Flight test: South Africa Airways economy class

THE ROUTE

Johannesburg to Perth

THE PLANE

Airbus A340-300E

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Voyager (Star Alliance)

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

Economy, seat 69D

TIME IN THE AIR

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Nine hours

THE SEAT STUFF

33.5 inches (85cm) pitch, 17 inches (43cm) width. The Airbus has 216 economy seats in 2-4-2 configuration. The single emergency row and single bulkhead row offer legroom but suffer the usual toilet traffic and bawling-baby-in-bassinet quandary.

BAGGAGE

Two checked pieces (46kg total) plus one carry-on bag up to 8kg.

COMFORT FACTOR

The Rainbow Nation's carrier is surprisingly colourless - not only in the dark blue cabin interior, but in the fact that nothing really dazzles. As part of the blehh, the economy seats are narrow and firm (no surprise there) and you have to use under-seat cabin baggage as a footrest. The pitch is definitely at the generous end but an economy recline is still just that: economised. SAA's flights on the Jo'burg-Perth route are night flights and you make do with what you can. However, on my flight, passenger volumes are low (actually on both sectors) and the middle rows empty. Result? A fully flat sleep on an economy ticket. Comp socks, eye-shades, extra pillows - and indeed double-shots of Scotch - are all gratefully received.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

SAA features a back-of-seat, touch-screen system called Airscape. The library is less voluminous than some but more than adequate - even if you can't sleep on aircraft - with 26 new releases, golden oldies, worldwide cinema and a selection of African movies. On the downside, SAA dutifully shuts the system down the second the plane begins its descent, which means about half an hour before landing. Passengers are left to amuse themselves by filling out their arrival cards.

THE SERVICE

The flight is hosted by an efficient, pleasant crew for whom no ask seemed too big or small. Some airlines like their staff to run jamborees up and down the aisles but the SAA crew is comparatively quiet - suiting the night-flight just fine. In the morning, we're asked to fold our blankets and stow them overhead - a not-unreasonable request, I suppose, but it's a first for me and leaves me thinking there's going to be a bed inspection.

FEEDING TIME

A winning meal of beef casserole with mash (vegie pasta and chicken curry were the other options) is quickly dispatched and gets the flight off to a good start. Unfortunately, the breakfast egg is so dry I wonder if it's a piece of foam insulation from the engines.

ONE MORE THING . . .

No more things. And that's the problem here. It all feels a bit pared-back.

THE VERDICT

Outside of shutting down the movies too early, it's hard to find fault with this economy flight. But ultimately SAA feels a bit so-so.

THE FREQUENCY

Flight operates seven days a week.

Tested by Max Anderson, who flew at his own expense.

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