Review: South African Airways Business Class A340-3, Washington – Dakar

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South African Airways offers long haul services from 10 locations around the world in Asia, South American, North America and South America. It’s fair to say that I wish there were more locations to choose from. We had 7 flights with South African Airways on this trip and loved almost every single experience with SAA.


This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, a Safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya and Mauritius. This trip was redeemed through Air Canada’s Aeroplan and through Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) and Hyatt Gold Passport. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.


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Review: South African Airways Business Class A340-3, Washington Dulles International – Dakar Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport

Flying with South African is like flying with an airline stuck in a time warp. It is like flying was 15 years ago. . . It has older services and older equipment, but at the same time, South African is offering services and amenities today that almost every airline has discontinued or forgotten about. Mattress pads and thick duvets in business class? You got it. The largest business cabins out there? Yep, right here. Amuse bouche canapés before every meal? Yup three different kinds. Simply put, there is a reason that South African Airways is reporting massive financial problems and is having difficulties competing against the European and Middle East carriers. No one else is offering the services that South African Airways continues to offer in today’s aviation environment. Okay okay, maybe some of their gas guzzling Airbus 340’s are the problem, but the level of how the planes are stocked can’t be helping. My advice: get some South African Long Haul business class service while it still lasts in its current form.  

South African Airways
IAD-DKR (Washington Dulles International – Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport Dakar, Senegal) 
SA 208 – Business Class (J)
5:40 PM – 6:25 AM +1
November 5, 2013
Booked: Airbus 340-300E
Flown: Airbus 340-300E

Leaving the wonderful Lufthansa Senator Lounge Washington Dulles, we walked through a deserted terminal and arrived at Gate B37. The same SAA check in staff conducted a quick document check at the podium and we made one final (and sixth inquiry) on the checked bags. One has made it, the other one was still missing in action. 

Boarding SAA at Dulles Gate B37
SAA Boarding Pop Up Displays at IAD

At T – 65 minutes we were invited to board for the priority boarding where we saw the first of many future SAA pull up cosmetics on the rest of our trip.

On Board South African Airways Business Class Long Haul:

The business cabin on our Airbus 340-300E was configured in a 2-2-2 set up. There was a massive amount of space between the rows of seats and the row in front of you. It was just as much personal space as Lufthansa First Class, and much, much more space than Lufthansa Business, Asiana Quadra Smartium Business, Air Canada XM Business, and United Business First. 

South African Airways A340-3 Business Class Seats
South African Airways Business Class Seats A340-3 “Center Seats”

Just look at the amount of room between the seat and the next seat in front of you. You could practically fit another whole business seat in there. . .

Heaps of leg room and personal space between rows on these seats
South African Airways Business Class – View from your seat
Cabin Views – South African Airways A340-3

The cabin was reasonably well equipped with plug in seat power available and an old school wired remote for the entertainment selection.

The seat itself was also configured to adjust 5 different ways, and had a timed massage feature built into it.

The flight load was about was 60% full in the front cabins. Disappointingly, the route controller for SAA is either asleep at the wheel or non existent as when I checked the night before when I was looking for the quickest way to get to JNB, SAA did not make any business class reward seats available on this particular flight. This likely means that once the two initial business reward seats are gone at the 300 day mark, the reward opportunities are gone for good. For me, this shows a lost opportunity for SAA as either they are not monitoring the inventory of what is selling, or there are no opportunities to buy up to business class, or about 12 people cancelled on our very flight at the very last minute. Perhaps this is not part of their strategy to maximize revenue under this opportunity.

The aircraft was boarded early and on the way at 535 pm – 5 min before the scheduled departure. A pre-departure beverage was offered from the tray. We had “sparkling”.

Pre-Departure Beverage Service: Orange Juice or Sparkling

A bottle of water was also dropped off with ample amounts made available behind the bar.

The Amenity Kits: Temple Spa

As we were preparing to get underway, a small amenity kit was presented. The kit was not obviously branded by any particular cosmetic line. In my opinion, it was another lost opportunity for SAA for some additional revenue. This particular kit was sand colored, although it did not match the interior of the plane, which was beige in color. The kit contained the strangest looking Zebra style socks, comb, Temple Spa lip balm and not much else. My initial impressions were that it wasn’t going to see much future use. 

Sand Colored SAA Amenity Kits
Contents of the SAA Temple Spa Amenity Kits

The Meal Service: A three course dinner

We were offered a towel service on the way out of Dulles. Along with the tower service, menus were presented, along with a separate wine list card which was inserted within the menu. The wines would turn out to be the same ones offered throughout the trip on short haul and medium haul SAA flights. 

SAA Business Class IAD-DAK Menu Cards
SAA Menu Cards IAD-DAK
SAA Business Class IAD-DAK Three Course Dinner Meal

The Wine Program:

SAA Business Class IAD-DAK Whites and Bubbles
SAA Business Class IAD-DAK Reds and Ports

After some Tattinger champagne, an amuse bouche was dropped off. 

Amuse Bouche with Canapés
Canapés: dropped off without menu description or identification

I started off with the Balik Salmon, which was tasty and nicely presented on a tray with individual salt and pepper shakers and a salad. 

SAA Business Class Meal Presentation – Starter Course
Balik Salmon and Japanese Pickle Rolls served with Pear Salad and Currey Remoulade

I asked to be served the Braised Beef Short Rib, but they were out by the time they got to row 4. I had the chicken thigh instead. Very tasty and you’ll note that the portion sizes were a little bit smaller than some of the larger servings you get on other carriers. 

Slow Braised Chicken Thigh Roulade, with spaghetti, squash and vegetable medley, buttered spaetzle, braised Swiss chard and chicken jus

I finished off with the cheese plate. This was just average; it wasn’t the worst I’d ever had (British Airways), but it wasn’t like Lufthansa or Swiss (who do extraordinary cheeses).

Cheese Plate

Overall, I was pleased with the menus. The food was interesting and different than the usual plain mainstream airline offerings. The portions were a little bit smaller but varied. The food was not as flavorful or exotic as Lufthansa First Class but they were pretty darn tasty. I’d have to say in retrospect that I was pretty pleased with the offerings if I was mentally comparing the plates to the best of what Lufthansa had to offer. 

The Sleep Set: SAA Mattress Pads and Comforters

After dinner, the crew dropped off a comforter and a mattress pad for sleeping. I personally found the mattress pad a “so so” experience. I changed into pajamas that I had brought with me. The mattress pad felt like sleeping on a loose mattress sheet all rumpled up similar to camping. I actually found the cabin to be quite hot. This Airbus 340-300E, like many others, had no individual air vents above the seats so there was little that could be done to adjust the temperature. Lights went out after dinner service until about 7 1/2 hours into the flight or about 30 minutes from Dakar I managed to get some sleep as we traveled over the Atlantic, and recovered a bit from the short turnaround last night. 

SAA Business Class Sleep Service

The crew quickly prepared the cabin for landing. This involved lights on, all bags, mattress pads and blankets being stowed. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas.

We landed at a non gate position at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal.

Disembarking Passengers in Dakar, Senegal

First (but not final) Thoughts on South African Airways Business Class:

Wow – what a quirky carrier. Travelling with South African Airways is like flying in the early nineteen nineties when real efforts were made to impress business travelers. Our flights had substantial room, great food and wines, in addition to lots of amenities that you don’t normally experience in today’s international business class. Unfortunately, all these extras combined with an inefficient fleet has made them financially uncompetitive. Despite this, I’d still fly with the again as soon as possible as this amount of generosity when flying won’t last forever.


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