Crew Talk: Michael Blackburn


After 40 years of service, purser Michael Blackburn looks back on his career with SAA. According to his manager, Michael regularly and consistently receives customer compliments and has an impeccable record, as his many accolades attest.

It’s a privilege to have won Crew Member of the Year a year and a half before retirement. I started on 1 February 1980. I was 22. It was apartheid South Africa. How things have changed since then.

When Colleen Moses joined SAA in 1982 we came friends immediately. We would become besties forever. She was from Durban and now lives in Edinburgh. I also remember Glenda Prince from Cape Town who went on to win Miss South African Airways.

I also loved working with sisters Alice and Cecilea Machjela – we travelled together on their first overseas flight and I showed them around Amsterdam. Cecilia went on to marry a Frenchman and lives in Paris. Alice married a doctor and lives in Sandton.

The lovely Colleen Moses and me, we're besties forever.
The lovely Colleen Moses and me, we’re besties forever.

SAA Leading The Way

South Africa was changing, and South African Airways led the way. Our shameful past was moving toward one that we would be proud of. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president and our rainbow nation was born. We changed our airline’s colours to reflect that and our new flag took flight.

As a proud member of SAA and a South African, I look back at my career and have no regrets. In 1999, I won the very first ‘in-flight salesperson of the year’ competition and represented SAA as their top duty-free sales person of the year.

I was chosen as one of 20 cabin crew ambassadors for South African Airways and was one of five interviewed on television by presenter Leanne Manas. She asked me about the requirements of my job and I answered, “verve.”

That’s energy and enthusiasm. Sensing the tension and nerves amongst my colleagues, I decided to break the ice by adding “and also good teeth!” That got a laugh and they all relaxed. Of course we all know that good teeth are important for that warm African welcome one finds onboard South African Airways.

No Place Like Home 

I was part of the cabin crew chosen to make a tourist video for SAA, No place like home. We travelled the country filming high above the Magaliesberg Mountains from a hot air balloon, and from the fabulously posh Rovos Rail train that meandered through the beautiful Garden Route.

We abseiled into the dark caverns of the Wonder Caves at the Cradle of Humankind and visited a scary crocodile farm in Oudtshoorn where my father was a tour guide for many years. He took teeth from a crocodile and set them into dentures that he wore to scare tourists. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! made a movie featuring his wax image which can be seen today in their museums in Hong Kong, London and New York.

We went on to film the awesome Table Mountain in Cape Town with its revolving cable car with expansive views of the city. Then to Stellenbosch where we tasted some of the world’s best wines all made in South Africa. We also got to taste our famous hake fish and chips at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. We filmed whales and dolphins in Hermanus.

In Mpumalanga we stayed in the Kruger National Park where we saw the Big Five up close. Up at 5am and off to the waterholes: we saw lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and wildebeest together at one time. Only in Africa.

Your experience starts when you board SAA, Skytrax winner for 2019, Best Airline To Africa , and Best African Airline Crew. Look out for me, because I’ll be looking out for you. Don’t be surprised if I publish a book in a few years. Happy flying.


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