Perth to Johannesburg
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
SAA Voyager members can earn points and access all membership benefits on any Star Alliance airlines or Virgin Australia flights.
11 hours and 15 minutes. Not as painful as you might imagine when the flight leaves at 11.40pm and you're able to sleep through the night. I arrive in Johannesburg refreshed and on time at 4.55am, leaving plenty of time for my 9.30am connection to Windhoek in Namibia.
South African Airways (SAA) flies from Perth to Johannesburg daily. Passengers from all Australian capital cities can connect to this evening flight using the airline's codeshare partner Virgin Australia, with bags checked through to South Africa from your Australian port of departure.
Check-in in Perth is hassle-free, with the ground staff as friendly and professional as those in the air. Last year, SAA was awarded its seventh Skytrax Award for best airline staff in Africa. It seems very well deserved.
47G, an aisle seat in the middle of a 2-4-2 configuration. SAA has a generous economy seat pitch of 85 centimetres, which translates to one of the largest patches of leg room you get on a long-haul economy flight. The blue, brown and yellow-striped seats look a little old but are comfortable. Miraculously, the seat next to me is empty, so immediately after take-off I lift the armrest and claim it, instantly doubling the 45-centimetre seat width.
Two check-in bags up to 23 kilograms, and one piece of cabin baggage up to eight kilograms.
There is a small pillow that, when doubled up with the one from the spare seat next to me, works well. Those unable to pilfer an extra pillow would benefit from bringing their own travel pillow. The bright red blankets used by SAA are reminiscent of the striking shuka cloths worn by Maasai tribes throughout East Africa – unintentional, but a nice touch nonetheless. A simple amenity kit with socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste is provided for all economy passengers.
10-inch touch screens are built into the seat backs in economy class. There are some great current releases on offer including Free Solo, an on-the-edge-of-your-seat documentary about rope-free rock climbing, and Nicole Kidman as you've never seen her before in Destroyer. A selection of good travel shows and wildlife documentaries are available, perfect for those who, like me, are about to head off on safari, as well as a selection of African films and other international films from France, India, China, Spain and beyond. I don't usually listen to music via the in-flight entertainment system, but the large selection of South African and African beats available on this flight serve a dual purpose: getting me in the mood for the destination, and sending me off to sleep.
Maybe this is what comes from being in the skies for 85 years, or maybe it's just an extension of that famous African hospitality, but the service on SAA is exceptional. Staff are professional and quick to respond to requests – another bottle of water, an extra blanket - while also being laid-back and friendly.
Simple but satisfying. I eat a small but hearty beef lasagne for dinner, with a Tim Tam for dessert. Before landing I opt for scrambled eggs, baked beans and chipolatas, followed by fruit and yoghurt.
ONE MORE THING
SAA's hub in Johannesburg has some of the most convenient connections across Sub-Saharan Africa. Since its overhaul for the soccer world cup in 2010 Johannesburg OR Tambo international airport now has some very good duty-free African homewares stores, including Out Of Africa and Indaba Origins. Highly useful for grabbing those last-minute gifts.
It's all about the service on SAA. Nothing is a hassle, and staff are professional and fast, oozing Africa's famously warm hospitality.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE