Flights of fancy – what difference does a plane make?

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In 2018 Lauren Jarvis boarded South African Airways’ inaugural Airbus A330-300 flight from London to Johannesburg to see how modern air travel is making Africa more easily accessible
For some travellers, the prospect of a long-haul flight to Africa can be discouraging. But with newer aircraft operating the routes, the experience is considerably less daunting than it used to be.

More people are flying than ever before — around eight million of us every day — with an increasing number of bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient planes plying a growing selection of worldwide routes.

There are now upstairs lounges and downstairs suites; personal minibars and ‘apartments’ with showers; plush robes, fine dining and even private butlers whisking cocktails to your crystal-clad cabin (okay, that last part isn’t entirely true).

“For me, it’s all about the entertainment system and personal space,” smiles steward Daniel Isaacs, when I ask what makes South African Airline’s A330-300 different. A Capetonian who has been looking after SAA travellers for 18 years, Daniel has witnessed the aeroplane evolution first-hand, and is firmly on board.

“These Airbuses are what flying should be about,” he says, offering me a glass of South Africa’s best Méthode Cap Classique to prove his point. “Not only are they a joy to work on, but every aspect of the plane is about making the passenger experience a pleasure, not a chore.”

Two films later, watched on my own personal 15in easy-to-use touchscreen with super-comfy noise-cancelling headset, curled under a snuggly blanket, I’m on board, too.

With more choice than ever for consumers, airlines are upping their game, investing in aircraft that not only look better — the A330-300 ditches the dour greys, opting for interiors reflecting the palette of Africa, with soft browns, neutrals and a splash of red — but also leave you feeling better after your flight.

Despite the inevitable limits of space within any aircraft, aviation’s poster-planes are winning fans over with subtle changes that transform the flying experience.

Lighting is softer, with dimmers that lull passengers to sleep and nudge them awake, replacing the former ‘lightning-bolt-to-the-eyes’ approach. The bathroom lighting is kinder too, which any long-hauler will appreciate at 5am, and there’s more space to freshen up on the flight.

A diminutive 5ft 2in, I’ve never really had an issue with leg room, but SAA’s A330-300 Economy Class seats are noticeably roomier than most, while in Business Class, there’s enough space for Naomi Campbell-length legs and a sizeable chunk of her Louis Vuitton luggage to boot.

SAA’s modern fleet is the healthier option, too (and not just when it comes to the innovative cuisine). Modern cabins now feature high-efficiency particle filters that remove over 99 per cent of contaminants.

The new Airbus is noticeably quieter than many planes, so passengers can sleep as well as breathe easy, even without earplugs. Plus, the A330-300 runs on ultra-fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent engines, producing lower carbon emissions.

Now all the airlines have to do is eliminate the unnecessary tonnes of plastic waste generated on their flights, and the aviation evolution will be complete…

For safari-goers, though, the journey to get to Africa needn’t be the concern it might have been years ago.

Five things we love about the new Airbus A330-300
1It has state-of-the-art technology.
2 It is very comfortable and spacious.
3 The interiors’ attractive, warm colours and elegant décor ensure a relaxing atmosphere.
4 They are quieter than older aircraft.
5 They have ultra-fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent engines, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

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