By Kirabo, 22 March 2013.
I was really excited about my first trip ever to South Africa and was looking forward to landing on South African soil for the first time. The cultural diversity and the natural beauty of South Africa all made me so eager to visit the country. The first step though was booking a flight and after a lot of consideration, I decided to book with South African airways. Being a star alliance member and knowing that they are among the best airlines on the African continent, I knew I could count on them to give me the best flight experience to South Africa. I decided to do a little research both online and through friends who had used the carrier before and realized that they were not as good as American airlines or Delta in terms of quality of services offered, the amenities and comfort, but neither were they so bad.
Booking was not as hard as they have an option where you can book online or through their numerous booking centers. The booking process was not time consuming and with a couple of clicks, I was able to conveniently secure my business class ticket. The process of checking in also had some options and I was told to either check in online or at the airport. The online check in is normally done 24 hours before departure time and those with bags are required to have their bags tagged at the bag drop centers at the airport of departure. The problem I realized with their online check in system was that once a seat has been allocated to you, you cannot change the seat number and that is what prompted me to opt out of the online check in.
I decided to go for the airport check in which normally requires a passenger to be at the airport three hours before departure time. I was directed to the star alliance lounge from where I was successfully checked in and sat waiting to hear the announcement for boarding and departure. In terms of baggage, I was informed that they only allow one carryon bag which should not exceed 8kgs.
In terms of their staff at the airport, I found them relatively friendly and very willing to help. They were also fast compared to some staff of some airlines I had traveled with before. The onboard staff also appeared friendly and helpful except this one lady who kept staring at me like I was a security threat or something. The interior of the aircraft was quite organized and the cabin was white and blue with seats being arranged in 2x2x2 configuration. I settled right into my seat which was luckily in my preferred position at the window though the guy seated next to me it seems was bent on making my flight a misery. One thing which I did not like though was that the aisles were very tight that I found it even very hard to roll my carry-on roller so I just had to turn it and forcefully drag it under.
The seats were not as bad as they could recline to a full 180 degrees meaning that I could easily turn it in to a bed of sorts. However, on the negative side, the aircraft had a smidge of only 6 feet in pitch and being the tall person that I am, I found it still cramped up and I could not sit with all the comfort and luxury a person of business class deserves. The width of 20.5 inches was pretty decent though I can't say that it was very spacious as on other aircraft I had boarded before. The staff handed me a small mattress liner in case I needed to rest but the turn off was the thin pillow and blanket. Being a guy who uses pretty heavy blanket, I found this not befitting for a business class passenger not to mention the 6 feet smidge. However, I managed to sleep off for a couple of hours after constant adjusting until I found a comfortable position to rest my body.
The entertainment system was pretty decent and I was quite pleased with their in flight entertainment system. It basically consisted of a 12.1 inch personal screen which pops out from the middle armrest. The screen also had touch screen capabilities or remote control. I was pleased though with the touch screen function since I am more in to touch screen devices, from my phone to my notebook so this was a plus for me. However, the list of stations was basic and I struggled to find something to keep me entertained on the flight so I ended up dozing off most of the time because I could not get something to keep me entertained and awake most of the time.
The amenity kit had just the basics like a tooth brush, tooth paste, eye mask, a brush comb, footies, ear plugs and a couple of face and lip moisturizers. Compared to other airlines I had used before, this kit was quite small and lacked a couple of things though being a guy, it was basically enough to meet all my needs for the time I would be on-board. There was also a little cubby on the seat where I could rest my shoes, a pouch for putting my laptop bag, a cotton mattress pretty decent enough, a light duvet and a medium sized pillow. Though not mind blowing, the amenities were pretty decent enough to make anyone feel comfortable.
The two meals served during the entire 151/2 hours flight may sound very little for most people. Lunch arrived too soon before anyone even expected and the first meal consisted of three tiny canapés, two of which were served with smoked beef and goat cheese with the third canapé being served with crab salad. Being someone who likes something heavy, I found this too light for my almost rumbling stomach. . The main meal though was more pleasant and all I can say is that it tasted more like a meal from some classic restaurant rather than a meal on-board a plane. Desert was also offered and it was pretty nice. The only negative side about the meals was that the portions were quite small.
On the overall though, I can say that I enjoyed my flight aboard South African airways and though a few of the services and amenities were below par, it was decent enough and one of the best flights you could ever get from an African carrier.