Our Story

Cabin crew dancing in front of plane Passengers leaving plane Interior of plane with passengers and crew

South African Airways is proud of being the national airline of South Africa and of delivering a world-class experience over many years of flying. The history dates back to 1929 when Union Airways was founded. On 1 February 1934 the South African government took over the airline and renamed it South African Airways.

1930-1960s
Already in 1934 South African Airways introduced ultra-modern Junkers Ju 52/3m; the aircraft was decorated with the „Flying Springbok“, the famous emblem of SAA. In 1945 the airline flew from South Africa to Europe for the first time: The legendary route became known as the “Springbok-Route”. Only four years later new standards in the aviation were implemented with the Lockheed Gold Plate Constellation. SAA was the first carrier to use this particular model of aircraft with automatic pressure regulation. In the 1950s SAA evolved into one of the leading global airlines and introduced a class for tourists. From now on, flying was affordable for the whole society. Moreover, SAA was the first airline outside the USA to operate the Douglas DC-7B; the fastest air carrier at that time. SAA has been flying between South Africa and Frankfurt since 1952 and was far ahead of other airlines with this connection.

In the 1960s destinations could be reached by airplane far better than at the beginning of the aviation industry. Instead of a 68 hour flight with the Boeing 707 between London and Johannesburg now only took one night, a total of 13 hours. With this new era, SAA introduced a new livery – now the tail shone in the colours orange, blue and white. In addition, SAA was the first airline worldwide to operate scheduled services over the South Atlantic. At that time, the route was considered to be extremely challenging and required utmost professionalism from pilots and technology.

1970-1990s
A further revolution in the international travel industry was the introduction of computer reservations in 1970. In 1971 after the global implementation, SAA introduced its first Boeing 747 Jumbo-Jet. Over the next three decades this aircraft type was the flagship of the SAA fleet. In 1973 the on board magazine „Flying Springbok“ was launched. Three years later the airline set the world record with the longest nonstop flight of 17 hours 22 minutes from Seattle to Cape Town. In the same year the first Airbus A300 was put into operation and simultaneously this aircraft type became an inherent part of the SAA fleet. 

In 1983 the airline introduced a bonus programme for frequent flyers and one year later celebrated 50 years of flying. With a distance of 12.825 km between New York City and Johannesburg and a flying time of 14 hours and 45 minutes, this SAA nonstop flight was the longest scheduled air service worldwide. In 1994 the airline introduced Duty Free with an onboard ordering service. In 1997, after 63 years, SAA’s Springbok logo was replaced by the colours of the „Rainbow Nation“. In the same year the airline became one of the first carriers to provided passengers with the option to book tickets via the internet.

SAA in the 21st century

With the turn of the century, SAA ordered the newest version of the Boeing 737, the most sold aircraft of all time. In 2002 the German route Johannesburg-Frankfurt celebrated its 50th anniversary. One year later SAA appreciated the lifework of Nelson Mandela: The first four-engined Airbus A340-600 delivered to SAA, the longest and state-of-the-art aircraft worldwide, was named after the Holder of the Price Peace and former president. Since 2004 passengers are able to travel in the Business Class on completely flat beds. As the first African airline SAA became a member of the Star Alliance in 2006, the largest global and distinguished airline alliance. Another great occasion was the opening Munich-Johannesburg route in 2007 which gives passengers the opportunity to fly the route with SAA daily nonstop and overnight. 2010 was the year of the Soccer World Cup in South Africa and SAA became the most important partner for flights to and within South Africa. 2012 the airline celebrated the 60th anniversary of the route Johannesburg-Frankfurt and is therewith the longest serving long-distance carrier, operating into the Rhine-Main-Airport in Frankfurt. Two years later already the carrier celebrated its 80th anniversary and thus, is also one of the oldest airlines, offering flight services without interruption. Over the years SAA has received a multitude of important awards e.g. Skytrax Best Airline in Africa; World Travel Awards: Africa‘s Leading Airline und Travel Weekly Globe Travel Award: Best Airline to Africa.

South African Airways looks forward to many more exciting and innovative years in the aviation industry and always greets all passengers with the warm South African vitality and SAWUBONA - Welcome on board!

I thought SAA were amazing a very comfortable flight with very attentive flight attendants comfortable seats and good in flight entertainment

David Gregg, Different Corners Travel

Helpful and attentive staff, good lounges - very consistent in the offering.

Lesley Barnes

Crew were exceptionally friendly, very attentive. Lounges excellent. Flat bed (new) excellent. Check in was very smooth - more staff at Cape Town would have helped. Very up to date movies - big plus

Lisa McKenzie, Amex Global

Lounges: Very nice product with the shower service. Crew: very friendly and willing to help.

Peter Ghyselinck

Very nice food, excellent wines. Video’s on demand - high quality screen and headset.

Peter Ghyselinck

Fantastic. Cannot think of anything negative from start to end.

Candice Pullen

Staff very friendly and helpful. Flight was good.

Kathy Vigolo, Saga

Overall, I had a great experience. I was impressed by the legroom in economy class, and felt overall that I was well looked after by the cabin staff.

Aimee Creasey, Saga

Absolutely fantastic, I now feel much more confident selling this product and offering upgrades with South African Airways. A truly memorable trip.

Tia-leona Jerome, Saga

It was a very good experience, good flights and crew were all pleasant.

Lesley Clements, Travel Counsellors

Better than expected. Check in was quick and easy, was very impressed with the lounge at Heathrow everyone very friendly and good choice of food and beverages. Both of the aircraft out and back was comfortable with ample legroom in economy. Cabin Crew friendly, and was impressed with the way a passenger on a stretcher was dealt with quietly and efficient causing no disturbance to the rest of the passengers travelling.

Angela, Martins World Travel

I thought the whole experience from Check in to collecting my bags at destination was a smooth and well run operation.

Jane Burton, Renishaw

Seats on the Aircraft felt quite roomy. Very smooth check in. Aircraft in good condition and all the inflight entertainment working. Service and food was very good . Although white wine was warm. Everything ran on time.

Karen Pratt, African Pride

All went well and was great to experience their service during what was a busy time for the local market (especially flight home). We already use SAA as our preferred airline for clients heading to South Africa and will continue to do so.

Sarah Wight, Natural Travel Collection

I really enjoyed the flights with South African Airways; I had never flown with them before. I found the service excellent, the cabin and pitch very good, the IFE and film choice current and the crew extremely warm and friendly. I would definitely recommend them.

Clare Hughes, Destinology

Very comfortable seats for economy class and good choice of movies on the entertainment system with some very decent titles. Good food onboard and probably the friendliest cabin crew of any major airline I’ve flown in the last few years. Really impressed with SAA and would definitely fly them again.

Yasmin Rustum