Sunday, August 21, 2011

African Trip Review -- Transit: LHR:CPT


Carrier: South African Airways
Flight #: 9839
Equipment: A330-200
Seat: 50C
Departure: March 2, 2011 - 20:15 / 20:55
Arrival: March 3, 2011 - 10:30 / 10:36
Travel Time: 12 hours 15 minutes / 11 hours 41 minutes
Flight Miles: 5,994

I have never flown South African before. To that end, I did a ton of research before hand and found that the planes that were flying between LHR and CPT were some of the oldest in the SAA fleet, with crap amenities. All the reviews I read indicated no individual entertainment system, just the drop down video display. That makes for a long 12.5 hour red eye. Two days before my trip began a friend JB (not JFB) who is also a travel nerd sent me an article showing that SAA had purchased a couple of old planes from Iberia (my least favorite airline because of the crappy pitch). The Iberia planes also had only ONE entertainment screen per cabin -- the old pull down screen...and those planes had issues with their audio, so they'd just pump the audio for the movie through the PA...no way to sleep on that flight.

Luckily I had the best of the crappy LHR:CPT SAA flights.



You see from above how strange this cabin is. Also, remember, I'm only 6', my knees were JAMMED into the seat in front of me. I was terrified this flight would be torture. 12.5 hours in the air like this... I couldn't handle it. Luckily no one sat next to me, so I could stretch out. The arm rest would fully lift up, but I had plenty of room for my legs and was comfortable enough to sleep. Before nap time, we were served what I would call one of the best meals I had on the entire trip and probably the best meal I've ever had on a plane. I opted for the lamb curry -- amazing. The stew was good about giving us multiple bottles of wine -- he knew he was doing only one service and expecting everyone to sleep. Wine was tasty and it was nice not getting banged by the beverage card multiple times throughout the night.

I don't have a major problem sleeping on a plane, but I knew I needed to get a good amount of sleep in flight as I was landing in CPT in the morning and I had a full day ahead of me. I brought ear plugs, a sleep mask and a travel blanket. Since I had room to spread out, I covered my head with my blanket and slept. I slept well. I woke up and felt about 80% rested...I checked my watch and found that I had 8.5 hours left in the air. Ugh. The cabin was fully dark, the movies were turned off -- it was pretty creepy how dark it was. No one working or watching a personal movie -- everyone was sleeping...no one was even reading. DARK.

I slept off and off for the next 6 hours until the two children across the aisle from me started screaming for a bottle...then the whole plane woke up. Not too shabby since the kids didn't make a sound for about 9 hours in the air...amazing, eh? I do believe those kids make that London:Cape Town trip quite often based on what the parents were saying. The breakfast was a standard pastry, yogurt and juice.

We landed slightly after our scheduled time, but still much earlier than we should have considering our delay out of London. We parked at a remote gate and were shuttled to the terminal. One great thing about South Africa is the new modern airports -- the World Cup really helped improve the infrastructure. The move through the Customs/Immigration was quick and painless. I walked over to the domestic terminal to wait for Mike, who was arriving 60 minutes later from JNB.

I was thoroughly surprised at how great I felt after this flight. I did not need a nap at all, I wanted to get out and see this beautiful city.

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