South African Airways is one of the big players on the African continent. However, it’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons, with board members resigning last year, the CEO quitting, and now the Acting CEO being suspended. Nonetheless, it still has an extensive route network and significant resources. SAA is a Star Alliance member and flies into New York on a codeshare with Delta. SAA flies seven flights a week direct to New York from Johannesburg, departing at 20h35 and arriving at 06h40.
I used the online check-in facility on the SAA website. I chose an aisle seat and was issued with a boarding pass which I printed on my home computer. On arrival at O.R. Tambo, I was pushed from pillar to post trying to find out how I was to check in one small bag. I eventually ended up back at check-in, in a very long queue, before being sent to another counter where, begrudgingly, they allowed me to check in my bag. I then made my way through security, but not without a scowl on my face.
Lounge & Boarding
Once through passport control, the SAA international lounge was a welcome respite from the masses, with snacks, drinks and refreshments, along with Wi-Fi (at a cost). Each flight is called, so there is no need to keep an eye on your watch and the TV screen. I experienced a second security check at the gate, where security staff re-checked my bags. Business Class passengers were called first and given their own entrance onto the aircraft. Economy passengers were called row by row, starting from the back of the aircraft. I was met by a flight attendant who whisked away my large coat, before I found my seat.
We took off about 10 minutes’ late, but the Airbus is an amazingly quiet aircraft and I hardly noticed that we were in the air. As a bit of a ‘foodie’, I immediately checked out the menu, which on SAA is something to behold, with a fantastic array of award-winning wines. There was a choice of starters, including a carrot, coconut and coriander soup, as well as a version of Peking Duck. Three main courses were on offer – grilled chicken with butternut, blanched broccoli and mushrooms; kingklip with a sour cream sauce and vegetables; and grilled beef medallions on a corn cake with spinach and butternut. To round off the meal there was orange moist cake or coffee cream cake, as well as a cheese platter that included three South African cheeses. I went for the chicken and coffee cream cake – both were delicious. SAA’s in-flight entertainment is on-demand with a touch screen that pops out of your armrest. I had over 40 movies to choose from, as well as the latest TV shows and on-demand music. After that, time to make use of full-flat bed, which allowed me to grab some good sleep. Breakfast was served two hours before landing, and I happily tucked into an egg, croissant, mushroom and sausage combo.
Despite the freezing temperatures, JFK International was warm inside. Again, there were two exits, with Business passengers departing from the front and Economy passengers from the middle. It was a short walk to Terminal 4 and passport control, which unfortunately took an hour. If you are a regular traveller to the US, then look into the Global Entry Programme for faster passport control.
The direct flight to New York saves many hours, and my flight was quiet and efficient, with very little hassle, bar the check-in process. Thumbs up.