We had a nice 8 hour overnight flight to Sao Paulo on an American Airlines Boeing 777-300 jet from Miami. We had Business Class seats seats 3D and 3K (2 adjacent aisle seats in the center section of the 1 X 2 X1 configuration). While the seats were very comfortable and reclined to a full lie-flat configuration, the food was rather bland, and served all together as one course, wtih service only so-so.
Not a big problem; we would rather have the seat comfort than the midnight meal aboard, and we had eaten in the Flagship Lounge before the flight. The only odd thing about this seat configuration was the plug for the Bose headsets they supply. You think it would be in the side control panel as there is a 3 pin plug in there, but that’s for video cables, and the actual plug is inside the mirror cabinet; quite a strange place to put it, especially when the plane is dark inside trying to find it.
Steve (DOS) and I were both able to sleep a good five hours on the flight down to Sao Paulo, skipping the morning breakfast meal aboard the flight. We arrived into Sao Paulo around 8:30am local time, with one hour time change (Atlantic time – one hour ahead). Since we were in transit and had a nine hour layover, we did not need to clear customs, as we technically were not in Brazil. The only snag we had however, was we did not have our onward boarding passes to Johannesburg as they were not available when we checked in Miami as we were flying on a different carrier to Johannesburg.
Fortunately we found an American Airlines representative that ushered us to the security lane, and after he filled out some forms, we went thru security and were on our way thru the international connections terminal. Our first stop was the LATAM Airlines lounge, as our next segment was ticketed on LATAM, even though it was operated by South African Airlines. While we thought it would be a simple thing to print, it was not, and the barely speaking English staff there said we had to go to the Star Alliance Lounge instead and get it printed by South African Airlines.
So our next stop was to the Star Alliance Lounge, which was fortunately nearby in this large Sao Paulo Airport. We again had to explain the ticketing situation upon entry, after first being told to go back to LATAM for the boarding pass. Fortunately we had our itinerary which showed ‘Operated by South African Airlines’, Business class seats 2C and D, so we were able to use the lounge and had breakfast there.
At this early hour of the morning, the lounge was virtually empty, compared to later in the evening when it was a jam-packed zoo. We spoke with a South African representative who was just leaving, and asked us to come back at 3pm for our boarding passes, or alternatively go to the gate around 4:45pm to get them for our 6pm flight to Johannesburg.
Here are a few photos from the Star Alliance Lounge (SA) in Johannesburg in the morning (uncrowded) hours.
After having breakfast in the SA Lounge, we headed to the airport hotel we had reserved for our long layover. Unlike other airports that have a hotel onsite, but pre-security, the TRYP Hotel is actually inside security and the international terminal. Because of it’s secure location, it is only available to passengers with international connections; i.e. those who came in on an international flight and are leaving on an international flight, or those originating on an international same-day flight. It’s a pretty cool concept, and unlike the mini-suites at some terminals, this is actually a full service hotel with restaurant, bar area, and garden courtyard. Here are a couple photos of the lobby as I waited for DOS to check us in for our ‘six hour’ stay, followed by the restaurant and bar area, both located just thru the lobby are going towards the guest rooms. At this early hour of 9am there were no lines at checkin, and the restaurant and bar were empty. This would change considerably later in the day when we checked out and the public areas and checkin were quite busy. For now though, all we wanted was a few hours shut-eye as we headed too our room.
The hotel actually had quite a few rooms, and it was a bit of a walk to our room. The hallways were very wide (wider than the rooms!), and along the way we passed the garden outdoor courtyard, which our room overlooked.
As expected, the rooms are tiny, but still had 2 twin beds, a private bath and shower, phone, and TV. Best of all they were soundproof, and were perfect for what we wanted; a shower and a few hours nap.
We checked out of the hotel around 3:30pm, and headed back to the Star Alliance Lounge. (We had pre-paid at check-in for a six hour stay. You pay by increments of 3 hour stays.)
Compared to the quiet and tranquility of the morning, the afternoon SA Lounge was jam-packed, noisy, and I think we got the last two seats in the over-crowded lounge. The Lounge is for all Business and First Class customers flying on one of the Star Alliance Airlines, including those with premium status, and it was way too busy.
We just missed the South African Airline rep, so we would have to get to the gate a bit early to get our boarding passes. As the SA Lounge was so overcrowded, we went to the nearby American Airlines Lounge. Here is DOS rushing to the exit.
While we weren’t flying on a Oneworld Carrier this segment to Johannesburg, I have an Admiral’s Club membership, so we went to the American Airlines Lounge where we were experienced a much quieter and lounge with perhaps 20 people in the whole AA lounge compared to what seemed like hundreds in the SA Lounge. Anyway, we got settled for an hour or so, had some food and drink, and caught up on some last minute emails and Facebook posts.
We then headed to the gate area around 4:45pm and got our boarding passes from the same South African Airlines rep we had seen earlier in the day. The flight to Johannesburg was running a half hour late or so, so I had a personal pizza from the Pizza Hut in the boarding area, in case I didn’t like the food aboard. (I’m getting ahead of the story, but there was no need to worry – the food on South African Airlines was exceptional!)
Here’s a photo of our flight crew who were also waiting in the boarding area for the slightly delayed flight to Johannesburg.
Once it was time for boarding, we boarded thru the left-most of the two gates used 318 for Business Class, and 317 for Coach. The boarding was quite orderly, and we were soon getting settled into our seats in row two. Unlike the seating on American Airlines, South African utilized a traditional 2 X 2 X 2 seating in Business, with several feet of legroom, and a comfortable seat which reclined to a full flat position. We were in the center section two seats, which was nice as we both had aisle access.
The Business Class section was made up of 3 rows in our Front section of the plane, separated by the galley/restrooms and second entrance door where there was another 3 rows of Business behind that. We much preferred the quiet from section of Business Class, as it seemed more private, and you didn’t have everyone boarding the plane walking past you. Since South African Airlines only offers Business and Coach, the Business Class is really First Class, though still named Business Class. While the two seat side-by-side configuration was great for us, if one were traveling solo they may not like that as there isn’t a privacy divider between the seats, so it’s not private like the new suites on American and others. On this flight, it seemed like everyone was traveling with someone so that wasn’t an issue at all. The Purser even took a couple photos of us prior to pushing back.
As we would find out on our flight on this Airbus 330-200 series, the Business Class on South African was just about the best service we have ever had, either in First or Business on other airlines. We had 3 dedicated Flight Attendants for our small three row section of 18 seats, and the service was impeccable, friendly, and genuine. The meals served were outstanding both in quality and quantity, and the South African wines served were very nice as well. DOS even had a soup course which he loved! The courses were served individually, and the Flight Attendants were only so happy to serve you; genuinely not out of obligation. Truly gracious service fit for royalty!
I watched a few scenes from “The Greatest Showman” while I had my dinner; my new favorite movie. I’ve see it a couple times on flights, but never on the big screen of the movie theater. I love the story, and especially the music; it’s a great feel-good story, and the music will have you dancing along in your seat!
After the meal though, it was time to dose off for a few hours sleep. I put my Breathe Right nasal strip on my nose to help me breathe better (and hopefully not snore!), and DOS and I soon drifted off to sleep in our lie-flat seats.
After a good night’s rest, DOS and I both had breakfast shortly before landing in Johannesburg. The flight seemed a bit longer than the one to Sao Paulo, but it was quite comfortable, with only a slight bit of turbulence as we approached Johannesburg.
At this point, all I can say is WOW! We made it to Johannesburg, and would soon be on our way to our safari and wine adventure, but with a first couple night’s stay in J’berg. We were met in Johannesburg by our pre-arranged driver Warren, and as our baggage was Priority tagged, we were soon on our way. I took just this single photo as we departed the airport, and later the bellman took our photo on arrival to the hotel and helped us with all our luggage. It was long trip over, but it’s definitely worth it once you get there. DOS and I checked into the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, and our South Africa adventure officially begins! Welcome to South Africa!