Review: South African Airways Business Class A320-2, Johannesburg – Nairobi


South African Airways offers medium haul services from Johannesburg to Mauritius. British Airways’ South African franchise also offers service on this same route four days a week on much older B737 aircraft. Today’s experience was on SAA’s newest aircraft and offered a really pleasant way to get to Mauritius.

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.

Read More from This Trip

Review: South African Airways Business Class A320-2, O.R. Tambo International Airport Johannesburg, South Africa – Jomo Kenyatta Nairobi, Kenya.

Allright – finally getting on to the Safari portion of the trip. When we booked this trip, we were initially going to do the safari part first, having initially had seats on Swiss Business Class going down from Europe and the Americas. Unfortunately, the ticketing agent had requested two seats from one Aeroplan account, not realizing that the points were coming from two separate Aeroplan accounts. When ticket agent tried to move the ticket over, one of the reward availability seats disappeared and of course, there were only 2 seats available this flight for reward redemption. We were unable to fly the original routing requested, unless we downgraded to economy. The solution was to fly the trip in reverse – making the safari stop last. I decided that we would try out the Maasai Mara as this was one of our free stops on our reward ticket, and would be an entirely new experience for both of us. 

South African Airways
Business Class
JNB-NBO (O.R Tambo Johannesburg International – Jomo Kenyatta Nairobi)
SA 184 – Business Class (I)
10:10 AM – 3:10 PM
November 21, 2013
Booked: Boeing 737-300
Flown: Airbus 320-200

After another night at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg in Rosebank, we checked in at the usual priority check in on the Terminal B side. We returned to the Terminal A side for departure. We decided to invest 60 Rand ($6 USD) in plastic wrap this time for the suitcases as both Johannesburg and Nairobi had past reports of luggage tampering. 

We did some final shopping and a swing by the South African Airways Baobab Premium International Lounge. We also stopped by the Big Five duty free and picked up some duty free wine for Kenya.

O.R. Tambo International Departures

Boarding the Flight:

About 55 minutes before the flight, we wandered down to bus gates A28 where the African boarding process began. The boarding was a mess again, but we were pretty used to it by this time. No priority boarding today as we entered into the mass scramble to the bus to take us out to the aircraft.

Priority Boarding – South African Airways style

We managed to squeak onto the first bus and headed out to another new South African Airways Airbus A320-200.

Boarding SAA Airbus 320-2

On Board South African Airways Business Class:

Similar to our flights on South African Airways Johannesburg – Mauritius, and Mauritius – Johannesburg, we settled into the new short to medium haul South African Airways business class. The seats are fitted in leather equivalent materials and look sharp. A combination of pictures from our flights on the similar aircraft over the past 7 days.

SAA Airbus 320-2 Business Class Seating
Brand New A320 Business Class Seating
Conveniently located Empower plugs
Tablet Charging Power Ports

Pre-Departure Beverage Service:

A pre-departure beverage of water, orange juice or Simonsig Cape Classique sparkling was offered. There were two cabin staff in the front taking care of us today with a load of 13 / 24 in business.

Pre-Departure Beverage – Cap Classique

We had a bit of a wait today as we taxied to runway 3 L. Looking out the window, I happened to see the dreaded old SAA Airbus 340-200 was in operation today. I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it, but many seem to fear it. This is probably because it’s the oldest plane and doesn’t have monitors in the seat backs, leaving entertainment to overhead protector screens. SAA have 1 in their fleet and use them to swap out Airbus 340-300 / 600’s that have gone mechanical. It taxied beside us on the way to the hold line at runway 3L at Johannesburg.

South African Airways A340-200; used as a spare
Lining up for Runway 3L at JNB

While we were taxiing, the “Johannesburg to Regional” menus were distributed. The celebrity chef Reubens made a return. However, the food and wines were the same as our last ex-Johannesburg flight to Mauritius. In fact, the wines remained the same throughout our 7 flights whether they were long haul or regional.

SAA Business Class Menu Card JNB-NBO

And as a reminder, these were the wines stocked on South African Airways for the month we were travelling.

The Meal: A Full Lunch by Reuben Riffel

The meal service started soon after take off. The food followed the usual SAA process, starting with an Amuse Bouche.

Amuse Bouche paired with Stellenrust Chenin Blanc

Although Reuben Riffel was the celebrity chef, I ended up enjoying menu items that wren’t actually designed by him. For the starter, I passed on the Reuben Riffel Kingklip and went for the Caprese Salad with basil pesto dressing, which was reasonably executed.

Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto Dressing

Trying some variety, for the main course, I also bypassed his Beef Fillet en Croute and went with the Parmesan and Thyme encrusted chicken breast, served with savoury rice balls, aubergine cannelloni and tomato beurre blanc.

Parmesan and Thyme Encrusted Chicken Breast, with savoury rice balls, aubergine cannelloni and tomato beurre blanc

Never passing up food on a plane, a coffee cream mousse for dessert.

Coffee Cream Mousse

The In Flight Entertainment:

The movie again, Shanghai Calling (for the third time) on the main screen. It was till an enjoyable watch. After it ended there wasn’t much to do other than gaze out the window.

Entertainment by overhead screens

There was some interesting lake scenery over Malawi along with miles of desolation and remoteness with the occasional controlled brush fire. It’s always pretty spectacular to get views of remote areas that you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to fly over.

Views of Lake Malawi en route to Kenya

Landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport:

After miles of flying over desolation, we landed in a more colorful Nairobi, Kenya.

Views of Nairobi on approach to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

As many of you will recall, Jomo Kenyatta airport terminal sustained a major fire caused by electrical problems on August 7, 2013. On our visit, the international arrivals hall was still out of commission. All planes were parking at gate positions, without jet bridges being extended. Yep – there is a building of architectural marvel. “The Migration has begun” alright…

The out of order Jomo Kenyatta Terminal; closed by structure fire

Instead, we exited down to the ramp and were led to a very worn military green “National Youth League” motor coach for transfer to the temporary arrivals hall. The coach was not built for airport transport, as you had to climb up 5-6 steps into the coach and there was no room for the storage of any rollies or carry on’s.

Ramp Disembarkation at NBO

The new international terminal was presently under construction and was far enough behind from being finished that you could see right through it. 

The New Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; under construction

The temporary arrivals hall was located in the basement of a converted parking garage. Immigration cards were not given on the flight in and as a result, all passengers crowded a small counter to complete the immigration card, and the Visa Application form. There was also likely a Customs declaration card that we missed. 

We joined the Other Nationals immigration line for twenty minutes. Despite several planes arriving, there were only 3 agents working for “other nationals”. Each entry involved a fingerprint scan of all 5 digits for both hands and a digital picture capture. Of course, many people without Visa’s ended up in the Other Nationals line instead of the Visa line and as a result, further delays ensued. I saw several immigration officials collecting $50 USD casg for visas, with receipts being issued but with Cash lying all over the counter. The immigration line took approximately 25 minutes to get through as we had an Emirates Boeing 777 just a head of us.

Temporary Arrivals Hall of the Jomo Kenyatta Airport

After locating the bags on the wrong SkyTeam belt (the process was the “find your bags on any available belt” method), we headed for the exit. At the exit, there was a temporary currency exchange counter prior customs, and a Customs’ Interview for each passenger. This process took about 15 minutes to get through as each passenger was interviewed by one central lead host. The majority of passengers appeared to be have their bags opened up and inspected with the rest of the line waiting until further customs officials we ready to take on new passengers. We didn’t fill out of the form but we were waved up and through when we said that we were from “Canada”.

Collecting Luggage at Nairobi
The Bags Arrived in One Piece

Given the security concerns of Nairobi, I had arranged for a car transfer service from Helen at Pamoja Tours and Safaris. I was referred to this company by the Fairmont hotel, as we wanted to book several car transfers around Nairobi with them. The greeter was outside as promised and she called the driver who met us curb side. 

Transfer Hub at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Arrivals Area “outside the parkade” at NBO

My Last Thoughts on South African Airways Medium Haul Business Class:

This was our seventh and last South African Airways flight on this trip; five of which were in business class. Our South African Airways regional medium haul service was, like our other trips, very pleasant and enjoyable. The service was fulsome, consistent in execution, and more than you’d expect from mid haul carriers in North America, with meals consisting of a full three courses paired with South African wines. Although the entertainment wasn’t so exciting since it appears to be the same entertainment throughout the network in any given month, staring out the window over rural African landscapes was also equally appealing for me. I would fly South African Airways again in a heartbeat.

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