South African Airways is planning to introduce premium economy seating, Business Traveller can reveal. First, the carrier will announce the new aircraft types it will be ordering for its fleet ahead of its move into London Heathrow Terminal 2 on October 22. Gary Kershaw, SAA’s UK and Ireland general manager, said the new aircraft will either be Airbus A350s or a mix of Boeing B777s and B787s. But he told Business Traveller that the planes will be fitted with a new premium economy class product — “a massive oppportunity for us” — no matter which aircraft manufacturer is selected. Kershaw added that when he worked for Air New Zealand as head of sales, premium economy was the Kiwi carrier’s “most profitable seat on a sqm basis”.
SAA currently only has business and economy class products, with no first or premium economy seating onboard. With the new aircraft not expected to join the fleet until 2017 or 2018, passengers may be dismayed at the thought of waiting so long for a seat that will bridge the gap. However, Kershaw also said that SAA would likely retrofit existing aircraft before this point with a premium economy product and confirmed that it would “definitely [appear] on the London route”, depending on which of its A330-200s and A340-300s would stay in service longer. SAA economy class seats offer 31-34 inches of legroom, while business class is fitted with fully flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration with a 73-inch pitch. Kershaw added that it costs around US$15 million to retrofit an entire plane, so the decision would need to be made wisely.
South African Airways currently serves Johannesburg direct from London Heathrow once a night, with 48 connections per day to and from Cape Town, but has no new routes confirmed, said Kershaw. He added: “We are pretty static,” although he noted the airline flies about 1,000 passengers per day between the two cities.
In other news, SAA will be introducing a new in-flight menu for both economy and business travellers this summer. Dishes on the LHR-JNB route will include Loch Fyne Scottish smoked salmon; grilled cod from Iceland with saffron velouté, baby carrots and mushy peas; handmade truffle tortellini with grilled artichoke and Parmesan (vegetarian option); braised beef cheek with horseradish purée and summer vegetables; and passion fruit tiramisu for premium passengers.