The Flight At A Glance:
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Origin: São Paulo Guarulhos Airport
Destination: Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport
Flight Time: 8h
Date: June 20, 2019
Class of Service: Business Class
Airline: South African Airways
Flight Rating 73/100
Flight Number: SA223
Seat Number: 3K
Time of Departure: 7:15 PM BRT
Time of Arrival: 8:15 AM SAST
Departure Terminal: Terminal 3
Aircraft Tail Number: ZS-SXUPre-Flight:
This flight was booked in conjunction with the United flight from Washington to Sao Paulo for 80,000 miles for both flights in business class. However, as United’s flight arrived in the morning and South African Airways’ flight departed at night, I had a full day layover in Sao Paulo. We could have gotten out and seen a bit of Sao Paulo, but we decided against it as we’d already seen it a few years ago and Sao Paulo traffic is really bad. So I had a full day (9 AM to 6 PM) at Sao Paulo airport. Luckily though, I had access to the Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo, where I spent most of the day.
After going through security, I first headed towards the Star Alliance lounge. I got access to it due to taking the South African flight that day in business class. The Star Alliance lounge at Sao Paulo is pretty good, although I do have a few complaints. Let’s start with the good. The lounge has four large shower suites that are complimentary to business class passengers. As soon as I got to the lounge, I took a shower, which was very refreshing. Additionally, there is a large variety of seating options, including three almost lie-flat seats, most of which were occupied the entire time.
However, I personally wasn’t a big fan of the lounge as a whole. Firstly, the food options weren’t that good. They didn’t bring out any warm meal until lunchtime at around 11:00, where previously the only food option was really bread with butter. When they did bring out the food for lunch, they had a ton of small nibbles, none of them looked really appetizing. In terms of warm food, they had two main options. The first was penne pasta with a plain red sauce, and the other was a weird spinach chicken with rice, which wasn’t that good. Additionally, most of the seating options weren’t very comfortable, as most of the seats didn’t have power outlets, and the ones that did (see picture two) were straight up, uncomfortable, and didn’t recline, which was where I spent most of the day sitting. There also was a nicer section with better-looking chairs (see picture one), although it was closed off the entire time.
Star Alliance Lounge Sao Paulo
I apologize for not taking more photos, but the lounge was pretty crowded the entire day and I was extremely tired from the flight before. I sat in the lounge for a few hours, but after being in the lounge for multiple hours, I wanted to walk around the terminal a bit. I had visited the lounge a few years ago, and overall it wasn’t as good as I’d remembered it. The lounge could become better by offering more selections of food and by investing in better furniture that has both power outlets and is comfortable.
Coming into the trip, I didn’t think it was possible to go to the international section of Terminal 2 (the older terminal), although I was mistaken. There is a narrow corridor connecting the international section of Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 airside, which I believe is the only way to connect between the two terminals without having to take a bus. In between Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 is a small building that seems to be for baggage storage or something. Mostly LATAM planes (but also the one I had taken earlier on United) parked there for extended periods of time.
A LATAM (Formerly TAM) Boeing 767-300 Parked in Sao Paulo
At that point, I went through a pair of doors that lead me to Terminal 2. Terminal 2 was very grim and brutalist, to say the least, and compared to the new Terminal 3 looked like a dump. Since most international flights have moved to Terminal 3, there only was a small international section of Terminal two on the left side, facing the runway. Only a few international airlines still depart from Terminal 2, including Copa, Aeromexico, Delta, and TAAG Angola. After walking around the terminal for a few minutes, I was eager to head back to the modern Terminal 3.
After that, I headed back to the lounge. At that point, I was getting pretty bored waiting in the lounge and just wanted to board the flight to Johannesburg. Unfortunately, I checked on the flight status, and it was delayed by an hour. However, on the other hand, I didn’t really mind that much as I generally prefer later redeye flights so that I can get to sleep more easily and so that the next day isn’t that long. Also, unfortunately, the delay meant that our departure gate would be taken and that we’d have to depart from a remote stand.
I went to the gate a bit over an hour before departure, and boarding started a bit over 45 minutes before our latest scheduled departure at 7:15. What was unfortunate was that there wasn’t a separate bus for business class passengers, so it was pretty tight in the bus and business class passenger didn’t get to board the plane first. Our plane was parked next to an Emirates A380 where passengers were disembarking via airstairs, which really doesn’t seem to be that efficient. The bus ride took only 5 minutes, and soon enough I boarded the A330-200.
I was greeted at the door by flight attendants who checked each passenger’s boarding pass. It was rather hectic and chaotic as there were nearly a hundred passengers trying to board via the stairs at the same time. Business class is spread across two cabins on South African’s A330-200s, with 18 seats in each cabin. I then took to my seat in row three, the last row in the forward cabin.
South African Airways’ Airbus A330-200s feature their second-oldest business class configuration with slightly angled seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Their A340 business class product is older, although ironically it features fully lie-flat seats. There are 18 seats in each cabin, as mentioned earlier, which is also ironic, as some airlines can squeeze 24 lie-flat and staggered seats into the first cabin on A330-200s. The seats themselves aren’t private at all and the cabin is very airy (which can be considered a good or bad thing). The seats don’t use up space very well, as they don’t have any foot cubby which leads to more efficiently used space, that does have the advantage of having unlimited legroom though! There were no privacy patrons between the seats, so you might feel exposed if you are not sitting next to someone you know. The seats had headrests and by themselves in the upright position weren’t uncomfortable.
For a cabin without all aisle access, the seats actually had a surprising amount of storage. On the side of the seat was an area for storing the amenity kit but you could also easily store a phone there. By the seat in front of you, there was a seat pocket, where magazines and the safety card were stored, although you could also store a book or something else there. Underneath that was a shoe cubby, which was large and was convenient so I didn’t have to store my shoes in the overhead bins. Additionally, to the left of the seat pocket was another storage bin, where the headphones were stored but also could be used to store a water bottle or something else.
View of My Seat
View of the Seat In Front
I should probably talk about the actual seats and their recline, which is a sore subject for South African’s A330-200s. I came in knowing after reading reviews, both that said that the seats were fully flat and that they were angle-flat. After searching the internet, I couldn’t find any good photos of the seat in lie-flat position! Well, I put the seat to the test (and posted photos, so you too can decide), and the seat was neither fully flat, angle-flat, nor was it simply a recliner seat. Let me explain.
The seat had three parts – the upper part, a central part (the seat while in upright position), and the leg rest. The actual seat part of it (the central part) was 180 degrees fully flat, while the upper part was only ever so slightly angled a tiny bit up, maybe at 178-179 degrees which I actually prefer because they only gave out one pillow and I like my head up a bit. However, the leg rest was angled a bit (but not by much) but it was noticeable when in lie-flat position. When you press the lie-flat button, it actually doesn’t bring the footrest 100% of the way up as it can go, so you’ll have to manually make the footrest go a bit more up to make the seat as flat as it can go with the seat controls.
When lying down (especially as a side sleeper), my feet hung out a couple of inches above the footrest at the end, which made it a bit uncomfortable. The seat also had a metal footrest at the end of it that could be extended, which seemed rather pointless to me as it just made the seat a bit more uncomfortable. Overall, the seat wasn’t that much worse than a full 180 degree lie-flat seat for sleeping, and if I had to specifically label it, I would call it the best angle-flat seat on the market, although it definatively wasn’t a fully flat seat.
One other last thing to note – when transforming the seat into lie-flat mode, it was extremely clunky. When reclining it, it would simply stop, and then I’d have to press the button again to be able to recline it fully. The seat also had a massage function, which actually worked pretty well, and you could also adjust lumbar support with ease.
The Seat Controls
In terms of in-flight entertainment, the seats featured pull-up screens out of the armrest. They weren’t out-dated like South African’s A340 business class screens were, but they weren’t modern at all. I think they could be controlled by touch, but the touchscreen feature wasn’t working on mine, so I had to control it via the remote. The seat also featured USB ports and power outlets, although the aircraft was not equipped with WiFi (although I rarely ever buy WiFi anyways, especially not on a transatlantic redeye flight). Unfortunately, the TV screen wasn’t activated until 15 minutes after takeoff, and I also had to put it down for takeoff and landing. One way South African could improve is in providing more entertainment options, as they only had a few dozen options. In between each pair of seats was a reading light, which could be activated by touching it.
The IFE Screen
I actually find that South African Airways actually has pretty good amenities. The amenity kit was leather, and had pretty good eyeshades, along with ear plugs, a toothpaste set, and a couple creams. Waiting at my seat was a pillow, which was plush and pretty good. What I loved was that South African Airways provides both a duvet and a mattress pad. The mattress pad was visibly worn, although definitely also made the seat a lot more comfortable while trying to sleep. Additionally, the blanket was very comfortable and wasn’t too thin and wasn’t too thick. Unfortunately, during takeoff and landing, the bedding (blanket and mattress pad) had to be stowed. Because I had a window seat, mine were stored in between the seat and window, although the aisle seats’ bedding was stored in the overhead bins. The headphones provided were mediocre.
About 10 minutes after I boarded, the flight attendants came around asking for pre-departure drinks. I asked for water and was handed a small water bottle. This seems to be a trend on SAA – water is served individually to passengers in small water bottles and is not poured into glasses, like most airlines do, which I would have preferred. Boarding was completed quickly, and afterwords, the cabin had to be sprayed with an anti-bug spray because it is protocol when entering South Africa.
At about 7:05, the cabin lights were dimmed, and we pushed back and headed towards runway 09L, where we took off at about 7:15 after a quick taxi to the runway. About 10 minutes after takeoff, the cabin crew came around with menus for the meal service. At that point, the IFE screens were turned on, and I started a movie. I decided to skip the appetizer and go directly to the main course to maximize sleep.
For the main meal, I asked for the Grilled Beef Fillet. However, apparently by the time they got around to row 3, they had run out of it. However, the flight attendant said that she would notify me if they had another one. My second choice for the meal was the Kingklip (a white fish) with polenta. About 20 minutes after takeoff, canapés were served, which weren’t very good. I again was served a water bottle.
About 40 minutes after takeoff, the main course was served. There was no beef filet left, so I ended up with the kingklip again. The fish was actually surprisingly good and wasn’t dry at all, however the portion was pretty small. The polenta was actually also pretty good. A complaint was that the flight attendants didn’t come around with the bread basket until after the meal service was done for me. I actually think that they thought that I had gotten bread, as they were about to take my plate away until I asked for some bread. I selected a white bread role and a multigrain bread role, both of which were fine.
About an hour after takeoff, the flight attendants asked me whether I wanted the fruit plate or the chocolate ganache for desert. I happily selected the chocolate ganache which by far was the best part of the meal. It was very tasty and was excellent. Afterwords, they came around with a small box of chocolates to end the meal service, which was a nice touch.
The Chocolate Ganache
At that point, we had been flying for about 1 hours and 15 minutes. I found it impressive that the service went so quickly, as I find service speed to be important on these short transatlantic flights. It’s worth noting that at that point, our plane were essentially alone over the South Atlantic – there aren’t that many transatlantic flights over the South Atlantic, with the only others that come to mind being LATAM’s flight to Johannesburg and TAAG’s flights to Luanda. I then visited the lavatory, which was clean although not especially modern.
Then, I put my seat in (almost) lie-flat mode. I can’t help but wonder why South African didn’t opt to put fully lie flat seats on their A330-200s, as there certainly was space for it! It took me a bit over an hour to get to sleep, especially because my feet hung out of the leg rest because the leg rest was slightly angled, which was a bit annoying. However, when I finally did get to sleep, I got a solid 4 or so hours of sleep, which was pretty good for an 8 hour redeye.
My Bed All Made Up
I woke up about 70 minutes before landing. Soon after I was visibly awake, the flight attendant asked what I would want as my main course for breakfast. I opted for the continental breakfast. The breakfast platter first contained greek yogurt and granola, which actually was pretty enjoyable. Additionally (the continental breakfast) contained a variety of cold meats (ham, turkey, etc.) and cheeses. Soon after, they came around with the bread basket, where I took a couple of warm croissants. Overall, the breakfast service was pretty satisfactory and hearty.
The Continental Breakfast
I haven’t talked much about the in-flight service yet. The flight attendants clearly hustled throughout the flight and worked as hard as they could to make sure that the service was speedy and efficient. I enjoyed that, as my priority for this flight was sleep. However, they didn’t really give any personal or friendly touch, like I got on my recent United flight, or like I got on my South African Airways flight on their A330-300 (review coming soon!). So my impressions about the crew were mixed – on the one hand, they were efficient, although on the other hand, they weren’t especially friendly either.
At that point, I opened my windows, to my first view of Africa (this was my first time visiting Africa!). It was already bright over South Africa, and I had some beautiful views over Johannesburg. About 25 minutes before landing, the captain came on the PA announcing that we were starting our descent into Johannesburg. Soon after, the flight attendants prepared the cabin for landing, which meant that we had to store the blankets and the IFE screen. We landed at about 8:15 AM, which was about an hour late. We landed at the close in runway to the terminal and had a quick 10 minute taxi to the terminal. Luckily (and surprisingly), got an actual gate at the terminal.
South African Airways Aircraft
Afterward, it was a quick walk towards immigration, which was short, although the line got a lot longer quickly. Our bag came out within 10 minutes, and then it was a short walk to catch our hotel transfer.
South African’s A330-200 business class in no way is industry leading. It isn’t even fully flat, although it is pretty close to it. Overall the slight angle didn’t provide much of a problem, and I might even choose the A330-200 business class over SAA’s A340 business class because the A340 business class looks extremely outdated while the A330-200 interior feels newer. The food on the flight was both good and bad, and the service was efficient but not extremely friendly. South African provides great amenities with great blankets, a mattress pad, and a good amenity kit. Overall, I would say that the experience was exactly what I was expecting – a slightly angled seat and a decent soft product.
This article was originally posted on my blog, Air Travel Analysis. For more images about my flight experience, please visit the original posting of the article here:https://airtravelanalysis.com/south-african-a330-200-business-class-gru-jnb/