Our Story

South African Airways are proud to be the national airline of South Africa and deliver a world-class experience over all our years of flying. Our history dates back to 1 February 1934, when the South African government took over Union Airways and the airline was renamed South African Airways.

On 1 November 1934, we introduced Junkers Ju 52/3m, the first multi-engine aircraft, and during the 30's the airline steadily acquired more planes, including the first 10-seater Junkers Ju 86s, DC-3s, Constellation L-749As, Lockheed Lodestar, DC-7Bs Vickers Viscounts and the Boeing 707.

The outbreak of World War II resulted in commercial services being suspended until December 1944, but on their re-opening SAA modernised in-flight service and entertainment by introducing air hostesses on domestic flights and a cinema on the direct service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In 1953, we operated our first Comet Springbok service from London to Johannesburg using a BOAC Comet, and in the process became the first airline outside the UK to operate jet aircraft.

The SAA fleet continued to grow throughout the 60’s with a number of firsts such as regular services to Australia and Rio de Janeiro. We also extended the orange tail insignia across the entire fleet.

The 70's welcomed more new arrivals of aircraft as well as the growth of our domestic and regional routes. On 6th January 1977, the Boeing 747SP made its first scheduled flight between Johannesburg and Sydney. The flight offered in-flight audio entertainment and movies.

Due to Anti-apartheid sanctions, flights to New York were suspended in November 1986. The USA withdrew from its landing rights in South Africa with the Australian government taking the same action against South Africa the following year.

However, the 90's evoked a decade of positive change and renewed relationships. For the first time in 28 years, SAA flights operated via Sudan and Egypt. Economic sanctions against South Africa were lifted, and flights to New York and Australia resumed.

In 1997, SAA unveiled a new corporate identity with its aircraft tail designed to reflect the colours of South Africa’s new national flag: red, blue, gold, black and green.

This takes us up to the current day where we are still working hard to build relationships and grow our route network. We have recently ordered 20 new aircraft to operate on regional and domestic routes from South Africa and will soon be looking to upgrade our long-haul fleet.

We are proud to be the national airline of South Africa and to have delivered a world-class experience over all our years of flying, with our warm South African hospitality.

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