South African Airways Review: Perth to Cape Town (via Johannesburg)

With Toto set on repeat for the 16-hour (including transfers) journey, here’s how flying with South Africa’s national carrier went.

Finally ticking off a much-awaited bucket list destination, I planned a trip to Southern Africa over Easter, visiting Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Johannesburg and Kruger National Park.

Given that I was pretty set on travel dates and going over an extra-long weekend, South African Airways was the most affordable and convenient option.

Here’s how it went.

Flight details:

Route: Perth to Cape Town via Johannesburg
Duration: 10 hours, 50 minutes; 2 hours, 5 minutes
Flight numbers: SA281 and SA307
Aircraft type: Airbus A343 (Perth to Johannesburg) and Airbus A320 (Johannesburg to Cape Town)
Date travelled: 23 March 2018
Class: Economy
Frequent flyer program: Voyager (Can also collect Velocity points)

What did I like?

  • Departure/arrival times: Being able to work a full day without needing to take annual leave for a travel day, I left Sydney on a Virgin Australia flight that had me in Perth with plenty of time to spare before catching my flight to South Africa at 11:45pm. The flight arrived in Johannesburg at 4:35am, allowing me to catch a connection that had me in Cape Town by breakfast. The return flight back to Perth two weeks later had a similar schedule, leaving Johannesburg in the evening and arriving in Perth at noon.
  • Leg room: With a roomy 33.5 inches of legroom combined with my short stature, this nearly 11-hour flight was rather comfortable. (By comparison, most Qantas planes offer 31, Tigerair and Jetstar offer just 29-30 depending on the aircraft.)
  • Comfort of seats: Although an older plane that probably could use a refurbishment, the seats were quite comfortable. They weren’t leather, meaning I didn’t slide in the seat when I wanted to slouch down to sleep, which I often find happens. Combined with the ample legroom, this serial non-sleeper on planes managed to catch a few hours of shut-eye before touching down in Johannesburg.
  • Amenities kit: Along with the standard blanket and pillow that comes with full-service flights, South African Airways also provides a small amenities kit for each passenger. Inside the kit was an eye mask, a pair of socks and a single-use toothbrush with toothpaste.


What didn’t I like?

  • Aged plane: The Airbus A343 was a rather old-looking plane. The seats appeared a bit worn and the panel beneath the window next to me (pictured) was broken. I’m not at all scared of flying; however, the rattling noises the aircraft made upon take off and landing were rather alarming and I could see they would possibly cause panic in those who don’t feel as safe in the sky.
  • Old entertainment system: While there was seat-back, on-demand entertainment, the system was old. The image wasn’t sharp and you needed to be sitting at just the right angle to get the best quality image, which isn’t ideal if you’re someone who prefers to slouch or recline your seat.
  • No direct flights from Sydney: Perth is South African Airways’ only Australian gateway, meaning travellers from Sydney must first fly to Perth with SAA’s code-share partner, Virgin Australia. If travelling beyond Johannesburg, which I was on my outbound journey, this meant the trip was 24 hours and three flights long to reach Cape Town.
  • Food: Now, I know airplane food is never deserving of a hat, but aside from the sides and individually wrapped Tim Tam, I couldn’t finish my meal (pictured). The biscuit and rooibos tea to pair with it after the meal were the saving grace.


Would I use South African Airways again?

I would prefer to fly direct to South Africa from Sydney, and currently that route is only serviced by Qantas. But if that flight isn’t available on the day I need to travel or costs a lot more, I would fly with South African Airways again. And I’d remember to bring snacks.


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