Review: South African Airways Business Class A340-6, Johannesburg – Mauritius

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Of the choice of South African Airways or British Airways Comair flying between South Africa and Mauritius, after a careful examination, we ended up with South African Airways based on a reasonable price and the ability to earn miles in a Star Alliance frequent flyer reward program. Our flight was marked with some adventure, dis-organization and a side of mild chaos as we transitioned through departure and the flight itself, following with a conclusion of frequent flier miles chasing to round out the experience.


This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates. This trip was redeemed through American Airlines AAdvantage & Alaska Mileage Plan. 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 A340-6, OR Tambo International Airport Johannesburg – Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport Mauritius


“A Last Minute Upguage to a wide body Airbus 340-6 aircraft made for a better, if not wholly disorganized, international flight from South Africa to Mauritius”

Booking the Ticket:

We booked our positioning flight from South Africa to Mauritius on South African Airways. The objective was to link up with our reward ticket back to North American in Emirates First Class Mauritius – Dubai, then Emirates First Class Dubai – Los Angeles. We found better award availability to and from Mauritius than to our departure points in Johannesburg or Cape Town in South Africa, so it made sense to take a short flight over to this island to connect to our flights home.

For some reason, there were really good South African Airways Business Class fares departing Johannesburg of around $415 USD for full business class; one way. I found this to be a reasonable price for 4 1/2 hours of business class for an international flight. There were even lower fares on British Airways Comair Club Business Class in the Boeing 737 configuration, with these flights only operating on Saturdays one time a week during the dates of our trip. The British Airways Comair Club Business class was offered on a narrow body B737 in an economy styled seat with a blocked middle. As a result, the South African Airways better aircraft won out, and we booked on South African Airways, crediting our miles to Air Canada Aeroplan thanks to their participation in Star Alliance. Unfortunately, it was not the best performance out of South African Airways today; it was full of things going wrong that certainly wasn’t typical of our SAA flights past.

We departed the Hyatt Regency Rosebank Johannesburg after a brief Regency Club Executive Lounge Breakfast, which started at 06:30 AM. Checkout was all in order and promptly handled.

At the time of this report, South African Airways operated two daily flights to Mauritius using their Boeing 737 aircraft. The first flight, SA 190, typically departs at 8:40 AM, whereas the second flight that we were booked and ticketed on ,departed at 10:25 AM. On arrival to the airport at T-180, I happened to notice on the flight information boards that the first SA 190 flight was showing as cancelled.

We checked in at the SAA Premium Services Desk at O.R. Tambo International Airport. There was no line but we had a very surly check in agent. After a few minutes of tapping on the computer, she announced to us that our seats were not together. Having booked the flight 3 months earlier and having selected w 4A and 4C for the flight, I asked her what had happened to the seat assignment? She claimed that all passengers had already checked in, and that our seats were gone (despite being pre-assigned). MrsWT73 was moved back to 7H, where as I got 4C. The check in agent was unaware of the earlier SA190 flight cancellation until I brought it up with her. I asked her if it was possible to have seats together but she refused to budge on it; “I am sorry but the flight has checked in full” We were there at 3 hours before the flight. I challenged her on it, asking her what happened to the original seat assignments since the seat assignment is to “hold the seat”, indicating that they were paid tickets (and not upgrades or staff travel) but she was particularly unhelpful and didn’t do anything for us. It was similar to the Jerry Seinfeld scene where he describes how the car rental reservation is actually supposed to hold the car. We ended up leaving the counter with separate seats and no real resolution to the separated seating assignments.

O.R. Tambo International Arrivals Hall
South African Airways Premium Departures Check In
South African Airways Premium Check In Counters

We headed off to change MrsWT73’s Qatar baggage payout from South African Rand to US Dollars and through the departing security checkpoint. MrsWT73 did some souvenir shopping at her favourite “Out of Africa “store while I hit up The Big Five Duty Free with its excellent selection and representation of South African wines. We picked up a few wine bottles for Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates at prices that were almost as good as the cellar doors in Stellenbosch.

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The Lounge: South African Airways Baobab International Lounge

After the duty free shopping was complete, we headed up to the South African Airways Baobab Lounge. We’ve previously visited the South African Airways Baobab International Lounge so I won’t go into tremendous detail reviewing it again. I invite you to read the previous review if you’re interested in seeing more about this lounge.

Access to the South African Airways Baobab Lounge is included with the purchase of a business class ticket. I’ve always been impressed with visiting flagship international lounges in the hub cities of carriers. Despite being recently renovated since our last visit, the SAA Baobab Lounge it seems that it is now only just an average place that has unfortunately been outclassed by its worldwide competition.

Finding the SAA Lounge in O.R. Tambo International Secure Side
Locating the Lounge: It’s Upstairs above Big Five Duty Free
The South African Airways Platinum Baobab International Lounge

Since our last visit, there are new chairs and new natural stone treatments on the walls. It still has an odd layout that doesn’t make the best use of it’s space with a lot of flowing spaces that come at a cost of available seating.

South Africa Airways Lounge Seating
Inner Airport Looking Lounge Seats
Loungers towards Vases in the Back

The best part of the lounge were the large windows that offer terrific plane spotting opportunities. However, it seemed to come at a cost of air conditioning. The lounge was really warm today which made it a very hot experience.

Plane Spotting: A South African Airways Airbus 330
A South African Airways Star Alliance Livery Airbus 340-6

The lounge also featured magazine racks which were also well stocked with papers and magazines.

Heaps of Magazines available

Unfortunately, the food and catering in the lounge were really tired and looked like a cheap Bed and Breakfast operation, instead of a world class airline that they market themselves to be. Sadly, I didn’t get photographs to support that claim. Needless to say, things looked quite tired.

Regretfully, the South African Airways Baobab Lounge had fallen from among the better lounges in Southern Africa. The pace and offerings of the lounges around the world seem to be improving over the years and this place, isn’t keeping up as much as it should. I’m sad to report that if you are through here, the only advantages to visit this particular lounge are the plane spotting opportunities.

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The Flight: Johannesburg – Mauritius

We headed down to the gate at about T-45, fully expecting a bus gate to the apron. Worried about the seat assignments, we had a slight hope that the gate agent might page the person in seat 4A so that we could get a swap with my wife’s assigned seat. Instead, we found a proper jet bridge gate and a proper holding area.

South African Airways
Business Class
JNB-MRU (OR Tambo International Airport – Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport)
SA
April 28, 2016
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Airbus 340-600
Departure: 10:25 AM
Arrival: 4:15 PM

On arrival to gate A9, it appeared that the plane was up-gauged from our initially booked Boeing 737 to an Airbus 340-600. The bad news is that the boarding area is a complete disaster with two lines leading towards the counters that were completely unmarked and unidentified. The counter agents appeared totally engaged, surrounded by a mass of children, elderly and other people needing attention with few staff available to help them all out.

Heading to Gate A9

We joined shorter line of the two until it was announced that all economy passengers from the longer line had to swap places with the shorter line for boarding. Through the crush of people, we ran over a few shoes (or a few rollies ran over our shoes) as we made out way through the crush of people onto the plane.

There was a segregated jet bridge on the opposite side of boarding with dual jet bridge boarding for today’s flight.

On Board South African Airways Business Class:

Getting on on board, sadly it was more chaos. The seat assignments must have gone completely out of the window with the aircraft swap. There were families traveling with 3 kids under the age of eight, spread about all over the business class cabin and elderly people needing assistance separated from their travel partners. As I got on the plane, I happened to see two people assigned the same seat, one with a hand written “1C” over top of boarding card over his original seat 45 H, the other one with the actual 1 C.

Despite assurances by the check in agent, that the flight was full and that we could not sit together, no one ever came for Seat 4A so MrsWT73 joined me while we were parked while still on the apron and all was well again. Well, at least until the 20-minute flight delay departure getting away from OR Tambo International Airport. There were apologies for the delay, and apologies for the combination of the SA 190 and SA 192 flights but no real reasons provided as to why the earlier flight was cancelled (mechanical or economies of scale by using a larger aircraft).

The seats are the same long haul seats used on their Johannesburg – New York routes and are in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration. The seating arrangement is getting quite dated compared to the reverse herringbone seating, and the motorized seats when they are moved are now groaning like a Radio Shack transistor toy that is nearing the end of its life cycle. Despite the strange noises, its still an exceptionally comfortable hard product that does go fully flat. The cabin is showing a bit of wear. Despite a green light on the Empower seat plug at my seat, the power appeared to be burned out and non functioning.

South African Airways Business Class
Seatback Views: South African Airways Business Class

The seats had substantial controls to allow different seating configurations. The seat controls also included a massage feature.

A variety of seat controls
A Long and Spacious South African Airways Business Class Cabin

Pre-Departure Services:

A pre-departure beverage of cap classique sparkling was offered. This was presented in a rather elegant elongated flute.

Pre-Departure Cap Classique
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The Meal: A Full Lunch

Menus were passed out once airborne. South African Airways has updated their menu format to a sleeker book design, as opposed to the long slender menu cards they used to hand out.

South African Airways Business Class Menu and Wine List
South African Airways Business Class Menu Johannesburg – Mauritius
South African Airways Business Class Wine List, Johannesburg – Mauritius

To start the meal service, a beverage and canapé service was also offered on separate plates.

A Selection of Canapés

The appetizer of sliced smoked duck was then offered, plated with the cheese offering and the dessert offering all at once.

Sliced Smoked Duck with Gooseberry Compote and Balsamic Reduction

South African Airways was offering celebrity chef menu items. During our flight, the chef on offer was Reuben Riffel. The Reuben chargrilled chicken breast, which actually didn’t seem to be grilled at all, was served, paired with the Nedeburg 56 Hundred Chenin Blanc 2015

The Reuben Chargrilled Chicken Breast with Parmesan and thyme crumble, and vanilla infused baby carrots and salsa verde

There were no amenity kits offered on today’s flight. Instead of settling into a movie, I took a little 1 hour nap on the full flat seat with my landing card resting on my belly. I was able to see a little of eastern Madagascar when I woke up, as located on the very dated in flight video on demand system.

Spotting the Coast of Madagascar
Following the Flight Track on the Moving Flight Map
A Somewhat Older System on SAA Airscape

During the flight, we had a nice chat with the senior purser. It seems that generally SAA aircrew don’t particularly care too much for the Mauritius flight as they don’t lay over in Mauritius and immediately work the return flight back. This coupled with the smaller B737 and a party atmosphere apparently makes the flight more challenging than others for the crew.

Winding down the flight, we had a stormy approach into MRU airport, with a lot of grey in the skies.

Landing to a Green

We deplaned through door 2 L with the business class being given priority. We deplaned and headed off to our stay at the St Regis Mauritius via a rental car.

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My Thoughts on the South African Airways Business Class Service to Mauritius:

Overall, the in flight service recovered the scrambled ground experience of disorganization and apathy. Still, it was a pretty good fare deal, aside from the mixups. As an separate note, it took 4 months of back and forth with Aeroplan trying to get frequent flier credit for this flight. It seems when your flight evaporates and is flown with a different flight number, it causes problems for automated systems. There were A whole lot of un needed hassles on this flight with South African Airways, so be prepared people! 

Our South African Airways Airbus 340-6 on the Ground at Mauritius

If you have flown South African Airways, is disorganization usually the order of the day?

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