10 March 2014

2014-02 South Africa - Flights

2014-02 South Africa - Flights

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.

Date: 13/02/2014
Flight: LH911
Route: LHR-FRA
Aircraft: D-AISG

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!

Play area

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.

Cafe Nero

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.

Matthew doing the puzzles. He'd completed the book in about 10 minutes, though to be fair it was aimed at younger children.

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.

The 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

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.

Play area

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.

Date: 13/02/2014
Flight: LH572
Route: FRA-JNB
Aircraft: D-AIME

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!

Safety card

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.

Meal pic

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.

Children's breakfast

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.

Big engines

Our plane

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

Date: 17/02/2014
Flight: MN623
Route: JNB-DUR
Aircraft: ZS-ZWO

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

The prices for the buy on board options were very cheap, especially from a European perspective, when you consider the exchange rate of ZAR18 per GBP (ZAR15 per EUR).

Matt looking at the safety card

Looking forward

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

Coy Amy

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.

DUR arrivals

After a week in Durban with Granny and Grandpa, it was time for us to return to the UK. See the other blog post (link above) for more pictures. This time we would fly Mango, the LCC brand owned by South African Airways, up to Johannesburg, before continuing on Lufthansa.

Date: 21/02/2014
Flight: JE248
Route: DUR-JNB
Aircraft: ZS-SJG

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.

DUR departures


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).

Hello Amy!

Matt reading the safety card again

Forward view on boarding

Gate neighbours

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

BOB menu

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

We had to circle a couple of times before landing. Then followed a bizarre occurrence. We taxied to a remote stand opposite the International terminal, and parked. Steps were brought, the doors opened, and we were allowed to disembark. But there were no busses, so everyone just milled around outside the plane on the tarmac. There were no problems taking pictures!


Milling around

After about 10 minutes, 3 busses arrived to take everyone to the domestic arrivals.

Everyone on the busses

On the bus

All our luggage arrived, despite the short time between checkin and departure, and we headed out. I'd arranged to meet up with Léonard, aka EastAfSpotter, who was on holiday in southern Africa, overnighting in Johannesburg before heading on to Cape Town in the morning.

Date: 21/02/2014
Flight: LH573
Route: JNB-FRA
Aircraft: D-AIMA

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

Premium passengers, and families with young children were invited to board first, which we did. We were near the back of the plane. Given the two tired children, we were sitting in two rows, with a stranger on the aisle in front, and by the window behind.

One of the three cameras


Matthew already engrossed in the TV

Boarding complete, we pushed back and taxiied out. Naturally, at this point, Matt declares he needed a wee, despite using the facility in the terminal immediately before boarding. Sorry, I tell him, there's nothing we can do until the seatbelt light goes out. We take off, and being a lumbering Airbus A380, and a hot and high JNB, we climb very slowly. Adding to the problem, some light turbulence starts. All the while I'm told Matt is on the verge of an accident. I then did the only thing possible. Using a blanket for modesty, I slipped a nappy onto him, which then caused enormous relief all round. A few minutes later, the turbulence ended, and the crew started the service round.

Snacks and Warsteiner

Evening meal

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.

Date: 22/02/2014
Flight: LH902
Route: FRA-LHR
Aircraft: D-AIZZ

After locating the gate for our next flight, on to Heathrow, I noticed the Air India Boeing 787 at a nearby gate.

AI 787

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

New seats


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.

Lufthansa breakfast

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.

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