Union Airways carried its first passenger from Cape Town to East London on 3 September 1929. The airline also undertook the carriage of sick persons on mercy flights.
As both mail and passenger traffic increased Miller bought a Fokker Super Universal single engine aircraft that could carry six passengers and this aircraft entered service on 29 May 1930. The next aircraft type to enter service with Union Airways were two de Havilland DH 80A Puss Moths. These aircraft could carry two passengers in an enclosed cabin and replaced some of the Gypsy Moths that had been sold or written off.
Unfortunately one of the Puss Moths crashed near Sir Lowry’s Pass after structural failure, the pilot and both passengers were killed. More bad news was to follow when the Fokker Super Universal was written off in a crash at Kayser’s Beach near East London on 31 December 1931. The three Union Airways airmen onboard were not injured.
The Imperial Airways Company of Britain began operating a scheduled service from England to South Africa on 20 February 1932, at first only airmail was carried, passengers were later carried and the trip took 11 days.
Union Airways was struggling to make ends meet and little help was forthcoming from the South African government. Junkers South Africa Pty (Ltd) who owned and operated South West African Airways, bought a substantial share in Union Airways. An all-metal Junkers F13 was chartered from SWA Airways and was soon operating in place of the wrecked Fokker. More Junkers aircraft followed in the form of F13 and W34 aircraft and later a Junkers A50 also joined the fleet. Imperial’s airmail service from Britain to Cape Town was routed via Rand Airport and Kimberley and this made the Union Airways airmail service from Cape Town to Johannesburg unnecessary. The carriage of airmail from Durban to Johannesburg and Durban to Cape Town was contracted to Union Airways. Passenger growth on the Durban – Johannesburg service grew steadily culminating in a daily flight. This compelled the airline to move their base from Port Elizabeth to Durban. Major Miller also placed an order for 3 Junkers Ju 52/3m aircraft; an all-metal airliner with three engines which could carry up to 18 passengers.
The final nail in Union Airways coffin came when one of the Junkers W34 aircraft crashed in bad weather near the town of Eshowe in late 1933, two crew and three passengers were killed, one passenger survived. This was a major blow to the airline and forced Miller to approach the South African government to take over the operation.
The South African government took over the assets and liabilities of Union Airways on 1 February 1934. This included 40 staff members and three Junkers F13s, one DH60 Gypsy Moth, one DH80A Puss Moth and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50. The airline was named South African Airways and fell under the control of the South African Railways and Harbours administration. SAA honoured the order for the three Junkers Ju 52/3m aircraft. This was the beginning of a pioneering, record-breaking world famous airline.
The three Junkers Ju 52/3m aircraft were delivered in October 1934 and went into service 10 days later, the airliners were configured to carry 14 passengers and a crew of 4. The speed, comfort and reliability of the Ju 52/3m aircraft proved, to a cautious and sceptical public, that air travel was safe, fast and here to stay. SAA started operating three services per week between Durban and Johannesburg and a weekly service from Durban–East London–Port Elizabeth (overnight stop)–George or Mossel Bay (depending on the weather)-Cape Town. On 1 February 1935 SAA absorbed South West African Airways together with its aircraft and some of its staff.
It soon became apparent to SAA that Johannesburg would become the hub of air travel in South Africa and the airline moved to Rand Airport on 1 July 1935. On the same day SAA began operating a Rand–Durban–East London–Port Elizabeth–Cape Town in one-day service. From July 1935 a weekly Rand–Kimberley–Beaufort West-Cape Town service was introduced, setting record flying times were. In April 1936 SAA took over the Rand-Cape Town service from Imperial Airways. A fourth Ju 52/3m was soon added to the fleet.
SA placed orders for more aircraft, ten Ju 52/3m, eighteen Junkers Ju 86 and seven Airspeed Envoys, four of the Envoys were for SAA and three for the South African Air Force. War clouds were looming in Europe and all the aircraft that were ordered could be transferred to the Air Force in time of war and the Junkers Ju 52/3m were to be used for troop carrying and the Envoys and Ju 86s for conversion into bombers.
When deliveries of the new aircraft began the three older Ju 52/3m airliners were sold, as were most of the older single engine aircraft, this was a time of rapid expansion of the airline. SAA suffered its first accident when a newly delivered Junkers Ju 52/3m crashed and burned after taking off from Rand Airport in June 1937, one lady passenger died after the accident, some reports state that two passengers died. This was the first fatal accident to befall SAA. A second fatal accident occurred in October 1937 when the Junkers W34 crashed at George Airfield on an airmail service and the two crewmembers were killed.
New routes were opened flying from Rand–Bloemfontein-Port Elizabeth, Rand-Kimberley-Upington–Keetmanshoop–Windhoek, Cape Town–Kimberley–Windhoek. Flights between the major centres were also increased. During the Junkers delivery period SAA were short of aircraft to service all the new and proposed routes, and the three SAAF Envoys were converted to passenger layout and used to supplement the fleet. When Junkers Ju 86 aircraft were delivered all the Envoys (including the four from SAA) were returned to the SAAF, the aircraft had proved unsuitable for the SAA passenger and cargo services.
In June 1937 Imperial Airways began using flying boats on its South African service with the service terminating in Durban. SAA began operating its first regional service to Lusaka with stops at Pietersburg, Bulawayo and Livingstone. In July the service was extended to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, taking over the Imperial Airways land-plane service. The SAA service was extended from Livingstone and stopped at Broken Hill–M’Pika–Mbeya–Dodoma–Moshi–Nairobi–Kisumu. The Imperial flying boat service also stopped at Kisumu where airmail bags and passengers to or from SAA aircraft were transferred.
The next regional service was to Lourenco Marques (Maputo) where airmail also destined for Imperial flying boats was transferred. A service from Rand–Palapye Road–Maun (later replaced by Gobabis)–Windhoek was also introduced. Shortly before the war this service was extended up to Luanda. SAA ordered Lockheed Lodestar aircraft from the USA, these twin-engine airliners were delivered during the hostilities and only the survivors saw service with SAA towards the end and after the war. After war broke out all SAA staff and aircraft were transferred to the SAAF. During the early part of the conflict some Ju 52/3m’s operated limited services around the country.
In the period from the start of the airline to the cessation of operations at the war’s beginning 118,822 passengers, 3,278 tonnes of airmail and 248 tonnes of cargo were carried; the number of staff employed had risen to 418.
Six Lodestar aircraft and staff were released from the SAAF to operate limited services for the airline from 1 December 1944. At the outset the schedule was limited to a daily service between Rand and Durban, three services a week to Cape Town – Durban - East London - Port Elizabeth. Two services to Cape Town by direct route with stops at Kimberley or Bloemfontein and a weekly service from Johannesburg to Bulawayo - Salisbury.
As more Lodestars were released more services were increased. The remaining Lodestars were released after the war, a total of 19 survived.
During the conflict new airports were planned for Durban, Cape Town and an international airport at Johannesburg. The construction of the airport at Johannesburg would take several years to complete. The name of the airport was to be Highveld, but with Field Marshal Montgomery performing the naming ceremony in December 1947, it was decided to name it Jan Smuts Airport. Jan Smuts Airport was built on the farm Witkoppies.
Rand Airport’s runways were too short and a temporary airport was built to accommodate the envisaged service to Britain. The airport was named Palmietfontein and was situated south of Rand Airport. British Overseas Airways Corporation planned to operate their service with Avro York aircraft; some of which were leased to SAA to operate the reciprocal service. The York was an ungainly looking aircraft. Its four engines were fitted to its high wing, the tail had three fins and the body was square and slab sided. It carried twelve passengers and had six crewmembers. Its ancestry came from the Lancaster bomber.
SAA’s first intercontinental service, known as the Springbok Service started on 10 November 1945, the service routed Palmietfontein–Nairobi–Khartoum–Cairo–Castel Benito–Hurn Bournemouth, (Heathrow had not yet opened). The flight took 3 days to complete and overnight stops were made at Nairobi, and Cairo with the flying time around 33 to 34 hours. At first a weekly service was operated and as the demand for seats increased more services were introduced until finally six services per week were flown. Douglas DC-4 Skymaster aircraft entered service in May 1946 on the Johannesburg–Cape Town route. The Douglas DC-3 Dakota entered service in May 1946 on the Johannesburg–Durban route. The Dakotas came from the surplus SAAF Douglas C-47 inventory; and were converted into passenger airliners by SAA.
The York flights could not cope with the increased passenger demand so three Skymaster flights per month were introduced to supplement the York services. The Skymasters could carry 30 passengers and reduced the time to complete the journey considerably.
From 1946 the airline experienced a massive growth of aircraft, passengers, cargo and staff. When more Skymasters entered service the Avro York’s were returned to BOAC. Air Hostess were first introduced in September 1946, at first they only flew on the internal services and were later used on the Springbok Service. At the end of 1946 the first of two de Havilland Dove aircraft entered service, these aircraft were used to operate a feeder service and for crew training. They were not suited to SAA’s operation and both were finally sold in the early 1950s.
The next type to be introduced by SAA was the Vickers Viking, a twenty-eight seater airliner and they were used on both internal and regional services. Their service life with SAA was fairly short and all were sold to British European Airways and by 1951 all had left South Africa. Conflicting reports about the viability of these aircraft abounded at the time, some argued that they were money-makers and should have been kept in place of the uneconomical Lodestars. The other opinion was that the sleeve-valve engines were troublesome and the aircraft had the habit of tipping over on its nose.
In the 1940s SAA house colours were a blue cheat line over an aluminium skin, the early SAA logo and a blue stripe over the fin and rudder, the airline used the motto of “THE BLUE AND SILVER FLEET”.
In 1948 Palmietfontein Airport became the terminal for all SAA services. In June 1948 films were introduced on SAA Skymaster aircraft, first on the internal and later on the Springbok Service. This was the first in-flight entertainment to be offered by the airline. It was not a success and was soon discontinued.
In August 1950 the airline introduced four Lockheed Constellations on the Springbok Service, these sleek aircraft reduced the flying time to London to 28 hours. The Connie, as it was affectionately known, was the first pressurised airliner to be operated by SAA; pressurisation enabled the aircraft to cruise above most of the fearsome African weather.
The Constellation proved popular with its passengers offering a mostly smooth comfortable journey, with forty-six passengers being carried. A typical Connie service operated Johannesburg–Nairobi–Khartoum–Rome–London.
In October 1951 one of the Dakotas crashed near Kokstad killing all seventeen persons onboard, the aircraft was operating a service from East London to Durban and crashed near the summit of Ingeli Mountain in low visibility.
South Africa was the destination of the world’s first passenger jet service when a BOAC Comet 1 landed at Palmietfontein on 3 May 1952, the journey had taken just under 24 hours to complete. Although the Comet had a high cruising speed it did not have a good range, time was lost on the five refuelling stops on its route. SAA entered into the jet age using two chartered Comets from BOAC; the first service was operated from London to Johannesburg on 4 October 1953 with Comet G-ANAV. The two aircraft had dual BOAC–SAA titling and logos and were operated by SAA crews.
On the same date Tourist Class travel was introduced using a fifty-eight seat Constellation on the London route, SAA operated two Comet and three Constellation services per week on the Springbok service.
On 10 October 1954 SAA Comet G-ALYY broke up in the air near the Italian Island of Stromboli, the wreckage crashing into the sea killing all thirty-five persons on the aircraft. Previously other Comets had perished under similar circumstances. After the SAA tragedy all Comets were permanently grounded. Investigations revealed that structural failure had caused the disasters; the problem was remedied on later Comet models.
In 1956 SAA introduced the Douglas DC-7B aircraft on the Springbok Service, the DC-7B was the ultimate in pre-jet era aircraft holding the title of the fastest piston-engine airliner in the world. It also boasted a respectable range. To take advantage of the performance of the aircraft SAA introduced a fast one-stop service from Johannesburg–Khartoum–London. This was known as the East Coast express, the time for the trip was around 21 hours. This service was later transferred to the West Coast express with a technical stop at Kano, Nigeria; the best time for this run was under 18 hours.
The DC-7B also inaugurated the service to Australia, the fortnightly service started in November 1957 routing Johannesburg–Mauritius–Cocos Islands–Perth in Western Australia.
The internal and regional services were boosted by the introduction of Vickers Viscount aircraft in late November 1958, the turbo-prop airliner soon proved extremely popular with passengers. The aircraft was fitted with large oval windows that afforded an excellent view. The turbine engines were vibration free and the aircraft was very reliable and profitable.
1960 saw the arrival of the Boeing 707 Intercontinental jet aircraft, the aircraft heralded new dimensions of speed, range and comfort, accommodating over 150 passengers depending on the configuration.
On the first of October 1960 SAA introduced the Boeing 707 on the Springbok Service to the UK. This reduced the journey to an actual flying time of around 13 hours.
The Boeing 707 also brought in the new airline colours, the main difference was the orange tail with a blue and white flash, when repainting was required the other aircraft in the fleet were all converted to the new orange tails. SAA introduced the airliner into service in October 1960 in a mixed first class / economy class configuration carrying a total of 139. When the 707 replaced the DC-7B aircraft on the Australian service the Cocos Islands stop was dropped and the flight terminated in Sydney.
The B707 inaugurated the service to the Americas in February 1969 flying from Johannesburg-Rio de Janeiro–New York.
In 1963 most African states opposed to the previous government’s policy, denied SAA over-flying rights above their countries forcing the airline to fly a long detour around the bulge of West Africa.
The 1960’s saw great expansion of the airline, faster aircraft could carry more passengers further. In 1965 Boeing 727 jetliners were introduced on regional and internal services, and in 1968 Boeing 737 airliners were introduced to supplement the 727 fleet. By 1967 some of the old stalwart aircraft of the airline, such as the Skymasters, Constellations and DC-7Bs, were retired.
During the 1968/1969 financial year SAA carried more than 1 million passengers.
Tragedy struck SAA in the same decade, in March 1962 a Dakota crashed in the Katberg Mountains killing two pilots, in March 1967 a Viscount crashed into the sea near Kayser’s Beach near East London killing all twenty-five souls onboard. A brand new Boeing 707 crashed after taking off from Windhoek in April 1968, one hundred and twenty-three perishing in the disaster that left only five survivors. By the end of the decade the airline operated a fleet of 29 aircraft consisting of eight Boeing 707s, seven Boeing 727’s, three Boeing 737s, seven Vickers Viscounts and three Dakotas.
During 1970 SAA exceeded the 1 Million mark for passengers carried on the domestic services. In September 1970 the last scheduled piston-engine flight was operated by a Dakota aircraft, the type had been in service since 1946, Hawker Siddeley 748 turbo-prop aircraft replaced the Dakotas from 1970, and the last Dakota left SAA in February 1971.
On 6 November 1971 Boeing 747 ZS-SAN Lebombo arrived at Johannesburg on its delivery flight. The huge wide-body airliner attracted the nickname of “Jumbo Jet” and “Lebombo” was the first of 30 B747s to be operated by the airline. The early model 747 aircraft were fondly known as “747 Classic”. The Jumbos were introduced on the Springbok Service in December 1971 and proved to be very popular with the travelling public, in-flight entertainment in the form of movies were provided for passengers during the long flight to Europe. As more 747s entered service taking over some of the Boeing 707 routes some of aircraft were converted to passenger/cargo configuration and used on low-density routes while others were converted to high-density seating and used on the internal services. With the arrival of the HS 748 and the remaining B737 aircraft, the Vickers Viscounts were withdrawn from service and sold to British Midland Airways, the last Viscount had left South Africa by March 1972.
In May 1972 one of the B727 aircraft was hi-jacked on a flight from Salisbury (Harare) to Johannesburg. The ordeal was finally concluded when Malawi’s militia opened fire on aircraft at Blantyre Airport, at the time the only persons onboard were the two hi-jackers counting ransom money, when the firing started they promptly surrendered. The airliner was damaged by gunfire but was repaired and returned to service.
In June 1974 Boeing 707 aircraft inaugurated a service to Hong Kong with an en-route stop at the Seychelles Islands.
Internal services were again upgraded by the introduction of wide-body Airbus A300 airliners and operated mainly on the Cape Town and Durban routes in 1976. The Airbus carried 260 passengers in a mixed business/economy class configuration.
In 1976 Boeing 747SP aircraft were introduced and to demonstrate its very long-range capability the first aircraft was flown non-stop from the Boeing Company factory in Seattle to Cape Town during its delivery flight. This was a world record for an un-refuelled commercial aircraft, the record was held for over a decade. B747SPs were gradually introduced on B707 routes as well as increasing frequency on other services. One of the Boeing 707 aircraft was converted into a freighter and usually operated from Johannesburg to Paris.
By the end of the decade SAA operated a fleet of 36 aircraft comprising of eleven Boeing 747s, nine Boeing 727s, three Boeing 707s, six Boeing 737s, four Airbus A300s and three Hawker Siddeley 748 airliners.
In 1980 a new service to Taipei, Taiwan was introduced using B747SP airliners and at the same time the stop at Seychelles Islands was dropped in favour of Mauritius on the Hong Kong service.
Two new 747 Combi aircraft were delivered in 1980, these aircraft differed from other 747’s by having a cargo compartment at the rear half of the main deck. The aircraft were used on destinations with high cargo demand and lower passenger numbers.
The venerable B707 operated its last scheduled SAA service from Paris to Johannesburg on the 26 December 1980; the type had been in service for over 20 years, and soon after the remaining 707s were sold. More B737 and Airbus A300 airliners began entering SAA service towards the end of 1981 to replace B707 and B727 aircraft; by 1983 all the 727s were sold.
Two more B747 airliners were delivered in 1983, these airliners differed from the earlier models by having the upper deck compartment stretched to accommodate more passengers, the more powerful and fuel efficient engines enabled the aircraft to fly from Johannesburg to Europe non-stop. The older 747s were also modified with the more powerful engines enabling them to fly to Europe non-stop.
When certain countries began withdrawing landing rights SAA leased or sold some of its aircraft to Canada, Mauritius, Brazil and Morocco, aircrews were also leased out to other operators or offered pensions.
Tragedy struck the airline when B747 Combi ZS-SAS Helderberg crashed into the Indian Ocean near the island of Mauritius in November 1987; the airliner suffered an uncontrollable fire in main deck cargo compartment, all 159 persons perished.
The first of eight Boeing 747-400 airliners was delivered in January 1991, the airliner was fitted with glass cockpits and the main distinguishing feature was winglets fitted to each wing tip. Fuel efficient and more powerful Rolls Royce engines were fitted, an increased fuel capacity gave the aircraft greater range to fly non-stop from the East Coast of America to South Africa.
As sanctions were eased SAA was allowed to fly over the East Coast of Africa. SAA began taking delivery of Airbus A320 aircraft for use on the internal and regional services.
In 1991 South African Express airlines was granted a license to operate domestically in South Africa, SAA was a 10% shareholder. The airline would be a feeder service operator and take over some of SAA’s low-density internal routes. The first of three Boeing 767 wide-body twinjets were delivered to SAA in August 1993, the smaller wide body airliner was used to fly to the Middle East, Africa and Southern European destinations, SAA operated the type for 10 years.
Towards the turn of the millennium fairly rapid growth was experienced, particularly on services to Africa as well as fleet modernisation of the long haul fleet. An Alliance was formed between SAA, SA Express and SA Airlink in February 1997. In November 1999 SAir Group – the holding company of Swissair bought a 20% share in SAA for R1.4 billion. In July 2000 the first New Generation Boeing 737-800 was delivered, twenty-one of the type were ordered to replace both the Airbus A300 and A320 aircraft. By March 2002 all of SAA’s Airbus aircraft had left South African skies. In November 2001 Transnet bought back ailing SAir Group’s share in SAA.
SAA bought a 49% share in Air Tanzania Limited in July 2002; the new outfit was launched in April 2003. In the fleet modernisation programme Airbus A340 aircraft would replace both the B747 classic and B767 aircraft and Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft would replace the Boeing 737 and later 737-800 airliners. The first Airbus A340-642 was delivered in January 2003, to speed up the re-equipment A330 and A340-200 airliners were leased from European operators. The first A340-642 service was operated to Hong Kong in February 2003 replacing the B747 Classic on the route. As more Airbus aircraft arrived the old Classics were sold, returned to the leasing companies or reduced to scrap at Johannesburg International Airport in early 2004.
The South African Government awarded a 5-year airmail contract to Union Airways to convey mail matter to main centres in South Africa. Union Airways service conveyed mail from the Union-Castle steamships that docked in Cape Town early on Monday mornings to Port Elizabeth where the flight split-up, one flying to East London and Durban and one flying North to Bloemfontein and Johannesburg on the same day. The airmails for the UK were flown to Cape Town on Thursdays in time for the afternoon steamship sailing. Small amounts of cargo were also carried in the early years. South West African Airways was also awarded a contract to fly airmail from Windhoek to Kimberley to meet up with the Imperial Airways service; airmail was also flown to the main centres in the mandate.
When SAA began operations the carriage of both airmail and cargo contributed to the earnings of the organisation, in the first financial year of operation approximately eight tons of airmail and ten tons cargo were carried over 428,869 kilometres. More cargo and airmail could be carried when the three Junkers Ju 52/3m airliners were introduced; the next Ju 52/3m to enter service had a special compartment added behind the cockpit for the carriage of airmail. The rapid expansion of the airline before the war led to vast increases of airmail and cargo, at the cessation of operations (at the start of the war) 3,278 tons of mail matter had been carried, cargo tonnage increased to a total 248 tons. Airmail and cargo figures are not available for the first couple of years after the war.
In conjunction with SAA, British Overseas Airways Corporation began operating a joint weekly cargo service between the two countries from April 1948 using Avro Lancastrian freighters. When larger aircraft were introduce the service was discontinued. In the 1949–1950 financial year 1,509 tons of airmail and 433 tons of cargo were carried.
At the end of November 1955 SAA bought and operated their own dedicated cargo aircraft, C-47 ZS-DJX was bought from the Air Force and was operated locally. The DC-4 Skymasters had double doors at the main passenger entry position, the interior fittings could be removed and the airliner was used to haul freight, karakul pelts and race horses were frequently carried. At the end of the 1959/60 financial year the amount of mail and cargo had risen to dramatically 14,335 tons or mail and 13,522 tons of cargo.
When the Boeing 707 was introduced the big cargo holds increased the amount of cargo carried on the overseas services. Towards the end of the 1960’s Boeing 707 Combi model aircraft were ordered, a large cargo door was fitted at the left front of the cabin and the cargo floor strengthened to carry the cargo pallets, the floors had rollers to facilitate moving the pallets. The airline also ordered three Boeing 727QC airliners, the QC stood for Quick Change, the cabin interior could be changed from an all cargo to an all passenger configuration in less than 30 minutes. The seats and mid cabin galley were secured onto pallets that could be rolled out of the large cargo door at the front cabin, the airliner carried passengers by day and cargo at night. Both the 707 and 727 aircraft were used in the full passenger, mixed operation where the front half of the cabin carried cargo and rear half passengers and in a full cargo configuration. The increase in cargo capacity on the aircraft led a tremendous increase in the amount of cargo that was carried by the airline in the next financial decade, airmail carried was 24,419 tons, and cargo was 87,965 ton. Lockheed L100 Hercules freighter aircraft were chartered to operate both regional and domestic cargo services for SAA in the 1970 decade.
The introduction of wide-body airliners in 1971 led to sharp rises of tonnage in the amount of airfreight carried. Nearly every conceivable animal from day-old chicks to elephants have been carried in the cargo holds of SAA airliners, birds, snakes, the big cats and various forms of sea life have all been added to the cargo manifests. In 1976 one B707 was converted into a full freighter configuration, the aircraft operated a weekly freight service from Johannesburg to Paris, chartered cargo services to other destinations were also operated.
Two B747 Combi aircraft entered service in 1980, the 747 Combi’s differed from earlier Combi models in that the large cargo door was fitted to the rear main deck cabin. The airliners were operated in this configuration until the Helderberg disaster, cargo in the right front cargo container erupted in an uncontrollable fire that resulted in the loss of the aircraft and all 159 lives onboard. The remaining 747 Combi was operated in an all passenger configuration before being converted into a full cargo model. One of the 9 Airbus A300 airliners was delivered to SAA as a Combi variant, operated mostly as a passenger version until it was converted into a full cargo configuration in the 1990’s being used mostly through Africa and into Europe.
In the 1990’s 2 of SAA’s B737 airliners were converted from their passenger role into full freighters, the modification included the installation of a main forward cargo door and strengthened floor. The final freighter to be operated by SAA was a Boeing 747F, this aircraft was manufactured as a full cargo airliner, the visor or upward hinging nose allowed for bulk cargo to loaded.
Rationalisation of SAA’s cargo fleet in 1999 saw the disposal of both B747 and the A300 Freighters; the two B737 freighters were still in service.
A single class operation was offered from the start of the airline until October 3rd 1953 when a weekly all 58 seat Tourist Class Lockheed Constellation service on the Johannesburg to London run was started. The normal Standard Class Constellation configuration was for 42 seats. The Douglas DC-7B was the first SAA airliner to offer a mixed First and Tourist Class seating service. The word Tourist Class was renamed Economy Class. Domestic services operated a standard/tourist class service.
In the early 1960s a low fare Skycoach Service was offered on the Domestic services using Douglas DC-3, DC-4 and DC-7B airliners. When Boeing 727 airliners replaced most of the Viscounts services, they in turn were downgraded to Skycoach operations. Skycoach services were withdrawn in October 1971.
After the Boeing 747 entered service cabin services on the overseas took on a new aspect, “Blue Diamond” was instated for First Class and a “Gold Medallion” service for Economy Class passengers.
In April 1981 SAA introduced a three class on all its international services, Blue Diamond for first class, Gold class for business class and Silver for economy class. In June 1984 Late Night services were offered to passengers on the Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth-Cape Town route.
First Class service was offered to domestic class passengers in 1985 on SAA Boeing 737 aircraft and Airbus A300 airliners, with more leg-room, and bigger seats, business class check-in and at destination baggage would be unloaded first.
From June 1987 First Class was abolished in favour of Business Class on the domestic services when business class lounges became available in the domestic terminals.
In 2002 SAA opened First and Business class lounges at London’s Heathrow Airport.