Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.
I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:
Today (April 12, 2017): Trip report: South African Airways Airbus A340-600 Cape Town to Johannesburg.
On January 21st 2017, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A340-600 of South African Airways (SAA) from Cape Town International Airport (CPT) to Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in South Africa. SAA is the flag carrier and largest airline of South Africa, and was founded in 1934. It operates a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, including 9 Airbus A340-600 planes, once known as the longest airplane in the world. The flight duration from CPT to JNB was less than 2 hours, but it gave me a good impression of the overall product. The Business Class cabin looks a bit dated, although the fully flatbed seat was still very comfortable (with plenty of space for your legs). Unfortunately, the food on this flight was horrible and a shame for an otherwise great airline. SAA has recently introduced a new product (which looks stunning), but so far it is only available on its newly delivered A330-300 aircraft.
- Trip: CPT-JNB
- Airline: South African Airways
- Aircraft type: Airbus A340-600
- Aircraft registration number: ZS-SNB (built in 2002)
- Flight Number: SA336
- Date: January 18th, 2017
- On time departure: Yes (2 pm)
- On time arrival: Yes (3.45 pm)
- Miles: 789
- Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes
- Seat: 6A
- Class: Business Class
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- SAA Lounge at Cape Town
- Fact & Figures about the Airbus A360-400
- Business Class Cabin
- Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences
- My verdict
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1. SAA BUSINESS LOUNGE AT CAPE TOWN
The SAA Business Lounge at Cape Town International Airport is located one floor above the main concourse, and can be accessed via a long entryway and a reception desk whose design reflects that of a boat. The lounge itself is a rectangular shaped space and features a modern, sleek decor. It feels very spacious and airy due to the high ceilings and the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of the check-in hall on one side and the runway (with the Hottentots Holland Mountains at the horizon) on the other side. In fact, the bright, natural light filled space offers some the greatest tarmac views of any airport lounge in the world. The lounge has several cozy seating areas, as well an open-sided business center in its center and an enclosed entertainment room and smoking lounge on the side. At the time of my visit (around noon), a small buffet was displayed near the reception, which featured mainly cold items such salads, vegetables, cookies, and sandwiches in addition to one hot dish (chicken). While I was not impressed by the poor food offerings, I did like it to hang around in the lounge and enjoy the thrilling views of aircraft taking off and landing.
From the lounge, it was a 10 minute walk to the gate, where we had to board a bus that took us to the Airbus A340-600’s remote parking spot.
2. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT THE AIRBUS A340-600
Here are some facts about the A340-600, as provided by Wikipedia.
- The Airbus A340 is a long-range, four-engine, wide-body commercial passenger jet airliner developed and produced by the European aerospace company Airbus.
- The A340 seats up to 375 passengers in the standard variants and 440 in the stretched -600 series.
- The A340 provides similar passenger capacity to the (earlier variants of the) Boeing B747 but with 25 percent more cargo volume, and at lower trip and seat costs.
- The first flight of the A340-600 was made on 23 April 2001.
- Virgin Atlantic was the launch customer of the A340-600, with commercial services beginning in August 2002.
- The A340-600 held the record as the world’s longest commercial aircraft until February 2010 with the first flight of the Boeing 747-8.
- The A340 was/is mainly used on long-haul, trans-oceanic routes due to its immunity from ETOPS restrictions; however, with reliability and fuel efficiency in engines improving, airlines have gradually phased out the type in favour of the more economical twinjets.
- Airbus has positioned the larger variants of the Airbus A350 as a successor of the A340-600.
- Currently, there are less than 80 A340-600 aircraft in service, with Lufthansa and Iberia being the type’s largest operators.
- SAA operates 9 A340-600 planes in its fleet
3. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
SAA recently introduced a new Business Class, but that product is currently only available on the carrier’s newly delivered A330-300 planes, and the A340-600 on this particular flight still featured SSA’s old Business Class seats. SAA’s A340-600 Business Class is located in one large cabin in front of the plane. There are 42 seats in total, spread across seven rows in a classic 2-2-2 configuration. All seats face forward, and except for the window seats, all seats have direct aisle access. The cabin’s layout and design look dated when compared to the current Business Class standards, although the fully flatbed seats offer plenty of space for your legs.
Click here for a seat map of SAA’s A340-600.
4. BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (& WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE)
I had prebooked seat 6K, which is located in the back of the cabin, along the window. The seat next to me remained empty, so I was able to take plenty of photos and clips.
The seat itself, covered in blue leather, has a pitch of 73 inch (185 cm) and a width of 23,7 inch (60 cm). One armrest holds the rather small tray table, which needs to be pulled out manually. The other armrest features a table that is shared with the adjoining seat and which can be extended by another hidden table located below the armrest’s surface (perfect when you want to have a drink during the flight without having to pull out the tray table). Behind that small table surface, you find a panel with the seat controls that can be used to adjust the seat position or activate the built-in massage unit. The disappointingly small entertainment screen is located in a compartment below the center armrest and needs to be pulled out and tilted towards you. There’s also a (very) small divider between two adjoining seats that can be raised for added privacy in case you end up being seated next to a stranger.
The seat lacks proper storage space, although there are a few compartments around the seat that can be used to store your stuff during the flight. The back of the seat in front of you has two pockets, one of them containing the inflight magazine and safety card. In addition to these two seatback pockets, there are also two cubbies in the back of the two adjoining seats in front of you, which are great for storing your glasses, wallet or smart phone. At the bottom of the seat in front of you is also a small locker, which can be used to store your shoes.
At the touch of a button, the seat converts into a generous flat-bed.
What are the best Business Class seats on SAA A340-600? Click here for a seat map.
- All seats in the cabin, except for the first and last row, are quiet good, especially for couples.
What are the worst Business Class seats on SAA A340-600? Click here for a seat map.
- The 2-2-2 Business Class layout does not make the cabin very attractive for solo travelers, since you will always end up sitting next to a stranger. There is a small screen though between seats that can be raised for added privacy.
- Window seats don’t offer direct aisle access.
- Passengers seated in the first row may be bothered by the noise of the galley and passengers going to or returning from the lavatories.
- I also suggest to avoid the last row of Business Class, which is close to the Economy bassinet seats.
This was a very short flight (1 hour 45 minutes) and amenities – such as blankets, pillows and amenity kit – were not provided.
Although I did not expect much from the food, given the short duration of the flight, I was utterly disappointed by the meal I received, especially from the national carrier of a country that is renowned all over the globe for its delicious cuisine. The meal consisted of a sandwich with chicken and a bad tasting mayonnaise, a poor salad, and a brownie. The taste and the presentation of the meal were unappetizing and not acceptable for Business Class (nor Economy Class). Bad points for SAA!
7. INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
SAA states the following on its website: “Thanks to our on demand inflight entertainment system, boredom is not an option on SAA. With over 100 movies to enjoy, up to 100 TV features including series, comedy and kids programming. 170 audio albums, 14 radio channels and 15 games, there’s plenty to choose from”. Unfortunately, none of that was available during the short flight, so I assume they only offer inflight entertainment on their longhaul flights. The only two features I had access to on my small screen with bad resolution, were an old-fashioned flight map, and the view from a tail camera.
8. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# CREW: The all South African crew on this flight was lovely, professional and made time to have a chat with most passengers in Business Class. I admit that I am in love with South Africa and its people, so I am very biassed, but I would fly SAA again in a heartbeat, simply because of its wonderful crew.
# BAR: The SAA A340-600 does not have an onboard walk-up bar..
# LAVATORY: There are two lavatories for Business Class passengers, both of them located in front of the cabin, behind the cockpit.
# WIFI: SAA does currently not offer WiFi on its fleet.
# FLIGHT PATH: the flight took us all the way over South Africa. The views upon takeoff of the Cape Peninsula were breathtaking, and you wan watch most of these in my Youtube clip. Before landing, the captain had to navigate a few nasty thunderstorms.
9. MY VERDICT
- Lounge: 8/10
- Seat : 5/10
- Food: 2/10
- Inflight entertainment : 3/10
- Service: 8/10
- Cabin: 6/10
- Overall experience: mediocre: 5/10
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