View Full Version : BA Biz Class or South Africa Airlines Biz Class ?

Canada Goose
15th Jul 2008, 14:05
OK. My wife has to go on business to South Africa in August and is booking her flight tomorrow. She has been several times before but her flight options this time around are BA or South Africa Airlines. She will be flying biz class however, both she and I know nothing about the South Africa Airlines and so she wants to know what are they like ?

Downsides – BA return flight costs £1k more( but is direct to Cape Town)
South African has a flight change in SA (presumably Jo’berg before en route to Cape Town).

Any comments or feedback most welcome. She wants to book the flights tomorrow !!!



15th Jul 2008, 14:46
SAA South African Airways Business Class seat reviews (http://www.flatseats.com/Reviews/sa-f.htm)

and also

South African Airways Reviews and South African Airways Passenger Opinions about SAA South African Airways standards (http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/saa.htm)

the latter you'll need to filter out the business class reviews from the economy reviews

15th Jul 2008, 15:17

I have been waiting for a chance to commit this little lot to print.
I have often flown BA Business Class, have always found them excellent and have always been able to get some sleep on their flights too. I think that all BA long haul have sleeper seats or bedlets in BC? Google up Flight Guru for seat plans of the aircraft on the service.
Last month I nipped down to JHB for a fortnight and, departing from Munich, as I was, opted to fly SAA. A night flight down and a day flight back. I like day flights. The aircraft was an Airbus 340 and I flew both ways in peasant class.
Having said that, I had four seats each way. As far as I could determine, the seats on the A340 in BC were hardly any better than those in Economy. I distinctly reflected to myself that the extra cost would not be justified by any improvement in seating. Certainly that particular aircaft was old or at least well used and had that unpleasant dead sardine smell that old aircraft have after too much body stink absorbtion.
Nothing wrong with the flight crew on either sector.
The cabin crew however were of a different shade altogether. I suspect that in BC you would find the cream of the cabin services staff. Such was not the case in Economy.
Bear in mind that on both sectors my flights were about a quarter full, so the cabin crew hardly had to work. On the southbound flight we were offered one drink service, one quick meal blat, no refills for those who were drinking, a quick cup of coffee and that was it. I don't watch movies on aeroplanes but there was only the old screen in the aisle system and I think there was something wrong with the showings on the way down. There certainly was on the way back.
Sometime toward dawn on the way down I decided that a cup of coffee would be a nice idea and went aft to the galley. There were no cabin attendants around at all. Eventually, one CA chap, who had been sleeping when I walked past him, covered in blankets so I had not recognised him as crew, came along and rather grudingly produced a cup of coffee. No real problems so far except that it was obvious, and confirmed by the chap on asking, that all the cabin crew were off somewhere in their hidey hole, sleeping, or whatever. I hung around the aft section for a while, stretching and so on and slowly, one by one, cabin attendants appeared from somewhere, all wearing cute sleeper suits which they proceeded to change out of into their uniforms. They were completely indistinguishable from passengers in their romp suits. I absolutely admit that it would be highly unlikely, but had we had an in flight emergency in the dark hours, no one would really have a clue as to who were cabin crew and who were dressed up BC passengers throwing their weight around.
On the way back, the day flight, pretty much the same thing happened. Short sharp service, everybody push off. I did query this with one of the cabin attendants. I made the point that surely not all the CAs needed disappearing rest periods on a one sector day for a ten hour flight, call it fourteen hours duty. I was assured that they did, and, although I may have got it wrong, was informed that on the Washington flights, they had to have five hours in flight rest. That's all fine and that is SAA's business and also that of the SA CAA. It is not for me particularily to criticise the duty limitations of an airline or those imposed by the nation's CAA. However, I do take exception to the fact that the airline's rules seem to permit no apparent visible cabin crew presence on a night flight. I also think that cabin crew on a flight should remain in uniform, thus allowing themselves to be recognised as such.
In fairness, I never used the Call Button and I did not see anyone else do so either.
So if your wife wants to fly on SAA, drink her duty free, smoke in the toilet and basically get up to any mischief that might take her fancy, then I expect she would get away with it, such was the total boredom manifested by the non appearing, androgynously clad cabin crew.
Munich is convenient for me so I will go with them again but my goodness, it was a really pathetic show. A real display of non professionalism. I will say though, that in the old days when there was quality control in recruitment rather than political control, SAA was absolutely fabulous in any class and their First Class was totally unbeatable.
I would advise you not to show this post to your lady love, assuming that's your wife of course, if you wish to save £1,000.
Toodle Pip.....:)

15th Jul 2008, 15:55
From past experience, I'd rather go for BA (even if I don't fly them interconti anymore). I know SAA is cheap, but that's because they KNOW they need to be to get the budget fliers.

And I DEFINITELY wouldn't want to switch at JNB... direct CPT flights are much better, thank you very much.


15th Jul 2008, 20:23
In response to cheetah, yes BA do have fold flat beds in Club World, and i think you mean Seat Guru regarding the seat maps... :) The BA timetable will tell you what aircraft will fly on the route that day.

In response to VAFFPAX you are completely right about Jo'burg - avoid it if you can.

Generally though, the £1k price difference is a lot, but I'd always go with BA - I've not flown on many airlines, but they have certainly been the best I've flown with. And you'll definitely get full service, unlike what cheetah experienced with South African

15th Jul 2008, 20:41

Let me make something clear please. I make no particular complaint about the service on board SAA. It was basic, indifferent and poorly adequate although God alone knows how they would have coped with a full flight.
My opprobrium is reserved for what I perceive to be a lack of suitable safety standards in cabin crews who disappear once the service is finished, hide themselves in the bowels of the aircraft and don jump suits sufficiently ambiguous in terms of proper identification as to be indistinguishable in the dark, or for all I now the daylight too, from a passenger in a track suit.:yuk:

Look at the grand's difference this way. It's about a twenty four hour round trip so that works out at about forty one pounds an hour. There, that's not nearly so bad now is it?:D
One further point already made. There can be almost no price too high to have to pay to avoid Johannesburg. It is quite doubtful that your wife's bag would make it through the system to Cpt, even if she did.:(

15th Jul 2008, 21:24
LHR JNB (and internal onto Durban) - a route I have plied a few times.

My advice
1) Virgin Upper
2) BA Biz
3) Dont go

4) SAA - plead insanity and avoid

15th Jul 2008, 22:24
Cheetah, your experience on SAA is standard... :-)

Even South African colleagues who are generally not fussy will avoid flying with SAA if at all possible. And to think that 'SAL' used to be the crown jewel of African aviation in the good (bad) old days.


16th Jul 2008, 01:37
MiB has it spot on.

You DON'T want to change at JNB. Last year I had to do so for reasons that I shall not bore you with and it was no fun. After 10.5 hrs (even in Club) to reclaim bags and walk half a kilometre to the Domestic terminal and then scrummage in to find a place to wait?

We used the Rennies Exec lounge on Priority Pass and that made it bearable. Then you have 2 hours to CPT with more high quality cabin service from SAA or one of the LCCs. Alternatively, 12 hours direct and you do more sleeping in the cozy BA bed? Heck, that is worth a grand of anyone's money!

cavortingcheetah's story does not surprise me. Although I have not travelled on SAA recently ... I have a family member that is FD crew in SAA and so I know the stories! My last SAA Biz LHR~JNB was ( :confused: ) 1987 when it was just big seats before beds in biz and the cabin service was brilliant. But it's been only VS or BA since then and it's the route I know the best, as I first travelled it 41 years ago. :ooh:

16th Jul 2008, 11:12
Completely agree cavorting - would have thought a necessity these days to have cabin crew available and aware of whats happening on flight all the time. Still must feel sorry for the poor cabin crew - work approx 80 hours a month and then sleep for half of work period.

Canada Goose
16th Jul 2008, 12:20
Many thanks for all your replies, especially Cavorting Cheetah for you detailed insight and my wife sends her thanks.

I would advise you not to show this post to your lady love, assuming that's your wife of course, if you wish to save £1,000.

Too late ……. I’ve sent her the link :ooh:

Well the plot does thicken somewhat as I spoke to her earlier and she has SAA flights on hold (that was before I sent her the link). Apparently the SAA flight is ~ £2000 ………..But, the BA flight is £4800 !!! Furthermore, it is the SAA flight that is direct NOT the BA as I had previously thought !!

Also, the links from firstchoice7e7 do have some favourable feedback on the main, particularly SAA South African Airways Business Class seat reviews (http://www.flatseats.com/Reviews/sa-f.htm)

So what’s a girl to do !? She (we) aren’t paying for the flight, but her company is, however, I doubt given the cost differential she’ll be able to justify BA !

If she does go SAA, maybe I’ll post how she found it afterwards !!

Thanks once again.

Canada Goose
16th Jul 2008, 12:26
BTW – I did speak to her earlier and she said that her main issue was whether they were ‘safe’. Huge tin of worms I know!! But the comments from Cavorting Cheetah are a bit alarming viz a viz should an in flight emergency occur !!

Had to laugh at the following post on the link above

HKG-JNB-HKG. Seat comfort was best I have ever experienced, and the first time I have had a proper sleep on a plane. Well done to SAA for not serving breakfast and turning all the lights on 3 hours before an early morning landing like most other airlines do.

………….. cos we all know why they don’t do the breakfast thing ! Cos they are all fast asleep too !!

BTW - The plane is a A340-600 and my wife claims that SAA say none of their fleet are older than 5 yrs.

16th Jul 2008, 13:14

I've flown SAA BC several times and had vastly different experiences to Cheetah; albeit it was 3 years ago now.

On 4 return trips to JNB I could not fault SAA, their crew, their service or visible safety. I think I was on a 747 and the seats were excellent; leg room was exceptional. I did not choose SAA, this was done for me and I had did have reservations before travelling, all unfounded - other than JNB is possibly the worst airport I have to go through.
My last trip with BA over the pond was OK, nothing special and certainly the crew were not anything special.

16th Jul 2008, 13:16
Well, I feel the opposite way to many here. I flew FRA-CPT on SAA and back on LH 18 months ago. Bot were overnighters. (I am very familiar with BA, Air France, Virgin, Continental, Delta, United, KLM and some other C-class setups, but not Singapore Airlines, for example.) Both flights were on A340-600s. The SAA business class seat was the most comfortable lie-flat I have ever slept on. You have a proper duvet and all. The entertainment system was OK, not fully interactive. The food was far better than on LH, cabin staff too.

It may have changed since then, but at the time, the business class in SAA 747s was not at all the same, and was like most airlines business class used to be 15 years ago.

At equal price, I would choose SAA.

16th Jul 2008, 13:28
Ask the wife if they've tried BA 059, which is a direct flight to CPT. Departs at 19:20, and arrives at 07:50 next day. But the price is accurate - BA wants £4,000+ for their Club World tickets.

As for SAA's fleet, the average age is 5 years, which is across the entire fleet (domestic and international). Airfleets lists SAA's A340 fleet as averaging at 7.5 years, the overall average is reduced by their 'new' A319's which all average at 3.5 years. The oldest A346 on their books is ZS-SNA (delivered in late 2002), the newest A340 series aircraft delivered was two frames, ZS-SXE and ZS-SXF, both A343's (delivered a year ago).

I know, I'm pedantic now... :-)

SAA is safe where flying is concerned. Just bring your own water (*wink* *nudge* *makes snoring noises*).


16th Jul 2008, 17:14

Well, the lady has gone now or will be about to embark at any rate.
It would be interesting to see how she found SAA/BC on what must, with IAD, be their premier route.
Standing by further please but hope she had a wonderful flight anyway.:)

16th Jul 2008, 21:05
Whatever the service levels - I would have zero qualms about a/c maintenance and flight crew. I understand the SAA First is still something special but have not experienced it myself. My nephew is 6' 2" and says SAA First is very comfy.

I'm sure that we all look forward to an update report, posted before Mrs Goose even leaves CPT airport boundary!

Canada Goose
1st Sep 2008, 10:50
OK, well I said I’d post her experience of SAA. Well, overall she thought it was good and was quite impressed with some aspects of it. The main reservation she had was the food, which she said was dire. Something about fish that was very dry on the way back!! Again, her flight both ways was marred by turbulence.

As an aside, something odd happened prior to pushback on the way back. She was asked by staff/security if she would change places with a lady who was sat at the very front as she doesn’t like sitting there. Before my wife had a chance to reply a German bloke she had met on the outbound trip and was now sitting next to and chatting with interjected and said “She is not moving, she is travelling with me”, and to be fair, my wife didn’t want to move. Not so odd, but then the same person went to a women sat behind my wife and said, “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to move, this seat was booked by the lady at the front”. This didn’t go down well and the lady behind my wife refused to move, claiming quite rightly that the boarding card SAA had issued to her was quite clearly where he was sitting. Eventually more staff/security arrived and there was something of a stand-off. Truth be told I can’t recall what finally happened but my wife said it got quite tense. I tell you what though, I would be furious being treated in such a way and would be submitting a formal complaint at being treated in such a manner and indeed seeking some sort of compensation!!

Your mileage may vary !!