Heathrow, United Kingdom
51° 28' N 0° 26' W
Jul 21, 2009 23:50
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Text written in: English

Somewhere over Spain or North Africa

It is hard to credit but our flight did actually leave on time. After two years of arriving at our destination over 24 hours late we have finally returned to punctuality! However it was not all roses in the garden. We are travelling on an Airbus 340-200, a rather old aeroplane, not quite akin to the Vickers Vimy Bomber which crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, but no seat back TV’s! The younger Burnett’s were horrified. It’s ok for Burnett senior, after all a couple of Castle beers and access to a netbook will keep him happy. Erin & Ailsa need entertainment to pass the time. Nintendo DSI to the rescue. I believe that we have also used the 'infants and young children boarding' for the last time. Whilst we were boarding an announcement from Air New Zealand (next departure gate) defined young children as under 5 - pangs of conscience followed!

What about a little about the history of South African Airways while I wait for my dinner.

Last year we passed through Port Elizabeth Airport where I noted the bust of a famous South African aviator, Lt Colonel Allister M Miller DSO, who served in the Royal Flying Corps (Royal Air Force from April 1918) during WW1. I recalled that he set out from Cape Town by aeroplane in November 1917 on a wartime recruiting tour. However his aircraft crashed during an attempted landing at a golf course in Port Elizabeth.

Major Miller (as he was at the time) aircraft developed engine trouble as he approached Port Elizabeth. He careered down the fairway of the 18th green and crashed into a bunker.

Ready hands assisted both the pilot and mechanic out, unharmed, wild excitement gripped the crowd. The propeller was in splinters, undercarriage twisted, a wheel totally wrecked and damage was caused to a wing.”

The crash did no harm to his recruitment drive. Indeed he used the opportunity to give a speech at the clubhouse. A reception was held in his honour at the St George’s Club on the 12th November 1917. As you may recall this illustrious Club later amalgamated with the Port Elizabeth Club and we enjoyed the hospitality of the Port Elizabeth St George’s Club.

After WW1 Lt Colonel Miller founded Union Airways (1929), which was the first commercial airline in South Africa. Union Airways was primarily a mail carrier but did accept some passengers from 1930 onwards. Union Airways amalgamated with South West African Airways in 1932 and then was bought over by the Union of South Africa Government in 1934. The airline was renamed South African Airways at that time. It continues to bear this proud name to the present day.

During the 1930’s the airline operated no further than Kenya and Uganda. However in 1945 the airline started a limited service from South Africa to England in an Avro York. During the apartheid era the airline was forced to fly an extended route to the United Kingdom. This was partly due to the refusal of some African nations to allow the airline to use their airspace and partly to avoid the risk of being shot down. Air Rhodesia flight Rh825 was not so fortunate on the 3rd September 1978 when it was brought down by surface to air missile shortly after leaving Kariba Airfield.

We have no such worries on this 21st century flight to Cape Town. South African Airways is a modern, full service airline, with all the amenities we have come to expect as standard. Last year we travelled to Johannesburg with Iberia, which was truly a 3rd world experience, in my opinion. No seat back TV’s, a limited drinks service and average food. South African Airways is a first class airline. We might not be travelling business but the range of TV channels, the food and South African wines and beer, are more than adequate for our long flight.

“The Airbus A340-600, A340-300 and Boeing B747-400's offer customers on international flights access to either the Sony Passport system, or the Panasonic 3000 System. These are audio and video on demand systems and are available at every seat. Passengers can select from a library of movies and audio programmes and are able to play, pause and continue programmes as they wish.”

Some of research, done in the depths of winter, has not quite come to fruition. So we didn’t get the most up to date Airbus aircraft with seatback TV’s, however we did have a passable meal with extra rations of South Africa wine. That’s good enough for me!

I do have to balance my love of South African wine and Castle beer with my fear of being caught short on a long haul flight due to turbulence. I tend to walk the length of the aircraft (economy only) and visit the toilet every two hours, whether I need it or not. I have this irrational fear of requiring the use of bathroom facilities when the seatbelt light is lit. An irrational fear of being barred from the toilet has plagued me for years. Strange, yet passing the Mongolian/Chinese frontier by train in 2006, I declined the opportunity to carouse (drink beer with ANZAC’s and Europeans), knowing that the toilets would be closed for five hours on account of changing the bogies. I witnessed a certain individual reduced to tears (toilets locked and Chinese border guards preventing disembarkation) due to this predicament. It was only when a lateral thinking compatriot produced an empty plastic water bottle that the situation was relieved! I do not wish to place myself in this position.

Photos / videos of "Somewhere over Spain or North Africa":

The Burnett's en route from London Heathrow to Cape Town. The Burnett's en route from London Heathrow to Cape Town.