarded a deliciously cool, air-conditioned bus for a 1hour 10 minute drive through the lush Mauritian countryside to our resort hotel. Thereafter followed a week of unwinding and relaxation. Some photos of the week on Mauritius.
Views of our resort hotel and the beach
Port Louis – Le Caudan Shopping Mall and the harbour
INBOUND - MRU-JNB
Date: 13 January 2009
Carrier : South African Airways
Flight No: SA 191
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Dep MRU: 17H50
Arr. JNB: 19H15
Seat Nos: 25F
Flight Time: 4 hrs 24 mins (-3 hour time difference)
Our bus picked us up at our hotel at 13h25 and we were conveyed to the airport via the coast road – more scenic than our arrival trip but about 30 minutes longer. We arrived at the airport at 15h20, about 2.5 hours before departure. Check-in at the SAA counter was quick and efficient and thankfully our seat allocation was as arranged, but before moving through immigration I had to change my Mauritian Rupees back into Euro as there were no banks in the international departure lounge. Once this was done we walked to immigration where we had about a 30 minute wait to pass through. MRU is not a large airport and it was very busy. To their credit, they had 8 immigration counters open, but all had long lines of passengers waiting to clear immigration. Once through immigration, security was very quick and we walked through to the departure lounge. CHAOS! The lounge was packed to say the least. To compound the problem, the MK flight to Perth had been delayed from 15h00 to 17h45. There was nowhere to sit down and just walking to get to the duty free was a problem as the departure gates are directly adjacent to the lounge area and when flights are called the queues waiting to board stretch out into the lounge walkway. Eventually when UU (Air Austral) and MK boarded their flights to Reunion (believe it or not a B777 and A343 respectively)and after purchasing one or two more souvenirs, we found a seat to await boarding. I think the MRU- RUN (St.Denis) must be one of the shortest hops for these aircraft (about 40 minutes judging by our flight time on departure from MRU). I know MK have scheduled hops with the A343’s to RUN but I’m not sure about the UU 777. It may have just been a one off.
MK A343 heading for Reunion
Another interesting arrival was a GJ (Eurofly) A332 from Milan. It was a pity that due to the design of MRU, taking photos of the UU 777 and the GJ 332 was not possible as both were parked behind a concrete pier that supported the jetways and the glass windows of the terminal did not stretch that far. Also parked in this area was an EK773.The airport terminal is not spotter friendly at all. From what I could see, boarding and disembarking of aircraft is also a bit of a juggling act, as both arriving and departing passengers share a single glassed-in corridor to and from the aircraft on the airside of the departure lounge. As a result, they cannot board a flight until all arriving passengers have cleared the corridor and if a flight is boarding, passengers have to wait on the aircraft for the corridor to clear. Not a great design at all!
The inbound flight arrived at 16h15 and after an announcement that our flight would be boarding through Gate 1 instead of Gate 2 as printed on our boarding cards, we got our boarding call at 17h10. The aircraft was parked at a remote stand and we boarded a bus for the short ride to the aircraft.
We were greeted by a very friendly male FA, Martin, who was really good right through the flight. There were 2 minors seated ahead of us who were separated from their parents who were seated further forward, and he was fantastic with them. Boarding was a little slower than usual, due to the bus transfer from the terminal, but nevertheless, the door was closed at 17h35 (load was, I guess about 95% - only a few empty seats) and after the safety video had been screened on the drop-down overhead screens, we pushed pack at 17h38. After a short taxi to the end of the runway, the engines roared and we rotated at 17h45.
MRU from the end of the runway while on our takeoff run
It was now when I noticed the difference in cabin noise between the B738 and the A342 we had arrived on and realized just how quiet the Airbus cabin is. We climbed almost immediately into broken cloud and once above the cloud it turned almost solid all the way to JNB. Shortly after takeoff the FA’s did a drinks service and once that was done, a hot dinner was served. The choices were beef, fish or vegetarian and when the FA got to our row all that was left was fish or vegetarian. This was not a problem for me as I enjoy fish so the choice was obvious. In fact had the beef been available I would probably have chosen the fish anyway. It was served with a light curry sauce with basmati rice and steamed bok-choy. Also on the tray was a coleslaw salad, a chocolate mousse type dessert with a sponge base and cheese & biscuits. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it – One of the better airline meals I have had! It was washed down with a small bottle of white wine. Tea or coffee was served and the trays were cleared away. Lights were dimmed and the feature movie “Get Smart” was screened. Again I did not watch it but gazed out the window looking for photo opportunities through the cloud. The captain informed us that there were some thunderstorms on our track, and we banked gently about half a dozen times as he threaded our way through them. There was a little turbulence, but nothing major – service continued right through although the seat belt lights were illuminated. Something that really bugged me was that parents allowed their small kids to roam up and down the aisle while the seatbelt lights were illuminated. I was a little disappointed that the FA’s did nothing either. As I said, the turbulence was very minor but even so, as far as I know, when seatbelt lights are illuminated, you have to be strapped in! Or am I wrong?
About an hour from JNB, the FA’s did another service with water and juice.
We crossed over the African coast at 17h55 and began our descent into JNB at18h15.
Over Madagascar through a break in the cloud
West coast of Madagascar heading over the Mozambique Channel
Crossing over the coast of the African continent proper
After descending through the remnants of a major thunderstorm that I later found out had caused havoc in and around the Johannesburg/Pretoria area (Roofs ripped off, walls blown over, roads flooded and a small airfield housing micro-lights all but destroyed), we landed back on 03L at 18h45, 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
Touchdown at JNB
Taxiing to the stand
We parked at a remote stand and were bussed to the international arrivals terminal. Immigration was quiet – most people are headed in the opposite direction- and we were quickly processed back into the country. Arriving at the luggage carousel, I was pleasantly surprised to find that our luggage was already circulating on the belt ( ACSA –Airports Company of South Africa - seem to have sorted out the baggage delay problems with the opening of the new arrivals terminal). We collected our bags, passed through the green lane at customs and were, amazingly, in cab on the way home by 19h30. An hour from landing to leaving the airport! On my last trip to Malawi (prior to the opening of the new arrivals terminal) it took almost an hour just for the luggage to hit the carousel – and that was traveling business class! So it looks like things have improved at JNB.
Well that’s it folks! My first trip report!
In conclusion – Both flights were comfortable but as I’ve stated the A342 was significantly quieter than the B738. Leg room on the 342 was also slightly greater but not much, probably because it is essentially used on long haul. Seat width on the A342 seemed to be better than the B738, but AFAIK both are 17”. Service on both flights was quick and efficient although the FA’s on the MRU-JNB run were really good, mainly due to the added friendliness. The in-flight catering was fair (as I said, I enjoyed the dinner on the return leg) although I find it difficult to judge as it’s the first time in a while that I’ve actually flown in economy. So to a certain extent I’m judging the meals against the meals I normally have in Business, which generally are not too bad.
Thanks for reading!