From Johannesburg, SAA's hub, the national carrier of South Africa flies to over 35 destinations across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Australia and North and South America. From our first flight in February 1934 we have welcomed the world to South Africa by showing off the warm generous heart of the country.

We have become a global airline whose excellence - 14 Skytrax awards acknowledging us as the best African airline and Africa’s first 4 star airline - has been built a dedication to excellence and embracing innovation.

Becoming the best airline in Africa does not happen overnight. We have more than 80 years of excellence and innovation to draw on. Here are just some of the innovations that have set us apart over the eight decades that we have been bringing Africa to the world:


South Africa Airways began operations on 1 February 1934, when the South African government took over the assets and liabilities of Union Airways. The airline was renamed South African Airways (SAA), and fell under the control of the South African Railways and Harbour administration.

On 1 November 1934, SAA introduced Junkers Ju 52/3m, the first multi-engine aircraft, on its domestic routes. During the 30s, the airline steadily acquired more planes, including the first 10-seater Junkers Ju 86s, DC-3s, Constellation L-749As, Lockheed Lodestar, DC-7Bs Vickers Viscounts and the Boeing 707.


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was founded in Havana in April 1945, and SAA became one of 44 active founding members.

In November 1945 SAA introduced the Springbok service, its first inter-continental service. The flight took off from Palmietfontein, with stops in Nairobi, Khartoum, Cairo, Castel Benito and Bournemouth and took 34 hours.

SAA modernised in-flight service and entertainment by introducing air hostesses on domestic flights and a cinema on the direct service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.


The official opening of Jan Smuts International Airport was held in Kempton Park on 17 April 1952. In 1953 a SAA operated BOAC Comet took off from Johannesburg en-route to London, in the process becoming the first airline outside the UK to operate jet aircraft.

In November 1957 the first SAA flight departed for Perth. Today our Wallaby service provides a daily connection between Australia and Africa and has expanded with our codeshare partner Virgin Australia.


The 1960s South African Airways extended its orange tail insignia across the entire fleet.

In March 1967, our Wallaby service became the first weekly jet service between South Africa and Australia.

In 1968 we made an inaugural flight from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro using a Boeing 707.

The 1968/1969 financial year was the first time SAA carried more than a million passengers.


The 70s welcomed new arrivals: our first Boeing 747B, ZS-SAN 'Lebombo' and Airbus 'Blesbok' At the same time, we sought to improve our traffic growth on domestic and regional routes by purchasing 12 Boeing 737s, three Boeing 747SPs and four Airbus A300s.

On March 23, 1976 an SAA Boeing 747SP (special performance) set a record for the longest non-stop commercial flight when it flew from Seattle to Cape Town, a distance of 16 560 km's covered in 17 hours and 22 minutes.

On 24 April 1976, South African Airways operated the world's first commercial flight using a Boeing 747SP. The aircraft flew on the Johannesburg-Lisbon-Rome-Athens service.

On 6 January 1977, the Boeing 747SP made its first scheduled flight between Johannesburg and Sydney. The flight offered in-flight audio entertainment and movies.


In April 1981, South African Airways introduced a three-class service for an Australian flight: Blue Diamond First class, Gold class for Business passengers and Silver class for Economy class travellers.

Due to economic sanctions, flights to New York were suspended in November 1986. The USA withdrew from its landing rights in South Africa. The following year, the Australian government took the same action against South Africa.


For the first time in 28 years, SAA flights operated via Sudan and Egypt. Economic sanctions against South Africa were lifted, and flights to New York and Australia resumed.

On board domestic flights, SAA introduced multi-lingual greetings in English, Zulu, Sotho and Afrikaans. On international flights, passengers were greeted in the relevant language of their destination.

SAA's Cadet Pilot Training programme was launched to provide previously disadvantaged individuals an opportunity to become pilots.

On 24 June 1995 a SAA Boeing 747 captained by Laurie Kay produced one of sport’s most memorable moments when he piloted his plane over Ellis Park ahead of the Rugby World Cup final. It was described by a rugby writer as, "Completely unexpected, brilliantly executed, totally thrilling," and a pass that will live forever.

On 22 March 1997, SAA unveiled a new corporate identity with its aircraft tail designed to reflect the colours of South Africa’s new national flag: red, blue, gold, black and green. Even after discontinuing the Flying Springbok logo, SAA retains the word springbok in its radio call sign.


South African Airways embarked on an extensive fleet renewal programme and appointed Airbus as its supplier. The airline placed a staggering order for 41 new aircraft with a price tag of US$3.5 billion - Africa's biggest jetliner acquisition.

SAA launched an online check-in system and a self-check-in kiosk, a simpler, smarter and faster way for passengers to check in.

SAA signed a US$200 million deal with Rolls Royce to supply the airline’s nine A340-600s with Rolls Royce Trent 500 engines.

After an absence of more than 40 years, South Africa was reinstated as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Thereafter, we became a member of the global Star Alliance in April 2006, and with it came seamless worldwide air travel. In addition, we unveiled two Star Alliance branded aircraft - a 737-800 and Airbus A340-600 - as part of the global network’s requirements.

In 2005 SAA became the first non-Saudi airline allowed to fly to Medina to carry Muslim pilgrims going on Haj.

On 29 November 2007, we became the proud official carrier of the South African rugby team, the Springboks, as part of a sponsorship agreement between the airline and South African Rugby.