south african airways 747 on tarmac

South African Airways

South African Airways came into being after the South African government acquired Union Airways in 1934. It was known by its Afrikaans name, Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens (SAL), up until 1997 – the year in which it also changed its image and livery. In 2006, SAA became an independent airline following a split from Transnet, its former parent company.

Contact details

What are South African Airways check-in options?

Mobile boarding passes and priority boarding
Priority boarding
Flying with children
Seating for infants and children
Unaccompanied children
Flying while pregnant
Group bookings
Disabled access and medical equipment
Pets and service animals

Online check-in

You can use your computer, tablet or smartphone to check in online at from 24 hours before your departure time up to 90 minutes before domestic departures and up to two hours before international flights. You can select or change your seat at this point if you have not done so already. Group bookings can also be checked-in online. Boarding passes are emailed or can be printed out. If you don’t have a printer to print your boarding pass, you can collect it from an SAA check-in counter or use the self-service kiosks to print it out at the airport. Before you head to the departure lounge, check out our guide to 10 Things to Do Before Your Flight.

Priority boarding

If you are a Star Alliance card holder with a Gold, Platinum or Lifetime Platinum Status, you will automatically qualify for Priority Airport Check-In. Separate check-in desks are provided for Star Alliance Gold members. You will also be able to take advantage of the Gold Track service, which allows you to proceed more quickly through security. You’ll also be able to board along with First and Business Class passengers.

Flying with children

Children up to two years old are not required to have their own seat and can sit on the lap of their parent or attending adult, although you do need to alert the airline in advance that you plan to travel with an infant on your lap. If you plan to travel with more than one infant under two years of age, a second seat will need to be purchased. Infant fares may be available in this case. SAA also offers diaper changing tables on long-haul aircraft.

Seating for infants and children

Skycots are available on intercontinental flights for infants. Their supply is limited, so you will need to reserve one for your infant by informing the airline while making your reservation. Child car seats are also permitted for carry-on if you are purchasing a seat for your child. The car seat needs to conform to the standard safety requirements for flight travel, and you will need to be able to fit it yourself to the airline seat. Check out our guide to flying with children.

Unaccompanied children

The airline’s Unaccompanied Minors service can be reserved when your child must travel alone. An Unaccompanied Minor, in this case, is any child age 5-11 years old who is traveling without the supervision of a parent or guardian who is 16 years or older.

Children under the age of 5 years old are not accepted for the Unaccompanied Minors service if they are accompanied by a guardian who is 16 years or older. If your child is between the ages of 12-16, they are considered an adult for travel purposes and therefore do not require special handling unless you request this.

Reservations for the Unaccompanied Minors service cannot be booked online, so you will need to contact your local SAA office. When making your booking, you will need to inform the airline of the language your child speaks if he or she cannot speak English, if they are a first-time flyer, or require medication. No service fee is currently charged for this service.

We have a helpful guide for kids flying solo.

Flying while pregnant

Expectant mothers can fly within South Africa up to 36 weeks for a routine pregnancy, while international travel is permitted up to 35 weeks for a routine pregnancy. Beyond 28 weeks, a medical certificate needs stating the following needs to be provided:

  • Term of pregnancy
  • Fitness to travel
  • Whether it is a single, multiple or high-risk pregnancy
  • Any possible complications

Here’s our guide to flying while pregnant.

Group bookings

You can request a group booking here. Note that a minimum of 10 or more travelers is required to travel together throughout a journey.

Disabled access & medical equipment

Please give the airline 48 hours notice if you require mobility assistance. You will need to provide the following information at the time of booking:

  • Your type of mobility aids
  • Whether they are collapsible, electric or non-electric
  • Dimensions in adjusted or disassembled state and weight
  • If any medical assistance will be required
  • Whether you are traveling alone or with a caregiver

Here are the airline’s Special Assistance pages for more information.

We have guides on flying with disabilities and traveling with medication.

Pets & service animals

If you plan to travel with your pet, the airline permits dogs, cats and birds to travel in a 40 in. x 40 in. pet carrier with a maximum weight of 51 lbs. Cages larger than this specification need to be transported as cargo. Excess charges of ZAR 250 (about $US 18.50) including VAT are payable in this case, irrespective of your class of travel. Animals are not permitted past the security checkpoint and must be transported as manifested cargo under an Air Waybill. The exception here is a service animal for blind or deaf passengers, which may travel on board for free. Check out our guide to flying with pets.

What are South African Airways baggage allowance limits and fees?

Carry-on size
Checked luggage size
Musical and sport equipment

Carry-on Baggage Allowance

In addition to a personal item (overcoat, laptop, purse), you may carry-on one bag if it does not exceed the following:

  • Size: 45 linear inches (length + width + height)
  • Weight: 18 lbs

Checked Baggage Allowance

Passengers traveling between Canada and the US have the following size and weight restrictions on their free checked baggage allowance:

  • Amount: 2 pieces
  • Size: 62 linear inches (length + width + height)
  • Weight for:
    • Economy Class passengers: 50 lbs
    • First and Business Class passengers: 70 lb

Star Alliance card members are entitled to carry on more baggage as part of their plan. Check the South African Airways website or contact their Reservations desk for more details or if you have questions.

The fees associated with excess baggage depend on destination and can be viewed here.

Musical and sport equipment

You can take an additional piece of sporting equipment for free as long as it weighs no more than 50 lbs and has a maximum dimension of 79 inches. Canoes, windsurfers, hang-gliders, kayaks and sporting equipment larger than 79 inches can also be accepted, but they will be shipped as cargo with relevant cargo rates applying. For more details about the specific type of sporting equipment, you plan to take with you, click here.

What additional fees does South African Airways charge?

Booking fees
Travel insurance

Booking fees

South African Airways offers the best fare guarantee to ensure you receive the cheapest available rate by booking with them directly. If the base fare of your booking is found to be cheaper by the minimum proposed values shown in the table below, you can submit a completed claim form on the same day of booking to receive a refund of up to double the difference of your purchased base fare.

Depending on your class of ticket and your method of booking, some fees may apply.

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Click here for more information about any booking fees or charges related to making changes to your ticket.

Travel insurance

South African Airways partners with Allianz Travel Insurance which provides cover for:

  • Trip cancellation
  • Overseas emergency medical assistance and hospital expenses
  • Loss of travel documents or personal belongings
  • Flight delay

More details regarding the policy and coverage can be found here.

What amenities does South African Airways offer?

In-flight entertainment
Frequent Flier Program

In-flight entertainment

A shared USB and PC power outlet is located beneath each seat in economy, where passengers can also enjoy an in-flight entertainment service consisting of movies and short programming on any A320 aircraft.


On a long-haul flight, business class passengers can enjoy specially created dishes from Reuben Riffel and Benny Masekwameng. Vegetarian options are also available along with award-winning South African wines. Local ingredients are also used in the preparation of meals served in economy. All snacks, meals, and beverages are complimentary.

If you have any food allergies or special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, vegan or nut-free, you can notify the airline of your requirements up to 48 hours before departure. Note that kosher meals need to be ordered no less than 72 hours before departure.


Premium travelers can relax in the airline’s lounges located in the major cities of South Africa: Johannesburg (O.R Tambo International Airport), Cape Town, Durban (King Shaka International Airport), East London and Port Elizabeth as well as 3 lounges in Africa based in Harare, Lagos and Lusaka.


If you would like to order a specific seat or have extra legroom in the emergency exit seats, you can book it online for the following destinations Between Abu Dhabi / Frankfurt / Hong Kong / London / Munich / New York / Perth / Sao Paulo / Washington DC and Johannesburg. The cost for an emergency exit seat is $60, while any other seat costs $25 to reserve.

Frequent Flier Program

SAA’s Frequent Flyer Program “Voyager” is a rewards program offers benefits including access to private airport lounges and an additional baggage allowance. Platinum and Lifetime Platinum members can also take advantage of the airline’s chauffeur service. For more information about the different tiers and benefits, click here.

What about missing or damaged baggage?

Delayed, missing or damaged luggage
Compensation for baggage

Delayed, missing or damaged luggage

If you are not a resident of the country you have arrived in and your baggage has been lost by the airline, SAA will reimburse you for reasonable expenses that you may incur when buying essential items. You will need to keep the receipts and keep within US $75 per customer per day. Business class passengers are entitled to US $100 (or equivalent local currency) per day.

The liability limit is approximately US $9 per pound for checked baggage and US $400 per user for unchecked baggage for most international travel. This includes domestic portions of international journeys. For travel, wholly between US points, liability is at least US $1,250 per user. If your belongings are worth more than this, you will need to make an excess valuation claim on certain types of articles.

Compensation for baggage

If your baggage is damaged, the airline’s total liability for a single piece is limited by the Warsaw or Montreal Conventions, whichever is applicable based on your itinerary. SAA’s Conditions of Carriage outline the items that are excluded from liability if you check them in your baggage. Full details of the policy can be read here in the Luggage Liability and Conditions drop down section.

Fun facts

SAA has developed a comprehensive Environmental Management System to help it become more environmentally sustainable. SAA is one of only two IEnvA Stage Two certified airlines in the world.

  • In a bid to reduce electricity consumption and provide hot water to communities in South Africa, SAA is supporting hot water solar geysers
  • The airline was initially controlled by the South African Railways and Harbours Administration.

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