10 reasons why Johannesburg Airport rocks
August 15, 2013
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I’ve flown through my fair share of airports, and can honestly say Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport is one of my favourites. I find European and Middle East airports too big and busy, most African aiports too hectic, while American airports are on security overload. I may be a little biased, as I do fly into and out of Joburg a lot. Here’s why I think Johannesburg airport rocks.

1. Shopping!

I’m generally not much of a shopper, except when it comes to awesome African crafts, which I like to call Mzansi bling 🙂 I’m always in a crazy rush when I fly, especially international flights. No matter how much I plan, I never have time to get all the last minute gifts I want to take to my overseas friends.

johannesburg airport shopping

I couldn’t resist these little Ndebele dolls


Lucky for me the selection of Mzansi bling at Johannesburg airport is excellent. It may be a little more expensive than your average craft market but the quality and selection of African craft on offer are worth the few extra bucks. I can never resist the little beaded trinkets, funky African earrings or shwe-shwe anything.

South African food and alcohol always make good gifts too.  I rarely leave Duty Free without a super-sized bottle of Amarula, boxes of organic rooibos and a few packs of spicy biltong to take to my faraway friends. There are so many cool gift options, I actually think it deserves a blog post on its own.

2. The Gautrain

Johannesburg is definitely a city that is challenged when it comes to public transport. That’s why its such a pleasure to travel on the Gautrain.  Using the Gautrain is convenient to get to the airport from the major hubs, especially during Jozi rush hour where the roads are a mess.  Even better, I don’t have to brave the airport traffic to fetch family and friends from the airport anymore.  I just tell them to hop on the Gautrain and fetch them from the nearest station. Easy peasy.

By Nithin bolar k (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Nithin bolar k (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Valet Parking services

If the Gautrain schedule isn’t working for you, my biggest tip for Gauteng residents to make air travel less painful is to use one of the Joburg airport valet parking services. It takes the hassle out of parking, so you don’t need to get to the airport as early as your normally would. Its especially useful for early morning  departures / late arrivals and making the airport peak time rush easier. The 15 minutes each way it saves me in parking time, makes  it super convenient.

I usually use Mr Parking, who I’ve found very reliable in the past year of using their services. They offer the most competitive pricing (not significantly much more than parking at the airport) and they wash your car for no extra charge. For someone who never has time for the car-wash, this is perfect!

4. Airport security

Airport security at all South African airports are fairly painless and quick, both through domestic and international departures. After my recent Europe trip, I seriously appreciate how quick and easy airport security at Johannesburg International is.  It also helps that the staff are friendly.

Johannesburg airport

I’ve been through security at OR Tambo International Airport lots

5. Lost and found

Johannesburg International does get a hard rap for luggage getting pilfered, but I’ve luckily not had this experience.  I had a wow-worthy experience last year, where upon arriving at Joburg airport, I thought I’d had my iPhone stolen.

After reporting it to the police and recalling my movements, from disembarking the aeroplane to realising I didn’t have my phone, I came to the realisation that my phone might be in the ladies bathroom outside the luggage pick up. When I returned to the ladies room 2 hours later, I found the cleaning lady had found my iPhone! You can’t imagine how relieved I was.  I have EVERYTHING on my phone, including thousands of photos that I use for this blog which I hadn’t imported in months. Needless to say, the cleaning lady got a fat tip.

6. Range of food options

Compared to other international airports, I find the food at Joburg International well priced with a good variety on offer – from your standard fast food fare to more exotic and healthier options.  They even have bunny chows and a decent Durban curry as well as halaal certified restaurants. I love Kauai for a quick smoothie and Vida for a good coffee…I just wish the lines at Vida weren’t as long.

7. Airport lounges

I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of the lounges at Johannesburg International, which  are of the highest standards in comparison to some of the ones I’ve experienced in my international travels. The service has always been excellent with a good choice of fresh food and beverages. I especially like some of the wine selections 🙂 My favourite is the Slow Lounge, however the domestic Slow lounge  can get rather crowded during peak times.

Johannesburg airport lounge

Lots of lounges to choose from at Johannesburg airport [image CC GaryBembridge | Flickr]

7. South African hospitality

From the security people to the sweet cleaning lady who found my phone, I have always found the staff at the airport friendly.  A few times I’ve been through the Duty Free area, there has been a lively display of  local music, drumming and dance that makes my heart swell with pride. Besides entertaining the tourists, I think it a great way to entice travellers to buy more Mzansi bling before departure… not that I need much encouragement 🙂

8. African music

I love that there’s always proudly South African music playing in the background. This is especially comforting when you’ve been overseas for a while, and you arrive off the plane tired and homesick. Your first impression are the sweet sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Zahara or Johnny Clegg welcoming you to Mzansi. Home sweet home.

9. South African Art and Exhibitions

Johannesburg airport has some stunning South African art adorning its halls. Check out some of the massive portraits in the domestic arrivals baggage collection area. The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) has recently launched a permanent exhibition, situated at the airport’s International Viewing Deck, honouring Oliver Reginald Tambo’s legacy.

10. Range of services

There’s a host of useful services available at Johannesburg airport, especially useful for the frequent traveller.  I like that you can do your banking, get your hair done and even have a quickie massage should you have time to spare before your flight. The airport also has a pharmacy, doctors and a post office. You can even get some emergency groceries at Woolies which is super convenient for the frequent flyer.

Johannesburg airport arrivals

Johannesburg airport Departures hall [image CC Kaihsu Tai]

One gripe I have about South African airports is the lack of free Wifi. It seems that a lot of European airports have caught onto the need for travellers to be connected and offer limited free Wifi. As a travel blogger, I’m always on the hunt for free Wifi. Luckily I often use the airport lounges, which all offer free Wifi. There are also options to purchase data bundles in Wifi hotspots.

While other international airports are huge and impersonal, I find the size of Johannesburg airport just right not to be too crowded (barring peak times), with most parts of the airport within a 5 minute walk. What I appreciate most about OR Tambo airport is that it caters for a travellers needs with convenience.

Do you have any tips for travellers using OR Tambo Johannesburg International airport? Feel free to leave a comment below. 


Note:  I was invited to Johannesburg International airport as a guest of ACSA for their 20th birthday celebrations recently. Regardless, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.

About author

Meruschka Govender

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There are 14 comments

  • Di Brown says:

    Ha ha, this almost makes me want to take a holiday to the airport.

    When I return from overseas I am always so delighted to see SA smiling faces after all the miserable European ones. Maybe they look like that cos they dont live in Africa… I would be miserable too.

    Dont talk about airport shopping and African stuff. I almost spend my whole budget in those shops before I have even left, its just all so different and funky and it talks to me… buy me buy me.
    Another great post, loving it

  • mzansigirl says:

    Hi Di
    I agree with you there – South Africans smiles are the best, makes you feel right at home. I’m such a sucker for the African stuff at the airport, there’s always such cool stuff, I cannot resist!

  • Sarah Khan says:

    I’ve only been to O.R. Tambo a few times at this point, and my experiences have always been brief but pleasant. But I will say, the lack of Wi-Fi is a HUGE negative. Any major international player needs to have it, and that’s why hubs like Dubai will still get my vote (the fact that they have Shake Shack there is definitely a plus!!).

    • mzansigirl says:

      Thanks for the comment Sarah. I must admit, I notice the lack of Wifi a bit less in Joburg airport, as I have my wireless modem, and 3G access which I wouldn’t have as an international traveller. If I were an foreign tourist, I think I would be way more upset. I really hope that it is something that ACSA addresses in order to live up to travellers’ expections.

  • Marcia says:

    Ahhh, this brings back sweet memories. The music was a huge plus for us. After a long flight, we didn’t have to wait to exit the airport to feel that we’d finally arrived. Loved the shops, could have spent all my money there! The food options rocked too!

    • mzansigirl says:

      Hi Marcia. The music stands out for me too. It makes me so happy to get off a plane and feel instantly at home because of the music. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

  • Heather says:

    I also have a great affection for OR Tambo Airport. I thought I was the only one! I find it to be an unbelievably efficient airport (usually, at least — every airport does have its moments). Great idea for a post.

    • mzansigirl says:

      Thanks Heather! OR Tambo airport is underrated. After travelling in Europe and Africa I appreciate ORT so much more. Actually, I’m surprised at how people like this post. Thought there would just be complaints, but just positive feedback.

  • Helen says:

    I so agree. I love Jo’burg airport! Jo’Burg and Amsterdam are my two favourites!

  • Cool post M! ORT is a cool airport…..BUT Im frequently annoyed by the queues at security and passport control….problems that could be solved simply by opening more “desks”.

    The airport has come such a long way from the old days of Jan Smuts and is doubtless now world class. Great selection of food and drink prior to passport control (definitely NOT after).

    My biggest challenge right now at ORT? The fact that the Telkom store has closed down so I can’t print out invoices for clients at the airport – exceptionally inconvenient. A Postnet, 3@1 or some sort of business hub where printing can be done would help many business people I suspect.

    • mzansigirl says:

      Thanks Clare. I agree passport control can be hectic during peak times, but no worse than any European airport I’ve been to. Hopefully ACSA is reading this this and considers getting another business hub tenant.

      • Jason says:

        OR Tambo is a very efficient airport if you compare it to other airports. There are numerous transport services that can be booked that operate from this airport.

  • Eric Cohen says:

    Hi There, thanks for a great article, I just wanted to share this article for those who travel to and in South Africa, Please beware of pirate taxis and the high risks of taking a pirate airport shuttle service or taxi when you arrive at the airport, http://www.airportshuttlesa.co.za/traveling-to-south-africa-beware-of-pirate-taxis-at-the-airports , it happens all the time.

    Travel safely!

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