By Joel Centano
Airline travel maxim number one: Long-haul international flights call for splurging on the upper-class experience. It’s about better food and preferred boarding, of course, but also access to private lounges and the additional comfort that Business- and First-Class seats provide. (And ideally the sleep – read: real sleep – that ensues.) Airline travel maxim number two: International trips are decidedly better when you arrive at your destination fresh-faced and ready to explore.
Staring down 14-hour flights between NYC and Johannesburg for a recent South Africa tour from National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures, I decided to step things up by flying Business Class with South African Airways. Here, three perks that made the transits, and time at Joburg’s O.R. Tambo International, fly by.
Forward-Facing Flat Beds
Personal on-demand entertainment systems and noise-canceling headphones offer plenty of reasons to pull all-nighters, but sleep comes easy with SAA’s fully reclining seats, coupled with cushy mattresses and duvets. Insomniacs and movie marathoners, take note: Built-in chair massagers (aboard Airbus A340-600 aircraft for NYC-to-Joburg flights) make upright seating just as nice. For its 17-hour D.C.-to-Johannesburg flights, the airline recently introduced new Airbus A330-300 wide-body aircraft and an upgraded Premium Business Class, where every seat features direct aisle access.
In vino veritas – especially when said wines are award winners. Each year at its Wine of the Year Awards gala, SAA unveils a curated selection of 24 reds and 24 whites – all produced in South Africa and winnowed from more than 500 submissions – to be served on board and in its lounges. The airline also taps an international panel of experts (this year’s judges included Luvo Ntezo, sommelier at One&Only Cape Town, and wine author Paula Bosch) to honor its favorite vintages. Look for 2017 winners such as Overhex Private Cellar’s Survivor Red Blend Fairtrade 2015.
You’ll find meticulously crafted lattes, swinging wicker chairs, and spacious showers in SAA’s arrivals lounge at O.R. Tambo, the airline’s hub. In Terminal B, the newly refurbished VIA Lounge (for domestic departures) features a revolving gallery of local art and a Junior Pilot kids’ room. Before returning home, allow ample time to kick back in SAA’s premium departure lounge in Terminal A. Special touches include a quiet room lined with plush recliners – the ideal spot for reflecting on your time in South Africa and sipping more of those award-winning wines.
South African Airways operates daily nonstop flights from New York-JFK to Johannesburg, along with nonstop service from Washington, D.C.-Dulles to Accra, Ghana, or Dakar, Senegal, with continued service to Johannesburg.