Mar 15th 2014
The first of our two mileage runs to Johannesburg, South Africa, got off to a good start. My friend and I had a flight from Austin to DFW at 6:30 on a Friday evening, so for once, I did not need to get up before sunrise to catch my flight.
We arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and had an easy check-in, things go so quickly when you don’t have any bags to check! After a visit to the Admirals Club we boarded our flight to DFW. We had been upgraded to First Class, and while we were not sitting in the same row, that was not a very big deal since our flight would only last 34 minutes.
Unfortunately, the flight was 15 minutes late leaving Austin. We only had a one-hour layover at DFW for our London flight so we were a bit concerned about this. But as the old saying goes, if you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.
We had a smooth flight to DFW and quickly made our way to Terminal D, where boarding had already started for our London flight. We had been upgraded to Business Class and, with boarding already begun, hoped there would be room in the overhead compartments for our bags. Fortunately there was, so we stowed our bags, made ourselves comfortable, and prepared for our 9-hour flight.
We were on a 777-200: Business Class had a 2-3-2 configuration. We were in the middle section, and I was in the middle seat. The seats on the 777-200 go flat, which will help with sleep, but they are not parallel to the cabin floor, there is a slight downward angle to them. Some refer to these as the wedgie seats. I hoped this would not interfere with my sleep.
Once we took off my friend sampled the movies in the IFE, while I watched some shows that I had loaded on my tablet. After a while, it was time for dinner.
Our earlier concerns about the wedgie seats were unfounded. The late hour, the pillow and blanket (and a sleeping pill) assured me a good night’s sleep.
I slept for a few hours, woke to an omelet for breakfast, and then got ready for our arrival at London Heathrow.
We had one of the worst layovers you can possibly have: 6 hours. That is long enough to be boring, but not long enough to allow enough time to go into town.
We spent the entire time at BA’s First Class Lounge at Terminal 5.
We had very little to do for the next few hours.We ate, charged our phones, walked around a bit, I took a shower,and that was about it. Like I said, a boring layover. Our flight to JNB was scheduled to depart at 6 p.m., so I started to look on the departures screen for our gate number. At 2 and 3 p.m. the flight was listed, but the gate was not. Four o’clock came and still no gate number.
I asked the lady at the desk about this, she replied that BA does not post gate numbers until 90 minutes before departure. That seemed to be an odd policy to me, American Airlines always lets me know the gate two hours in advance, but there wasn’t much I could do about this.
4:30, departure minus 90 minutes, and still no gate number. At 4:55, far less than an hour before boarding would start, we still did not know our gate number. The lady at the desk suggested we take the train to the B terminal, we’d probably be at gate 35.
So, we took the train to the B terminal, got off, looked at the departure screen to finally see some information, our flight would be departing from Terminal B. They still hadn’t posted a gate number, but at least they listed the terminal. We walked down to gate 35 where we saw a sign announcing our JNB flight so we relaxed, at least we were in the right place. The boarding area was fairly crowded, we never figured out how all those people knew what gate to go to.
We boarded and went to our seats. We had Business Class on American Airlines, but no such luck on BA, coach seats, three across. My buddy had the aisle, I was in the middle, and a gentleman had the window seat.
We took off, and soon ate dinner. Shortly thereafter, it was time for me to go to sleep. As I mentioned, I was in the middle seat in coach. The guy to my right could not keep his arm off the arm rest that we could supposedly share. He wasn’t being rude, it’s just that he was a big guy who could not fit very easily in a coach seat. So I pulled my arms in as close to my body as I could and slept for a few hours.
Thankfully, I was able to get some sleep, awoke for breakfast, and then our 6 a.m. landing at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg. The South Africans spent billions of dollars upgrading facilities for World Cup — one of those was the improvement of the JNB airport into a new modern facility that I would favorably compare to any other terminal I have been in.
After clearing customs we made our way to the Gautrain station. Gautrain opened in 2009, in time for World Cup.
We had a short ride to our destination, the Sandton district of Johannesburg. Sandton is one the most significant business and financial district in South Africa. Everywhere we looked we saw modern buildings, shops, restaurants.
It took us just a few minutes to find our hotel. While everything in Sandton is new, our hotel was the exception. In the 1870s it was a place where people could stop and get water for the horses when riding from Johannesburg to Pretoria. It later grew into a 300+ room hotel that opened in 1949. I think you’ll find its history to be both interesting and entertaining.
We checked into our room, a suite with two bedrooms, then went to for breakfast.
After eating we went back to our room and rested for a few hours, we had a busy day ahead of us — I’ll share that story in my next article.
Disclaimer: I own stock in both Boeing and the American Airlines Group.
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