South African Review Business Class A320 and A340 Nairobi (NBO) to Mauritius (MRU) via Johannesburg (JNB)
I had been on the exact same flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg a few years ago before my doomed flight to Dakar. I got to the airport early (Nairobi traffic is very unpredictable) but check-in was deserted with a very efficient agent completing my check-in in seconds. Immigration was deserted too and moments later, I was at the Turkish Airways Business Class lounge.
The lounge is still the best lounge at the Nairobi airport but does not have the DoCoMo catering that makes the Istanbul lounges so great. The food is OK and there are plenty of drink choices. It’s housed in a temporary terminal (1E) and there is a lot of noise when the planes downstairs spool up – don’t forget your noise canceling headphones!
I walked down to the boarding gate at the planned time but no planes were found. The gate felt brutal with earn-busting announcements and the atmosphere of a Ukrainian bus station. Oh well, our plane arrived and less than 15 minutes after it showed up, we already boarded – that is Ryan Air territory!
I was shocked! The new South African Business Class is five abreast (instead of the typical four abreast in Business and six in Economy). To make matters worse, the seat pitch is tiny – more like the United Economy Plus on domestic flights in a Domestic First Seat pitch. I was surprised by that.
However, the middle seat on my side would be empty (I’d be on the window) and it turned out to be quite spacious – certainly more spacious than in a 2-2 with a seat neighbor. Food service started quickly and the tray had some delicious items, plus I loved the entree.
There were good wines (hey, it is South Africa after all!) and the flight was right on time with plenty of turbulence towards the skies of Tanzanian and Zimbabwe.
As time progressed, I began to really like the flight – the service was joyful, the food was excellent, and the wine was flowing well. It made me forget all about the seats (which turned out to be quite comfy).
About 45 minutes outside Johannesburg, the shaking finally stopped and the beautiful sunset revealed itself.
Our landing into Johannesburg was fast and furious (as with many higher altitude landings). Immigration was deserted but friendly and my hotel shuttle was right on time – what a wonderful travel experience that day – hard to beat!
The next day, I left early for my upcoming flight and went to the South African Premium Business Class lounge. Last year, I had a scrumptious lunch there and was hoping for an equally scrumptious breakfast spread. But that was too much optimism – the breakfast spread only had cheap, low-quality items. I felt that it was pretty bad. Also, the lounge Internet never seemed to connect – I mentioned that situation at the reception, but there seemed to be no workarounds for the problem. Luckily, the free airport WiFi worked fine and was easy to connect to.
I showed up at the boarding gate and it looked pretty empty. I was the first to board and had plenty of time to photograph the A340 Business Class cabin. The A340 had never been refurbished and will likely be delisted soon. I was asking the friendly flight attendant why we’d get such a big plane (boarding was slow and seemed like it was almost over) and she mentioned that the route gets tremendous traffic and we even had a dozen standby passengers on this flight. 30 minutes later, I knew what she was talking about and every seat was filled with a passenger who was looking forward to a few sunny days in Mauritius.
We took off with a big roar towards the north and after an easy right turn, we were lined up for Maputo and Madagascar towards Mauritius (all start with an M)!
I was happy to see a lunch service on the menu and NOT another disappointing breakfast. The flight attendant mentioned that my preferred options (fish or chicken) were both sold out but she eventually found a fish entree for me which was good – not as good as the food the day before though.
The A340 seats go almost flat but have a large unsupported area which makes it feel more like angled flat (i.e., the old Singapore Airlines Business Class seats). For the distance flown, it is just fine and it’s enough to get some sleep. My seatmate decided to fully recline right away and started sleeping loudly (I know it sounds off, but she managed to be loud AND asleep). If you are at the window, you need to climb over your seatmate in a quite awkward fashion.
We arrived on time into a sunny Mauritius and got some beautiful views of the southwestern edge of the island.
For all its faults, and the steadily looming bankruptcy, South African is still a solid option within Africa. They clearly need to modernize the fleet, but they get a lot of juice out of their old equipment for now. How come they can’t make money with high fares, high fuel surcharges, and full planes???