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Review of South African Airways

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PHOTO: South African Airways Airbus A340 (c) Sery Kim

Safari.” The word viscerally conjures up images of virgin and wild terrains, teeming with big game like lions and elephants. Proudly fierce and untouched, the thrill of a safari hunt has drawn men and women from all over the world for hundreds of years.

Yet, despite a yearning for adventure, a safari trip for too many seems an unobtainable dream. For some reason misconceptions exist about the amount of time involved, the arduousness of the travel and the monumental costs.

Yet South African Airlines offers a shockingly reasonable flight to eradicate these misconceptions and allow the safari dream to become an instant, re-occuring reality.

From Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport as well as New York City’s J.F.K. International Airport, South African Airlines offers a smoothly direct 14 hour flight into South Africa. (The D.C. flight does require a stop in Dakar for re-fueling; however, the NYC flight does not.) A mere $1,000 for an economy class flight -- which easily matches the price of any flight to London, Paris, Madrid or Rome -- opens the gateway into a land of vivid beauty.

I was fortunate enough to experience both the business class service as well as the economy class service on my recent trip to Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in Sabi Sands, South Africa.

While Qatar Airlines leads the field in business class service, South African Airlines has not just sat idly by and watched the competition lap them. With their fleet of Airbus 340’s, South African Airlines has been working diligently to bring them into the field of high-quality business class service.


PHOTO: Business Class seats on South African Airways (c) Sery Kim

First on any business class service list is free alcohol. South African Airlines has a stellar list of South African wine manufacturers, such as the KWV Classic Cape Tawny and the Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2013, to help ease the 14 hour long-haul flight.

This wine element is important because without any access to onboard wi-fi, as well as a very limited selection of onboard entertainment, a 14 hour long-haul can be stultifyingly boring. I did have plenty of work to do so the time swiftly passed, but I would rather have had a chance to binge and catch-up on some great movies and television services. So for those looking for a wide-range of “mind candy” options, I would advise bringing onboard an iPad with movies and tv series already downloaded off of iTunes. Or books … very long books.


PHOTO: Business Class Menus onboard South African Airways (c) Sery Kim

Another important feature of long-haul flying is the ability to sleep. When shut-eye is required, it helps that South African Airways helped create the flat-bed seat experience so the beds are not too uncomfortable. Mine had a slight dip in it at the very awkward spot right above my knees, thus I did quite a bit of fidgeting. Ironically, on my flight back to the States from South Africa, I flew onboard one of the new South African Airways Airbus and because I had an entire row of four seats in economy I ended up having a better “night’s rest.” Go figure!

Naturally, as I evaluate and compare the business class features of South African Airlines with other airline companies, I realize the difficulty for any airline to match the oil-fueled resources of the immaculate Qatar/Emirates/Ethiad airplanes, especially during the turbulent global events which have affected travel to the continent of Africa. Uprisings, an Ebola outbreak and a variety of other factors have driven tourism away and thus eliminated the funds which could be use for further development of these business class amenities. Hopefully, South African Airlines new partnership with Ethiad to code-share routes will continue to gamely bring South African Airlines business class service on-par.

I can only hope the code-sharing routes will also include some advice on the food service. I came onboard full, having eaten a very large breakfast, yet instead of regretting not eating the South African Airlines food I am glad I had already eaten. The food was too much like typical airline food with the warmed over sensation and toughness in the meats. The entire food experience felt stale. Even the cheese plate, with its fruit, felt too much like 5 pm on a Saturday Farmers Market with all the leftover items everyone else had spent the previous nine hours picking over.

The one highlight of the food menu, in both business class and economy class service, was the dessert option of Carrot Cake. Carrot cake, without question, is my favorite dessert and I thought South African Airways presentation of it was light and creamy. While certainly not the best I have ever had in the world -- that distinction goes to my favorite bakeshop Upper Crust Bakery in Austin, Texas -- this dessert was definitively the best dessert I have had on an airplane.


PHOTO: Carrot Cake onboard South African Airways (c) Sery Kim

Perhaps, having spent too much time reviewing five-star restaurants and/or 3-Michelin star restaurants, I was unreasonably dreaming of more gourmet selections. Either way the demands of my picky palate goes, the menu is listed below. Decide for yourself but know that at the bargain-basement price of $1,000 to fly economy from the U.S. to South Africa, the last thing I would want is for South African Airways to charge $100 more for some food! I would rather buy some at the airport than pay any more money to fly!


Veal Loin Carpaccio: With tomato sauce, cherry tomato quarters, black oliver and mixed lettuce liner

Soup of the Day

Seasonal Salad: Offered with a choice of Thousand Island dressing and spicy lemon dressing


Grilled Beef Fillet: Served with roasted fingerling potatoes, Tuscan vegetables and thyme jus

Herbed Chicken Breast: Accompanied by rosemary mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables and demi-glace herb sauce

Grilled Monkfish: Served with turned parsley potatoes, grilled peppers and creamy herbed sauce

Artichoke Ravioli: With asparagus, tomato and parmesan creamy sauce


A selection of fine continental cheese (Wisconsin Blue, Gruyere and Cave Aged Cheddar Cheese) with crackers & preserves, served with South African Cape Tawny


Tiramisu or Carrot Cake


Filled with an assortment of warm fresh breads, served with butter


PHOTO: Wheels-down South African Airways (c) Sery Kim

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