This is the second in a series of posts documenting my January 2019 trip around the world, which took me to Victoria Falls, Cape Town, Chiang Mai, and Hong Kong. You can read my last post, covering my trip from New York to Johannesburg here.
South African Airways Flt. 40, Johannesburg to Victoria Falls (JNB-VFA)
Airbus A330-200, Business Class
Sch. Dep. 10:50AM Sch. Arr. 12:25PM
Act. Dep. 10:43AM Act. Arr. 12:27PM
I had a very comfortable 2.5-hour connection in Johannesburg between my flight from New York and my flight to Victoria Falls. It was about a five-minute walk from my arrival gate to the international transfer immigration desk. I arrived just behind a Chinese tour group so it was a bit of a wait. After five minutes, I passed through without a single word from the agent who processed my passport. That area emptied out right into the main security area for international departures, where there was no wait.
I went straight to the South African lounge, which I had visited two years ago. I lost all that pictures that time, so now you can have some. There are two sides of the lounge: Platinum for high-tier elites, and Premium for lower elites and business class. I checked in and was directed to the Premium lounge on the right. While it was much busier than it was the last time I was there, it still wasn’t too crowded. There’s a main seating area along the windows, a dining area with small tables, a large glassed in area that had a huge table and was kind of a business area cum conference room. Then there’s some more scattered seating, along with a smoking room and a children’s room.
I went right to the showers, though. I had to wait a bit as the attendant was M.I.A., but all six showers were open. The shower room wasn’t particularly fancy, but it was just what I needed and very refreshing. It had a full W/C and some basic toiletries.
I wasn’t super hungry, but there was a full hot breakfast buffet in the dining area. On the side were some cold options, including pastries, as well as a pancake machine. The staffed bar had a full espresso coffee service, and there was also a self-serve machine.
In the rear, there was some more lunch-style food, including wraps and deli meats.
The staff wasn’t very friendly, but they were helpful and promptly cleaned up. The most notable part of my stay in the lounge was that I saw on a TV that there were protests in Zimbabwe due to fuel prices, and the President had ordered internet access cut off. So I was able to at least email my parents and advise them that if they didn’t hear from me for a few days, it didn’t mean I was dead.
On my last flight out of JNB, there was a massive queue well before scheduled boarding time. This time, though, I arrived at the gate eight minutes before scheduled boarding and there was no line at all. The gate area was almost all Chinese and Korean tourists, and nowhere near enough people to fill an A330. It’s actually a fairly good aircraft utilization, though, as the aircraft is used to go to and from Victoria Falls, then is back in time to go to Dakar en route to Washington-Dulles, and then back to JNB and do it all over again. As a leisure flight, this is one of South African’s only Southern Africa routes that goes only once a day, so I guess the capacity of the A330 makes sense? (Comair/Kulula has a flight on the same route about the same time on a 737, and Zimbabwean LCC FastJet does it a few days a week on an ERJ-145. South African also does a daily flight to Livingstone, Zambia, on the other side of the Falls, on an A319 or 320.) I’m certainly not going to complain about having wide-body business class for a 90-minute flight.
Boarding began right on time, and I was the first on the plane. South African’s A332 is very similar to its A346 in business class, with some minor differences. The color scheme is prettier in my opinion on the A332, with browns instead of blue. The seats are similar, but I preferred those on the A346, as the seats themselves were more highly adjustable, and had larger tables. The A332 did have a USB port, though. And unlike the A346, business class was divided into two cabins. I was seated in the larger one in front, and was one of only two passengers, later joined by a maintenance crew staff member. There were no passengers in the rear cabin.
Despite the very short flight and low load, there were still ten cabin crew members. Before take-off, I was asked for my drink order and asked if I wanted a chicken or vegetarian snack. I asked for a Diet Coke but the flight attendant persuaded me to do sparkling wine instead. I was made to turn my phone off completely for take-off, and then they sprayed the cabin with insecticide. We pushed back on time, but had a long wait to take off, airborne nearly thirty minutes later around 11:20am.
My drink and snack were brought immediately once we were airborne. The snack was two spicy chicken meatballs with some caramelized onions on the side, along with a mini quiche and a mini mushroom pie. It was tasty and pretty good for a short flight. There was also a side of fruit.
The flight attendant kept refilling my sparkling wine until I asked for a coffee. I had heard some flights circle the Falls, but we didn’t get very close. I could make out the spray of the Falls in the distance from the right side of the plane.
We were on the ground at 12:20, and the only other plane at the small terminal was the Ethiopian 737 from Addis Ababa. I was in the terminal ten minutes later, and in line for immigration, where the last of the ET passengers were still being processed. They didn’t give out the immigration forms on the plane so I filled them out online.
For most non-African countries, you need a Visa to enter Zimbabwe, and for most folks that will be purchased on arrival. For Americans, there are four options: single-entry ($30), double-entry ($45), multiple-entry ($55), and KAZA Univisa – which is good for multiple entries to Zimbabwe, Zambia, and daytrips to Botswana ($50) (all payable in U.S. cash). Since I hoped to cross into Zambia, I got the KAZA visa, which had a slightly longer line, and some very pushy French people behind me. It didn’t take long and I was through by 12:46pm.
My bag was already on the belt, and after placing it on a scanner to clear customs, I was in the small arrival hall where the driver I had pre-arranged ($34 round-trip) was waiting with a sign with my name. At 12:52, I was on my way towards town, for the 25-minute, 14-mile drive to my hotel, the excellent Victoria Falls Safari Club.
Next up, I will tell you about my fabulous and relaxing stay at the Victoria Falls Safari Club and slightly underwhelming experience exploring the area.