BACKGROUND: This year South African Airways marks 50 years of flying between South Africa and Mauritius. While the island has long been one of the most popular leisure destinations for South African families, it is also fast becoming an important business destination, as the island grows its financial services, textile manufacturing and information technology industries. SAA currently offers 10 flights per week from Johannesburg to Mauritius, usually departing South Africa mid-morning for a mid-afternoon arrival. SAA also offers a handful of flights as codeshare with Air Mauritius.
CHECK-IN: Online check-in was done 24 hours before the flight and the system worked smoothly, allowing me to switch to a window seat and fill in my advanced passenger information for arrival in Mauritius. Bag-drop in Cape Town, for my ‘red-eye’ domestic connection, was quick and seamless. With both my domestic and international boarding passes in hand, transit in Johannesburg was quick and simple through customs and immigration.
LOUNGE & BOARDING: The ‘Baobab’ Premium Class departure lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is situated on the mezzanine Level of the departures terminal, close to the main boarding pier. Although this lounge can be busy, there are always quiet corners if you look for them, and the communal worktable just off the main lounge is a nice touch. There’s a good range of refreshments at the bar, but for a mid-morning departure the snacks didn’t extend far beyond sweet pastries. Although this flight required a bus transfer to the aircraft, boarding proceeded fairly smoothly, with the crew calmly getting the business class cabin settled in. Refreshments and newspapers were offered on boarding, along with menus for the three-course lunch to follow. Immigration and health declaration forms were handed out here too, ensuring passengers could save time on arrival – again, a nice touch.
THE SEAT: The Airbus A320-200 used on this route looked fresh out of the box and offered comfortable leather seating, with a spacious 2-2 layout in business class. Although the seats don’t fold down fully flat, there’s more than adequate recline to get some rest on the 3½-hour hop across to Mauritius. In-seat power and USB ports are useful for keeping mobile devices and laptops charged throughout the flight, and seatbacks have slots for keeping tablets at eye-level. That’s just as well, as there is no private in-flight entertainment on offer – communal screens fold down from the ceiling showing movies on repeat. Although noise-cancelling headphones are provided, the lack of audio-video on demand is disappointing for a modern business class cabin.
THE FLIGHT: The three-course meal was excellent, with fish, meat and vegetarian options on offer, served on stylish linen tablecloths. Even on this relatively short flight the meal is paired with a good selection of boutique South African wines to match. Service throughout the flight was attentive and ever-present. Mauritian authorities require both an immigration form and health declaration to be filled in, with the crew helpfully handing these out mid-flight to save time on arrival. All in all, a good flight.
ARRIVAL: The spacious new Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport that opened in September 2013 is superb, and surely one of the best airports in Africa. The flight landed slightly ahead of schedule, and the fast-track immigration channel for premium passengers saw me cleared through passport control just five minutes after leaving the plane. Luggage arrived shortly after, and with no hold-ups at customs, I was at the taxi stand less than 30 minutes after landing.
VERDICT: A smooth, comfortable flight that allowed for plenty of work time during the journey, complemented by an excellent meal service. Leisure travellers may like to see better in-flight entertainment, but otherwise a top-notch experience. Note though that the aircraft used on the route changes regularly according to demand, and some older aircraft don’t offer the same levels of comfort.