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

Our rating

4 out of 5

South African Airways


SA280 Johannesburg to Perth


Airbus A340-300E with 254 seats – 38 business and 216 economy. 


Voyager (Star Alliance).


Business, window seat 16A.


A strong tail wind means a shortened 8 hours 35 minutes.


Daily flights to Perth.


A spacious 2-2-2 configuration offers forward-facing flat-bed seats with a generous 185.4cm (73 inch) pitch and 60.1cm (23.7 inch) width. I am in the smaller of two business cabins, in the back of two rows of 12 people. Economy's bassinet row is just behind the curtain, but all is quiet on the baby front. Some dislike the closeness of front cabin seats (rows one and 15) to toilets and galley. If this is a concern, best avoid.


Four pieces up to 30kg plus an 8kg carry on. A distracted steward checks in our cases (two large/two small), forgetting a large artwork in a cardboard tube. We have to manhandle it on board – no problem in SAA business, an issue for Virgin Australia on the domestic leg.



An exceptionally comfortable seat trumps the beige-brown decor. It has quality padding, mattress, generous duvet and full size pillow, making sleeping easy on this night flight. There's seat storage for toiletries, books and glasses and more on the seatback in front but that involve heaving yourself up, so best to get organised. You can squeeze past a fully extended aisle seat without mountaineering. A workmanlike unisex amenities bag has socks, skin and lip balm, eyeshade, toothbrush and paste but no earplugs. I have my own, fortunately.


A personal touchscreen, 12-inch monitor with audio and video on demand is in the seat arm. There's an adequate selection of first release movies, classics, TV shows plus music and interactive games but really, a business class night flight enables sleeping, so why not? Seats have 115V AC power ports but no Wi-Fi.


Four polite and super-efficient business stewards get things done speedily without seeming to rush. We are encouraged to stow our duvets before landing, a slight issue for a short, half-asleep person. It leaps from its overhead locker and attacks me. My kind steward materialises to disentangle.


A delicious Methode Cap Classique is a welcome pre-flight drink – all wines are premium South African – we have shiraz and merlot from Stellenbosch and Robertson with dinner. Canapes precede a super-fresh salad and lovely warm wholegrain roll, then a tender chargrilled chicken breast with parmesan thyme crumble, baby carrots and salsa verde. My partner is delighted with his grilled beef fillet with samp risotto, roasted small tomatoes and rooibos-infused demi-glace. "Artisan" ice cream and brie, blue and provolone South African cheeses follow. Crisp linen tablecloths are always welcome. Breakfast of scrambled eggs with beef sausage, mushrooms, potato croquettes and tomatoes is very good.


I would like water served with meals as a matter of course – none was offered. 


Clear and updated flight information from the captain, good food, service and comfortable seats, plus a good sleep mean all needs are met.

Alison Stewart flew as a guest of SAA.