Africa Aviation Europe Food Travel

Traveling to South Africa – South African Airways and Federal Air

This is part one of my trip to South Africa, 2013. For the complete series, please see below:

Traveling to South Africa – South African Airways and Federal Air
Singita Ebony – The Lodge
Singita Ebony – Day to Night
Singita Sweni – The Lodge
Singita Sweni – Day to Night
Cape Grace
Cape Town – The Peninsula Tour and The Boat House
Cape Town – City and Winelands Tour
Cape Town – V&A Waterfront, Test Kitchen, Fork and Table Mountain
24 Hours in Istanbul

Going to Africa has always seemed very daunting to me because of the incredibly long travel time, especially from California. We finally decided to take the plunge and I will confirm the obvious now – yes, if you’re coming from the US, the travel time will be long. The two most likely options available to us were to either go to DC or New York and take a very long direct flight to Johannesburg from there, or to transit through Europe. In the end, we decided to go through Europe in order to arrive in the morning in Johannesburg and transfer to our safari lodge on the same day.

All right…here goes the long saga. We decided to do our layover in London, and took the afternoon United flight over.

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Nothing particularly unusual about the flight and I’ve flown United many many times by now overseas so it’s become almost routine. My one piece of feedback is that I wish they’d change up their ice cream sundae dessert! They’ve had it forever.

We landed in Heathrow after about 11 hours. We had quite a long layover in London, something like 12 hours, so of course we wanted to head into the city!  Star Alliance has a decent arrivals lounge in Heathrow where you can grab a shower and some food. We had some quick breakfast snacks and then dropped off our bags and headed off for the Tube. We arrived in Knightsbridge around 10 AM and from there went to some of our favorite spots.

First off I dragged Mr. Feather to do some shopping – as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect leather jacket. I tried on a few and finally found my perfect one at Harvey Nichols (hint: it wasn’t the Rick Owens one). Here’s one of options I tried at Harrods, if you go in the morning the crowds are much less insane.

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After a few hours of shopping and wandering around Knightsbridge, it was time to meet one of our friends for lunch at one of our favorite eating spots in London – The Wolseley! The restaurant was a very pleasant walk away and we chose to amble slowly through Hyde Park. The weather was amazing – one of those perfect days when everybody is outside and out of the office by 4 having drinks.

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This is my favorite dish at The Wolseley – the kedgeree. I get this literally every time we come to London, I’ve definitely eaten it over ten times and probably closer to twenty. It’s amazing – a rice pilaf with smoked fish, a poached and a light curry cream powder. So, so good. If you are in London you must go to The Wolseley and try this dish (reservations highly recommended!).

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After a long lunch with our friend we ambled back over to the Knightsbridge side so I could get pick up my purchases. We had a coffee then headed back to the airport…bye for now, London!

Back in Heathrow we headed to the Star Alliance lounge to wind down and take a shower. The lounge was actually better than I thought and the showers were decent (but not the greatest). To my surprise they actually had an afternoon tea offering on the ala carte menu though the scones left something to be desired. At least the lemon curd was decent.

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From the lounge, we made our way over to our flight to Johannesburg – on South African Airways. Hooray, we’re going to Africa! It was my first time ever flying this airline and overall I had a very good impression and would fly them again.

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I’ve been told that currently, SAA flies most routes with two levels of service, versus three. We flew their version of business which had a complete lie flat seat. I found the seat very comfortable, it was a little older and there were some beat up areas (like the control for the seats) but overall quite good.

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The service was pretty good on our flight. I would say above US based airlines (sadly I always rank them last) and below the levels of Asian and premium European carriers. It was a little bit inconsistent and I would say that the service levels were more based on specific individuals than as a whole. That being said I was never unhappy with the service at any moment.

Where I felt South African was quite strong was it’s food! It was all very good and there was a nice selection of wines as well. A quick snap of the menu.

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Some small appetizers that were served before the meal selections.

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My chosen appetizer, a corn soup which I saw on the menu throughout Africa.

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My husband’s main course, a smoked duck!

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And my main course – the fish I believe was tilapia with gnocchi on the side.

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And of course the desserts! Here was mine, a white chocolate and pineapple “drum”.

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And a chocolate marble cheesecake.

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After a very long and satisfying meal I watched a few movies (SAA had a very good entertainment selection so no worries there) and then went to sleep. The flight was around 11 hours and we landed in Johannesburg in the early morning. By this point remember, we had already spent more than 30 hours in transit, and 22 hours in the air!

If you’re going to be flying into Kruger Park, you will have to take at least one more flight from Johannesburg Airport (JNB). These flights are quite short but it’s still an extra leg of travel. We took Federal Air which I would recommend – they actually had a representative that was at the entrance when we disembarked, that met us and escorted us to the separate free standing Federal Air terminal (about a 10 minute drive away from JNB).

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At the terminal entrance, Federal Air staff grabbed our luggage and labeled all our bags. I was getting excited at this point! All our bags were soft sided backpacks and duffels – on these small planes they require no hard sided luggage and there are also strict weight requirements (about ~50 lbs per person).

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The terminal itself was really nice, free wi-fi and great snacks, sandwiches and drinks. There were indoor and outdoor seating areas as well.

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After an hour or so, it was finally time to board our plane. I have to admit that small planes always make me nervous – little did I know however that this would not be the smallest plane on our trip!

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What I loved was looking out the window and seeing the beautiful landscape.

plane view sabi sands

After about half an hour, we landed on a single airstrip which belonged to our lodge and the first thing I saw was this little building – I know some of you may recognize the name – Singita.

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Our ranger/tracker came to meet us on the runway and loaded our bags into the vehicle. After about 40 hours of travel, my posture was definitely suffering!

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But all the tired feelings went away as we zipped away in the car towards our lodge. We waved bye bye to the plane, until next time!

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Well there it is…my nearly 40 hours long travel journey to South Africa from San Francisco. It was an incredibly long journey but really as soon as we landed in Sabi Sand and could smell the air and see our amazing surroundings, it was worth it. I can’t wait to share our time on safari with you, and thanks for reading along!

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  • Sonya
    September 12, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Wow. We are lucky to live right now in Zurich where it is a much shorter flight. Cannot wait to read more .

  • Kam
    September 12, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I can’t wait to read more about your trip to South Africa. It’s on my bucket list!

    Kam | A Married Couple & Their Travels

  • Tabitha
    September 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Oh, posh seats! I love the Wolseley, its my favourite London spot. I see you almost have the same problem as me with long arms on jackets etc, it drives me bonkers, they all come down to my mid fingers – much lower than on you. You look amazing!

    • Katherine
      September 12, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Yes I always have long arms on jackets, I’ve learned to live with it usually unless it really drives me crazy and then I get them hemmed

  • Tabitha
    September 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

    40 hours ———————————oh Lordy , I am too old for that now.

  • Marcela
    September 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I really love this kind of posts you do! It is great to see your personal opinions and all the amazing photos! I loved the sky on your last photo!

    Thank you for sharing!

  • christinebrightside
    September 12, 2013 at 11:33 am

    My husband flies to South Africa several times a year due to business, and he hates flying with South African. He rather flies up (to Frankfurt) and down again to fly with Lufthansa instead. From Munich, it is a 11 hours flight but arriving in the same time zone makes it easier overall. He is always complaining when he cannot manage a stopover with Lufthansa and needs to take a direct flight via South African – his experience is that the planes are mostly quite old and “out of fashion”, he often had something wrecked at his seat, controller or entertainment system. Once the whole system by his seat was inactive, the plane over-booked, no spare seat, he was so mad when he arrived back home (well what to do 11 hours long when you cannot sleep and have read every single magazine onboard). He’s actually leaving again for South Africa next week, and will fly via Frankfurt so he can fly with Lufthansa 😉

    • Katherine
      September 12, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      OMG! What a warning! Yes I did notice the older seats as I mentioned…luckily for us nothing else was an issue though! I’ve been thinking about taking Lufthansa the next time we go, would love to maybe try and get a little trip to Munich in there 🙂

      • Christine Brightside
        September 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

        Yeah, Munich is defo worth a visit ;-)))

        • Christine Brightside
          September 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

          …but the LH lounges are not as great as in Frankfurt though

          • Katherine
            September 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

            Ah okay! I’ve heard that too, but Munich is so charming to spend a few days in!

      • Christine Brightside
        September 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

        …but the LH lounges are not as great as in Frankfurt though

  • Joanna
    September 12, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I’m so, so excited to read about your trip!

  • Anonymous
    September 12, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Gripping read!

  • Ella Pretty Blog
    September 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I always love reading your travel posts with all the insider glimpses – seeing your seats & what you ate on the plane – so neat!

    Also liked the Kedgeree recommendation – will definitely try it when we’re next in London.

    I’m currently planning a December trip to Manila…and the flight options are mind-boggling LOL! Who do I fly and where should I transit through – tough decisions. Right now I’m leaning towards either Cathay Pacific or Etihaad all the way.

    Wish you had visited Manila so I had a short cut guide to traveling there LOL!

    • Katherine
      September 13, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Hi Ella yes please get the Kedgeree! When are you in London? If you want to go to The Wolseley try and make reservations in advance, maybe your concierge can make them for you.

      Cathay or Etihad both sound like good options….have a blast there!!

  • candace | yogabycandace
    September 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Ah this is so awesome! Africa is on my bucket list, and I cannot wait to read more about your adventure and see pictures!!

  • ahhhsoneo
    September 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    oh my gosh! I’m going to south africa on Monday!! Well actually, I’m going to Botswana, which is right next door, but we have to fly through Johannesburg. I’m from there and have flown on SAA so many times, but unfortunately in Economy:( But I’m usually just so excited to go see my family that I don’t really care how I get there. I’m so excited that you had the opportunity to go to Africa. I feel like most people’s opinions and stereotypes regarding southern Africa are turned upside down when they visit.

    • Katherine
      September 13, 2013 at 9:21 am

      Oh so you are from Botswana…lucky you!! I’ve heard so many amazing things about the country and would love to visit one day. Safe travels!

  • Adele
    September 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Long travel but well worth it. We’ve done a couple of safaris & they rank in my top holidays! Can’t wait to hear the next installments!
    Happy Friday Katherine xoxo
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/

  • Little Parisienne
    September 13, 2013 at 5:20 am

    I cannot wait to read more!! So gripping!

  • Lucy
    September 13, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Hi Katherine! As an inexperienced international traveler. I’m interested to know how you book your wonderful trips! When you book international travel, do you go through a travel agent, through the airline directly or book online through sites like expedia, orbitz, etc? I’m planning a trip to Taiwan in a few months and would like to know what you’d recommend. Thanks!!

    • Katherine
      September 13, 2013 at 9:20 am

      Hi Lucy, we usually go through the airline directly, we get decent service with bookings as we have status with United/AA. I find that airline website prices these days are very comparable to Kayak, etc. I might use Kayak to figure out the best itinerary for yourself and then book directly.

      • Lucy
        September 13, 2013 at 10:45 am

        Thanks for the advice!! Much appreciate it.

  • chanello
    September 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Did you ALSO pick up a B-moto? lol. they do size sooo small.

    Your trip is very inspiring. Wish I could travel for long periods of time. Living vicariously through u.

    • Katherine
      September 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      Yes! I’ll email you!

  • Belen
    September 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I notice that you travel first class a lot. Do you have any tips on how to get upgraded or purchase affordable first class flights? I just started flying a lot for work and have finally gained some airline and hotel status, but I am sure I am not taking full advantage of the programs because I don’t even know what’s available.
    Thanks!

    • Katherine
      September 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Hey Belen – I just try and stay with a single program for flights and hotels and accumulate from there. Honestly getting upgraded in my experience is all about your level of status and my market (SFO) is super congested so even being a 1K on United doesn’t get you upgraded a lot of the time. If you’re in a less busy market for your airline, your chances can be much better.

      No trick for affordable flights, just keep an eye on prices and book when we can!

  • Vagabond Girl
    September 14, 2013 at 12:55 am

    I usually hear horrifying stories of when people take long flights with transit stops where the flight is tiring, and the wait is too short to go somewhere but too long to just sit in the airport (especially if you don’t have access to the lounge!). Luckily I haven’t had to go anywhere which required transit flights yet since I live in Hong Kong and so far everywhere I’ve been to has been accessible via direct flights but if I ever do need to do transit I sure hope I do it in style like you! Great post, can’t wait to read the next one!
    xx Vagabond Girl

    http://thevagabondstale.blogspot.com

    • Katherine
      September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      It was a VERY long day and I think I would have thought differently about it had my husband not been there to hang out with…in the future regardless I think we might just do a longer stop, at least a night 🙂 It was still fun though, you are right!

  • Jan P
    September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    My goodness! What lengthy travel! The plate at the Wolesley looks amazing!! I am really looking forward to reading about your safari / South Africa trip details. 🙂

  • Jan P
    September 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Oh, and recommended soft-sided luggage? I’d like to know what you were able to pack for the trip. 🙂

    • Katherine
      September 15, 2013 at 9:22 am

      The most usual bags were my husband’s old bags from the military but I know you can’t buy those! I did have one that was very useful and will hopefully be able to put together a post later to help with packing/going to Africa!

  • diana
    September 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    hi kat
    i wanted to ask about how to dress for the weather now in S.A. Im headed there in 2 weeks and thought I might still need sweaters looking at the weather but you seem to be in shorts and a cami so I wasnt sure if i have it all wrong! Any advice would be much appreciated!
    Di

    • Katherine
      September 15, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Hi Diana! It depends where you are going in SA, it was hot in Kruger when we went (but still chilly in the mornings) and in Capetown it was a bit chillier – jacket and t-shirt or sweater kind of weather. It does vary throughout the day so I would really advise layers layers layers! And yes if you’re going to Kruger bring at least one light dress/pair of shorts in case it is hot!

  • Elna
    September 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Cant wait for the next installment. We have been planning to go to SA for the longest time but have to save for a major project 🙂

  • Diva In Me
    September 16, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for sharing your South Africa travel pictures with us. I definitely like how you travel with style and of course, comfort come first. South Africa is definitely ine my To-Visit-List.

  • candace
    September 16, 2013 at 11:47 am

    looking forward to hearing (reading) about the rest of your safari. thank you for the travel tips. so informative.

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    September 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    WHOA! I don’t think I can deal with such long flights anymore. That’ll just kill me. A few months back when you mentioned a quick stopover, I had no idea how quick it was. Let’s catch up next time when you have more than just a few hours. I’ve been to the Wolseley a number of times but never tried their kedgeree. Will do next time.

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