Taking the World to Africa

SA287 Hong Kong – Johannesburg
South African Airways has won Africa’s best airline for 14 years straight, and with good reason, but the carrier will need investment if it wants to compete with the major players of Asia, discovers Nick Walton on a recent flight.

Check in/The Lounge

After a quick check in process at HKIA Terminal 1 I made my way through security to the United Club Lounge of United Airlines, South Africa Airways’ Star Alliance partner airline, located near gate 60. A pleasant, out-of-the-way lounge, the United Club has a little something for every traveller, from ‘open air’ seating located above the concourse, to plush lounge suites, self-service bar, to well-maintained showers.

The Seat

I boarded the A340-600 aircraft at gate 31 for my 11.55pm flight and found my seat in the 42-seat business class cabin. While the decade-old seats aren’t especially padded or wide (at 23.7-inches), they’ve been lovingly maintained and offer a comfortable 180-degree lie-flat bed. A spacious armrest between seats features a privacy screen, controls for the seat positioning (and the great massage system), and room enough for a couple of glasses of wine and a pair of headphones, while a small cubby hole set in the seat back in front is big enough for a bottle of water and a chic amenity kit by fashion designer Mphelane Mareletse. Entertainment controls, headphone jack and AC power are located beneath the armrest, while a rather chunky personal monitor swings up from beneath. During boarding a single young crew member served juice and South African sparkling wine to a packed cabin.

The Flight

After an on-time departure on our 11 hour 28 minute flight crew served hot towels and drinks, in my case a Tanqueray gin and tonic. Like many other passengers I decided to skip the meal – there’s nothing more confusing than eating dinner at 1am and breakfast at 4am. After browsing the airline’s rather dated entertainment system decided to catch a few episodes of Law & Order on my tablet before making up my bed (the trick is to do it before your seat mate due to space constraints). South African make up for their older seats with superbly comfortable duvets and comforters and I managed to have one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the sky.


I woke approximately 80 minutes out from Johannesburg to the smell of breakfast being prepared. After glasses of orange juice and more hot towels were dished out I opted for plain yoghurt, a croissant, coffee, and a cheese omelet with grilled chicken sausages, hash browns and mushrooms. The omelet was exceptional, as was the coffee and service. We arrived on time into a cool and cloudy Johannesburg.


South African Airways offers a great non-stop service between Hong Kong and and while it’s not the newest product, it’s perfectly adequate for a red-eye long-haul flight. Hong Kong-Johannesburg return in business from US$5,800 per person. www.flysaa.com

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