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

THE PLANE

South African Airways (SAA) flies the Airbus A330-200 and the A340-600 on this route; there are, respectively, six and nine of these aircraft models in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Johannesburg to Perth

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

SAA offers the Voyager frequent flyer program and is a member of the Star Alliance 

CLASS

Premium (business) class. 

DURATION

Johannesburg to Perth, 9 hours 10 minutes.

FREQUENCY

Seven flights per week.

THE SEAT

There are 36 seats in the section. Mine is 11F, an aisle seat in the middle. Each seat is 53 centimetres wide with a forward-facing flat bed and a 185-centimetre pitch.

BAGGAGE

Business class provides a two-piece baggage allowance, weighing in at 32 kilograms per bag and an additional allowance for a piece of sporting equipment, weighing up to 20 kilograms. This all comes with priority check-in and baggage handling.

COMFORT

Business class on this flight is about good, old-fashioned size and space, complete with leather trim. The seats are configured in a 2-2-2 layout. The electronic seat adjustment is easy to get the hang of. When I board and find my seat, the welcome sight of folded blankets and sheet alludes to the sleep to come. The Temple Spa amenity pack is tucked into a compartment on the seatback in front and I have to get up to reach it. Good, old-fashioned size and space.

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ENTERTAINMENT

The easy-to-use touch screen entertainment unit is tucked away in the arm rest and comes with noise-cancelling headphones and a 30-centimetre screen. The service includes a reasonable selection of world films, new releases, kids zone and African choices.  The seat also features a concealed power socket and USB charge port for those who choose – or need – to work rather than relax.

SERVICE

The fasten seatbelt sign goes off and it's like a boxing bell with the business class regulars springing into ritual. Travel socks go on, beds are set-up, blankets unwrapped and laid – and all of that is before the hot towels arrive. The service is friendly and attentive, yet not over the top. Canapes and champagne before dinner. There's assistance offered with blankets, a reminder that there is a compartment in the seat in front for your shoes. Breakfast is nothing more than a suggestion, "will you be joining us?" the attendant asks, before talking me through the menu – my choice an omelette. And yes, they do still spray for quarantine in business on arrival in Australia.

FOOD

The menu designed by chef Reuben Riffel has a South African bias in its food offering and wine selection, which is rightly what you expect from a national carrier. Dinner was smoked salmon with trout mousse and pea puree before a main of grilled lamb two ways, baby carrots and a broccolini and kumara puree (yes, they love their purees). The food was understated and well executed.

THE VERDICT

To get all literary and quote from L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, "Business class is a foreign country, they do things differently there." And they should. In economy, things can be abrupt, cabin lights belt on, two choice orders are taken, food dispatched, the passengers are a crowd. In business class at South African Airways the pace is different – the rush is from passengers getting comfortable. Above all else, I didn't want the flight to end.

Reviewed by David Rood, who travelled as a guest of South African Airways.

Our rating out of five: four 

See also: Frequent flyer points loophole: Fly for less than $2000

See also: Five ways you can get upgraded on your next flight

See also: Airline reviews

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