Trip Report: South African Airways (A330-300) Business IAD-ACC

The Details

  • Flight: SA210
  • Aircraft: A330-300
  • Class: Business
  • Seat: 2A
  • Route: Washington Dulles International (IAD)-Accra Kotoka International (ACC)
  • Distance: 5,296miles
  • Duration: 14hr 10min
  • Departure: 11:15PM (5hr 6min delay)
  • Arrival: 1:04PM

The Preflight

This trip was going to be the very first time that I would be to Africa and I could not have been more excited to take this flight. My connecting flight from San Diego to Washington Dulles aboard a United Airlines B737-900ER got in at about 3:40PM which gave me less than an hour to connect to this flight.

Since my SAN-IAD flight gate was at gate D12, I had to hustle my way over to the B concourses which took about 30 minutes.

Once I got to the gate, agents informed me that I had to undergo a document check and re-print the boarding pass that had been issued in San Diego. Had I had enough time to visit a lounge, I would have had access to the Turkish Airlines Lounge near gate B37.

Our A330-300, registration ZS-SXJ, was leased to South African Airways and delivered new in 2016.

Boarding began promptly at 4:30PM, one hour and 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 5:40PM local time.

This plane featured the Thompson Vantage XL seat, which is South African Airways newest business class seat. Each seat features 45″ of pitch and is 78″ long when completely lie-flat. The seats were a generous 24″ wide as well. Since the seats are staggered, the even numbered rows were closer to the window while odd numbered rows were closer to the aisle. I was seated in 2A.

This was a very premium heavy aircraft with a total of 46 business class seats spread across 12 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The first eight rows of business class were between the first and second pair of doors. Behind door 2 was a mini-cabin of 16 business class seats. In addition, there were 203 economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.

The crisp IFE screen was massive at 18″. Unfortunately, SAA does not offer gate-to-gate IFE and it was disabled while we were on the ground. Next to the screen was a USB port.

Below the IFE screen was the footwell which I found to be restrictive.

There was a large work space next to each seat. The 21″ tray table popped out from under the work space. Next to the tray table release button were some seat buttons and a reading light button.

SAA also installed a small mirror which flipped up from the armrest. The IFE remote was located in this area.

Additional seat features included a touch screen seat control, reading light, universal power outlet, audio socket, and another USB port. There was also a storage space and a water bottle holder.

Once I settled into my seat, flight attendants came through the cabin with some predeparture beverages. I had a glass of sparkling wine. Other choices were orange juice or water.

Just as we were about to pushback, a flash thunderstorm appeared over Dulles International Airport and all traffic ground to a halt. The captain came over the intercom to inform us that ATC had decided to ground all aircraft for the time being. They did not have an estimation on how long the weather delay would be.

Once we were getting close to an hour at the gate with the doors closed other passengers began to get rowdy. Flight attendants turned on the IFE entertainment in an effort to appease them.

We finally pushed back about two hours after our scheduled departure time at 7:30PM. While we were taxiing to the runway there were a few loud bangs and our plane came to a sudden stop. The captain came over the intercom again and announced that there was a problem with the brakes… Great. We were going to have to return to the gate and have the maintenance crew check out the plane.

By this time, some passengers became very loud and angry. One passenger made it all the way to the front of the plane to yell at the flight attendants, stating that she was both hungry and thirsty. I must give props to the purser who quickly defused the situation by announcing they would come through the cabin with some water. He was also going to ask the captain if they could begin the dinner service on the ground.

The maintenance crew eventually got onto the plane around 8PM and walked back and forth between the cockpit and jet bridge a few times.

Once the captain gave his OK to begin serving food on the ground, flight attendants came through the business class cabin and set-up tablecloths. No menus were distributed and no hot towels were offered. Appetizer options included “salmon”, “salad”, or “soup”. By this time it was 8:54PM, a full four hours since we had boarded.

The smoked salmon was very tasty and flavorful. Unfortunately, no bread was offered. I also asked the flight attendants if I could have something to drink. They replied that the only drink option available at this time was water.

The purser also passed through the cabin asking each passenger what they would like to have for their main dish. Options included “beef”, “fish”, or “risotto”.

I chose the “risotto” which was surprisingly delicious with shaved black truffle and sundried tomatoes.

For dessert, there was a choice of key lime pie, strawberry cake, or a cheese plate. I went with the cheese plate which was fairly basic.

Once dinner service was completed, the captain announced some good news at 10:59PM. The maintenance crew had fixed the problem with the brakes and we had been given clearance for departure. Finally, after over five hours, we were on our way to Ghana.

After watching the flight map for a while, I decided to watch Black Panther which was fun.

Since dinner had already been served, the crew came through the cabin with some chocolates once we reached cruising altitude. There was also a full beverage service.

Once I finished Black Panther, I asked for the crew to set up my bed. I appreciated the fact that SAA offers a turndown service. There was a mattress pad, blanket, and pillow which were all very comfortable.

I found the foot well fairly restrictive. Laying supine on my back, I was unable to move my feet at all. Despite the restricted foot well, I managed to sleep well for almost the entire flight.

I awoke with about two hours left in the flight. The views of the Atlantic Ocean were stunning.

Breakfast was served very shortly afterwards. The three choices were egg frittata, oatmeal, or French toast. I went with the egg frittata which was served with two goat breakfast sausages, roasted mushrooms, and some potatoes. A bread basket was also offered which included croissants and muffins. There was also a side of plain Greek yogurt. I have to say this breakfast was very hearty and yummy. It was all washed down with an excellent black coffee.

As we approached Accra we flew over the lush Ghanaian forestland and some villages.

On approach, we had some great views of Accra.

After landing, we taxied to a remote stand and deplaned via air stairs. There was no dedicated business class bus and we waited on the hot tarmac until the bus was full. Our flight ended up being five hours and 40 minutes late.

Thanks for the ride!

I must say that I was glad to get off this plane. The thunderstorm followed by a mechanical issue made the entire experience including dining on the ground an unfortunate but unique experience. What South African Airways did well was the seat, food, and service. I hope to be able to fly them again!

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