Airline review: South African Airways economy class, Johannesburg to Perth

THE PLANE

Airbus A340-300E, a wide-bodied, long-distance workhorse. Unusual for a single-deck wide-body these days, the A340 has four engines, reassurance for nervous flyers concerned about flying one of the world's longest over-water routes with no possibility of a diversion in case of an emergency.

THE ROUTE

Flight SA280 Johannesburg to Perth

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

SAA Voyager, a member of Star Alliance

CLASS

Economy, aisle seat, 69H

DURATION

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Eight hours 43 minutes. Push-back is delayed by an aircraft stalled behind us with a flat tyre so we're blocked for 15 minutes while they decide on a course of action. Kudos to the flight deck for communicating the plain facts, with a note of apology. Despite the delay we dock in Perth 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

FREQUENCY

Daily between Johannesburg and Perth non-stop.

THE SEAT

Recaro seat in a 2-4-2 configuration. Seat pitch is variable, between 78.7 centimetres and 83.8cm. Width is rather narrow, at 43.2cm. No power port or USB charger.

BAGGAGE

Checked baggage is restricted to one piece not exceeding 23 kilograms. Limit for cabin baggage is one piece not exceeding eight kilograms, plus one small handbag or small laptop.

COMFORT

The flight is about 90 per cent full but my aisle seat is a happy enough position compared to those in the four-across middle-row seats. However seat width is closer to what you get on a low-cost carrier than a legacy airline, and the aisle seat means my shoulder gets bumped. While the A340-300 is a tried and proven long-distance performer it's far from state-of-the-art these days. The inflight entertainment system incorporates large metal boxes mounted on the floor beneath a number of seats, compromising the leg space for those sitting behind.

ENTERTAINMENT

The inflight entertainment system offers more than 100 movies and about the same number of TV shows including series, comedy and kids' shows. The system also includes music channels, radio channels and games. Movie choices are mostly mainstream and there's a strong leaning towards golden oldies with such selections as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Men in Black, although I confess to boisterous enjoyment watching A Fish Called Wanda even though it's 30 years old. The aircraft also shows its age in its 17cm touchscreen and the over-ear headphones leak ambient noise.

SERVICE

Smiling and polite. As most of the flight takes place in darkness the cabin crew don't have too much to do between meal services but they respond quickly to the call button.

FOOD

Scheduled departure is 21.15 and dinner is served about an hour after wheels-up. There's a choice of chicken curry with rice, beef with vegetables or penne with pumpkin. The penne is my choice, which turns out to be not such a good one as the starter is a cold pasta salad. Breakfast is served two hours before touchdown in Perth, just after midday local time. It's a fairly standard choice of cold meats and cheese, yoghurt and a croissant, or an omelette with a hash brown.

ONE MORE THING

The only other airline operating non-stop flights between Australia and South Africa is Qantas. However the Qantas flights only operate non-stop between Johannesburg and Sydney, not Perth.

THE VERDICT

The SAA flight is the optimal choice for west coast flyers while for those heading for east coast cities, SAA offers connecting flights aboard codeshare partner Virgin Australia. For passengers heading for east coast Australia, passengers, the fact of a one-stop service plus the necessity to make the long transit between international and domestic terminals in Perth blunts the appeal of this particular flight. However price might still make this the preferred option.

OUR RATING

4 stars

Tested by Michael Gebicki, who flew as a guest of South African Airways

See also: Airline review: Economy class on the world's best airline for 2019

See also: Airline review: This extra legroom option is much cheaper than an upgrade

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