Having had to travel internationally most of my working life, I have become a rather reluctant air traveller. I love the thrill of a new adventure, deciding what to pack (although I always take way too much and then still end up with the wrong shoes) and I do enjoy the good me-time away from my usual responsibilities. What I really don’t enjoy is the airport waiting experience and the long hours in the air, cooped up with too many breathing bodies, stale food and smelly toilets.
My go-to airline that I’d normally book without thinking twice is British Airways. They fly direct to London, the on-board service and food is not fabulous but not bad either, I can accumulate Avios miles, they offer a premium economy class and I LOVE Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Although SAA and Virgin also fly direct, I have always enjoyed the BA experience more.
Recently I had to book a flight for a last-minute trip to the UK. With it being summer holidays in Europe, flight prices were exorbitant especially on those airlines who offer direct flights. I decided to shop around and maybe go with one of the airlines I have travelled on before that offer cheaper prices, albeit with connecting flights from their respective hubs. My options included KLM, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways.
What are your budget flight options?
KLM is always a safe option as they offer daily flights from both Joburg and Cape Town, the aircraft are always clean, the staff is helpful and polite (if not necessarily warm and welcoming) and Schipol airport is one of the nicer airports to spend time at.
Turkish Airlines often have very good prices and some people love travelling Turkish, but alas my experience with them include too many delayed flights resulting in a missed connection and leaving me spending way too much time at the overcrowded and uncomfortable Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.
Ethiopian Airlines is another alternative to look at when your budget is tight. Ethiopian Airlines was voted the 2017 ‘Best Airline in Africa’ by Skytrax. Whilst their fleet is relatively new and the in-flight service is adequate, spending any length of time at the airport in Addis Ababa is to be avoided at all costs.
Having quickly scanned through my options, I did a search on cheapest flights to Europe and to my surprise the best deals were on Qatar Airways. I had personally never heard of them and so quickly Whatsapped a few friends who would be in the know. To my surprise they all gave Qatar rave reviews, so even though it meant a 19-hour travel time via Doha, compared to 11 hours direct, I decided to give Qatar a try. I also liked the fact as they belong to the oneworld alliance, I could still accumulate Avios miles. So off I went.
My experience was brilliant! From the boarding process to the entertainment options, the food, the sparkly clean bathrooms and the extra legroom that Qatar offers, I soon settled in comfortably for a happy 10-hour flight between Cape Town and Hamad International Airport.
Qatar offers a variety of connection times for the stop-over at Doha. I chose the shortest layover possible, but if you are adventurous, you can opt for a lengthier layover and head out to discover the sights and sounds of Doha for a few hours. Just keep in mind that you usually land late at night at Doha. The airport is beautiful and new with everything you could ask for, even a Harrods shop.
On the return journey, I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class and what a brilliant experience that was. I truly was like a kid in a candy store, lapping up every indulgent treat which included French champagne before take off, the most beautiful amenity kit with yummy goodies, and an a la carte menu that is available for the full duration of the flight – which means you eat what you want,when you want to, with an endless supply at your disposal. After my delicious meal accompanied by the smoothest Bordeaux red and a fabulous port, I stretched out on the impossibly long sleeper bed and fell asleep hugging a comfy duvet.
There are many other things I loved about Qatar, including their whopping 46 kg baggage allowance for economy class travellers, which means you can shop to your heart’s content during your travels. As long as any one piece does not exceed 32kg’s, you can check in a few bags to make up your allowance. They are quite strict about their 7kg limit on hand luggage, so keep that in mind.
Qatar flies from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Doha daily, from where you can connect to more than 150 destinations across the world.
Ps: A total bonus for South Africans is that we qualify for a 30-day visa-free stay in Qatar. Yay for saving on expensive visas!