GETTING HERE FROM ABROAD
South Africa has a mature scheduled flight network. Its focal hubs are Johannesburg (non-stop flights to 82 cities) and Cape Town (27 cities); these are the destinations for almost all international flights and where you make onward local or regional connections. Substantial investment and redevelopment upgraded these facilities to world-class standards for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, including the high-speed Gautrainrail link to Johannesburg (15 minutes to the Sandton business district) and from Johannesburg to Pretoria (35 minutes). Many international airlines are present.
From America the only direct flights are operated by SAA from New York and Atlanta (Delta) to Johannesburg. These routes are amongst the longest regularly operated sectors in the world, taking seventeen hours. Other operators provide indirect Northern American services. Some offer stop-overs in Europe (see below); some stop only to refuel in North Africa in Dakar (Senegal) or the Cape Verde Islands (amongst these, watch out for periodic offers on SAA from Washington where return flights can sell for under $900 including tax and surcharges). Refuelling takes an hour and no disembarkation from the plane is permitted.
Europe is served better by virtue of its closer geographic proximity. Regional feeder airlines provide services to SA via hubs such as Amsterdam Schiphol (the Netherlands), Frankfurt (Germany) and Charles de Gaulle in Paris (France). From these and other large cities, routing to Africa via a Middle Eastern hub often offers the cheapest flights: try Emirates (via Dubai), Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar Airways (Doha).
London Heathrow in the UK originates the most direct flights and has the most operators with British Airways, SAA, and Virgin offering one or more daily flights each to Johannesburg and Cape Town (Virgin operates only northern hemisphere Winters on this route). The number of outbound flights and the extensive network of Northern American flights makes London a good stop-over point en-route to Southern Africa from the US or Canada. If you are flying from the UK and not near London then you will almost certainly find cheaper flights from your local airport via another European hub rather than going via Heathrow. Go here to check if Turkish, Egyptian or Ethiopian airlines have regional return flights for £400, and then come back here to sort out your Safari.
The flag-carrying South African Airways has been pulling back from flights to the Asian continent (recently China and India) but has formed a new alliance with Etihad to code-share on their routes servicing the region. SAA claims this adds 27 cities to its network. As before, Singapore Airline and Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong) continue to fly to their hubs and beyond.
South African, Quantas and Singapore Airways dominate the market from Australia and New Zealand.
LONG HAUL TIPS
We monitor flights for our clients and publish good deals that we come across to our Twitter feed @kruger2canyons and facebook: k2c.im/f
The Sesfikile Premium Arrivals Lounge at Johannesburg International Airport is open to all-comers and is a welcome sight after a long flight. It offers shower and bathroom facilities, snacks, drinks and includes WiFi access. It costs around R400 per person.
You can pre-pay and order your cellphone and mobile data SIM cards at b4igo.travel which ensures that you get what you need, that it is waiting for you at the Cellucity store in Arrivals, and that you already know what your South African number is (they email it to you a week before you collect it).