Route, courtesy of www.gcmap.com
Late in 2013, my wife and I were considering when to take our next trip to South Africa to visit the family. As it happened, there was an error fare giving a very good price (about £300, departing Dublin, arriving Paris, via Seychelles, on Etihad - my brother in law and wife took advantage of this for a trip a few weeks later). After some consideration, we decided against this, mainly due to the numerous connections that the children would be subjected to. Given that we were now interested in booking something for the February half term, we looked on more direct routes and found a good price on Lufthansa, £430 each to Johannesburg. We realised that now in the UK there are fines for parents who take their children out of school for a holiday, so the plan was that my wife and daughter would fly out one weekend, with my son Matthew and I staying at home until the following Thursday, when we would fly out to join them. We'd spend the week together, and all fly back the following weekend. Coincidently, Matthew was "ill" on the Thursday and Friday, so he couldn't attend school.
The day before my wife and daughter's departure, we drove to London to my wife's brother's house, and stayed the night with them, and the following day we drive to Heathrow. The travellers departed, and Matthew and I went to Myrtle Ave to watch planes for a while. We lasted about 5 minutes before I was told it was too cold, and we went to McDonalds for lunch, before heading back to Norwich.
The day to depart was upon us, the first time I would fly alone with my son. We left home in the morning, had lunch at the KFC at South Mimms services, and arrived at the Long Stay in good time. I'd booked this during a Winter Off-Peak sale, so parking for 10 days cost only about £30, considerably less than the regular price of £22 per day. The shuttle bus to Terminal 1 took a few minutes to arrive, but as we were waiting under the approach path it was ok ;) Bag drop off was easy and painless after I'd checked in online, and we were through security, despite taking some time as I had my camera, video camera, two smartphones and two Android tablets, with all their associated cables and chargers.
First stop after security was to visit the play area. This is an enclosed area, actually two areas depending on age, with a full time staff member checking children in and out of the only entrance, with some seats for parents. A very good idea!
We then had a look along the whole terminal, but the only window I could see was a single one in Cafe Nero, which was already taken. We had a juice each anyway, with half a view.
Finally our boarding gate appeared on the FIDS, so we could make our way down the pier to the holding area. We were invited to board first, with the premium passengers, presumably because of Matthew's age. He was very well behaved in the holding area, playing a game on one of the tablets.
Out of the window at our plane
The crew welcomed us, and gave Matthew a colouring and puzzle book and pencils, and we made our way to our seats. Matthew had the window, and I the middle.
View from the window
Plenty of legroom
Actually, not so much!
The taxi to the active runway, 27R, was surprisingly quick, and the take off was like a rocket. We climbed and turned around to the left, to head towards the European mainland. The crew readied the service, and distributed the snack. As with my last Lufthansa flight, they gave out the food to everyone, before starting again with the drinks. This time we were given a chicken and feta sandwich.
What is a Lufthansa flight without a Warsteiner?
Matthew didn't want his sandwich, so I kept it for later. (It was eventually eaten the next day)
Matthew chose juice
The short flight was drawing to a close by now, and it was dark outside. The captain turned on the seatbelt lights, and the cabin lights were dimmed. Of course, Matthew chose this time to let me know that he needed a wee. Of course, we couldn't do anything except hold on and try distraction, so we watched everything outside the window, lights, cars on the roads, buildings and other aeroplanes once we'd touched down. We landed on the new runway and began the long taxi to the stand. At least we were on a gate position. As soon as the seatbelt lights were extinguished, we got up and made our way through the throngs of people in the aisle to the rear toilet to relieve Matthew's bladder, and then disembarked as pretty much everyone had already left the aircraft.
Matt posing in front of our plane
We followed the signs for our next gate, it was one of the Z gates so we had to take the little train along. After getting off this, we walked for what seemed like ages along the Z-gate corridor, until we found a little play area, where Matt spent some enjoyable minutes climbing and generally letting off steam.
View out of the play area window
After some time playing, we went into the bathroom and Matt changed into his pjamas "onesie" - makes it so much easier on board.
Our aircraft at gate
Boarding was easy, and we were invited to be amongst the first to board, as Matt was young enough. We had to make our way all the way down the aircraft to the very back - the penultimate row. We settled in for the long journey. I explained to Matt how the TV worked, I think this was his highlight - unlimited TV watching!
Matt watching cartoons on the TV
Matt's onesie, and Angel Bear. Plenty of legroom!
View forward on boarding
Across the wide body
One of the three external cameras you could choose to view
Out of the window - by now it was raining
Eventually boarding was complete, and doors closed (I assume, as we were too far away to see). Pushback was slow, and we eventually rumpled away to take off on the perpendicular runway (I forget its designation). All this time Matt was engrossed in the cartoons, even though there were only 2x 90 minute collections and a movie - Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 - that he wanted to watch.
Soon it was dinner time, and Matt's children's meal arrived first, as one of the special meals. Not being too hungry, and also quite fussy (as I was at his age) he only ate the bread roll and drank the juice. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture, but you can see the edge of his, next to mine - which was surprisingly tasty, chicken in mushroom sauce with rice and peas, a salad, bread, and an apple cake.
Eventually around 1am (midnight UK time) Matt went to sleep - very late, but as he was tired he slept well enough in the seat. He was only woken by the breakfast service, again his was first.
The children's breakfast consisted of a pancake with fruit and jam, a roll with Nutella, and a strawberry yoghurt mousse in the shape of a butterfly with waffle wings and Smarties. Matt only ate the Smarties. I'd told him before about hot days and on aeroplanes, you must drink lots, so he did drink his juice. The crew kindly brought a cup of milk as well for him. My breakfast was ok, omelette with potatoes, spinach and a sausage.
Airborne over Africa
After clearing away the breakfast things, there was just a short while until descent started. Matt watching the same cartoons again. There was a smooth landing, and we taxied to the gate for disembarking. This is where the Whalejet fails - it was a good 20 minutes before we at the back even started moving to leave the aircraft. Naturally small bladders were suffering, so we found respite in a WC before heading to passport control.
Matt looking at our plane
On our way to the exit
As Matt is a dual national, we could use the South Africans passport queue, which was smaller and moved quicker than the International Visitors one. Our bags arrived, and we made our way out, to the Gautrain station. More details can be found here: http://www.signol.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/2014-02-south-africa-visit.html
After a few pleasant days in Gauteng, it was time to head down towards Durban. This flight we would all be travelling together, myself, Tammy, Matthew, Amy, Granny and Grandpa. The cheapest by some margin was Kulula, so it was booked. For those that don't know, Kulula is a brand owned by Comair, who also operate as a British Airways franchise - they don't fly under their own name. Kulula is the LCC brand, with BOB and extra fees for selecting seats, though at ZAR35 (GBP2 per seat) this was a no brainer! Hold luggage is included, however they are more strict about the 20kg limit than BA.
There wasn't enough room for everyone in the car, so Tammy and Grandpa took the Gautrain, meeting the rest of us at the airport. After a quick lunch of Nandos, we checked in easily and passed security in time to join the boarding line. We had 2 rows of 3, window, middle and aisle, in front of each other.
The BOB menu
Matt looking at the safety card
Obligatory legroom shot
Out of the window
Amy with her lollipop for takeoff, under strict instruction not to suck it until we got to the runway
Not much can really be said about the flight itself. It was short, under an hour, and cloudy, so no views. The crew did a BOB run in the short cruise, where we bought some juice and chocolate eggs. Landing was smooth, and we soon arrived into King Shaka International Airport.
On the way to the airport, Tammy and Granny took out hire car to try and find a part for a sewing machine, and Grandpa took myself and the children straight to the airport. We were delayed in the roadworks at the new junction of the N2 and M19 Umgeni Rd, though as we'd left in plenty of time we still had 90 minutes before departure. Though we still waited for Tammy and Granny! They eventually arrived with an hour before departure, so we headed straight to the bag drop, said our goodbyes, and passed through security.
By this time boarding was well under way, and it was a full flight. A stewardess was asking people to gate check all hand luggage, but I pleaded my case that our soft bag was squashable, and also had the children's toys and books in. I was allowed to keep it, as long as it would fit (in any case, it could go under one of the chilren's seats).
Matt reading the safety card again
Forward view on boarding
We were right at the back of the plane
Note the WiFi dome on the fuselage roof and advert on the engine
The smallest legroom of any South African airline, not helped with the sippee cup!
Another easy flight, again short. Take off was powerful, the children fine with their lollipops. Another overcast day meant there were no views of the Drakensberg mountains today.
Starting the service
We brought our own IFE for the children
When the stewardess arrived at our row, I asked what fruit juice they had. "Mango of course!" I bought a couple for the children.
Drinking fresh mango juice
Everyone on the busses
On the bus
I couldn't see Léonard as we left the domestic arrivals, but we'd said we'd have a bite to eat at the Spur on the mezzanine level. Just walking along someone asked if I was Rob - great to finally meet you Léonard! We headed first of all to the Lufthansa desks to check in, which was a relatively painless operation, despite the fact that we were travelling on two separate tickets. At least we had checked in online the previous day, so we knew we had our seats. No issues like with Air France a couple of years ago! We then all went to the Spur and ate, chatting and stopping the children from choking each other. After a pleasant hour or so, we bade farewell to Léonard, and went through security to find our gate.
Tammy and the children waiting
Coutesy of Léonard, aka EastAfSpotter
Getting ready to board
One of the three cameras
Matthew already engrossed in the TV
Snacks and Warsteiner
I forget what the meal or options were, or the children's option. It looks like chicken from the photo.
The night passed peacefully, Matt and Amy spending ages watching their own TVs before drifting off to sleep, the same for myself and Tammy. Before landing, breakfast was distributed - but I was tired and groggy, and forgot to photograph it. I recall it not being very substantial, as after we landed, we headed to McDo for a topup breakfast.
After landing, we had to take the little train from the Z gates to the central area, and clear security again. Despite there being large queues, there was a system whereby families could use a different security point round the corner, which was closed off by a glass wall. This was very helpful, and we cleared quickly, and went to find McDo to sit and have a hot drink.
After locating the gate for our next flight, on to Heathrow, I noticed the Air India Boeing 787 at a nearby gate.
Amy watching the tarmac action
Amy still watching
When we finally boarded, I noticed that we had one of the newest in the LH fleet, fitted with sharklets, only 4 months old at this point.
Wing with sharklets
The flight was uneventful. Breakfast was a granola cereal with a plain yoghurt, which I kept and ate later at home. We had to hold over north-east London for a while, and at one point I spotted 5 other aircraft in the air, in view, at the same time (including one having just taken off from LCY). Landing was smooth, and we were soon outside with our luggage on the shuttle bus back to the long term car park to drive home.
Conclusion. Lufthansa are good, and I wouldn't hesitate to fly them again. It was a shame to have to drive to London for the flight though, but on this occasion the price was so much better than flying from NWI. FRA as a connecting airport was ok, better than CDG but not as good as AMS.