When traveling to long distance dream destinations, getting there is often a nightmare. That’s why anything that cuts down on transit time is worth its weight in gold. I’m not one to write about travel news but as a self-confessed safari addict, Kenya Airways’ (KQ) new direct flight from JFK to Nairobi makes me so happy I had to share. (Speaking of long flights, here are some tips for how to be comfortable on a long-haul flight and how to beat jet lag.)
I’ve been fortunate to visit Kenya four times on safaris but to get there I had to layover in Johannesburg, Amsterdam or London, which meant it took at least 24 hours before I checked into my hotel.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited on Kenya Airway’s inaugural flight from JFK to Nairobi. It was the start of a two-week trip that would begin and end in Kenya by way of Zimbabwe and Botswana. (More on that to come.) The journey was a dream compared to my last trip, slicing off more than eight-hours previously sacrificed to a layover and a second flight. Once in the air, we arrived in Nairobi 13 hours later, nearly two hours less than anticipated. (We thanked autumn tailwinds for the boost.)
This flight was a long time in the making with nearly 10 years of planning and negotiations between government agencies and airline execs. Perseverance and a renovated Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with all the security bells and whistles put the cherry on top of the plan. The flight is a boon for travelers and certain to further energize the country’s tourism grow
But perhaps you’re not interested in Kenya’s tourism. If you love wildlife, you should be. Increased revenue from safari-goers means more reason to protect and expand national wildlife reserves, promote community projects that mitigate human/animal conflict, and support programs to save endangered species.
The first flight started off with a bang and included food and balloons at the gate and an excitement that was palpable. Michael Joseph the airline’s Chairman and Sebastian Mikosz the CEO were at the gate talking to the press and taking pictures with passengers and crew before the journey.
Once aboard, I was seated in business. (It’s definitely the way to go if it’s in your budget.) The vibe in the cabin was very festive and I can’t deny, I was excited to be a part of something so meaningful to a country I love visiting.
We departed slightly after 1 pm and arrived in Nairobi at 8:30 am local time without a hitch.
The amenities in business are what one would expect. The seats were comfortable and adjusted in a million different ways including the ability to adjust lumbar support. Fully flat, I fell asleep almost instantly and happy to find there wasn’t the painful center seam I’ve experienced on other planes. A pillow and yummy soft blanket aided my slumber.
A remote controlled the large touchscreen monitor and the entertainment system—I found the touch option temperamental (return flight too). There was a decent selection of movies and TV to watch. Individual reading lights made it easy not to disturb others and a universal outlet and USB port located under my left armrest kept my devices charged. A cubby next to the screen held headphones.
A small black fabric pouch handed out before takeoff contained the usual suspects: a pair of socks, earplugs, eye mask, a tiny tube of toothpaste and collapsible toothbrush, and a pen.
The windows are 65% larger on the Dreamliner than other planes, and instead of having those ugly pull-down window shades, they dimmed electronically and could be controlled by both passengers and crew.
The only thing that baffled me was the lack of WiFi. It was odd considering the flight is also meant to cater to the employees of American companies based in Nairobi.
The flight attendants were very attentive and friendly, but they would have been insane not to be considering the press, travel agents and airline execs—not to mention the US Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec, on board. (On my return home, the attendants were just as friendly. However, (and I’m nitpicking here) they seemed overwhelmed and were forgetful. That said, nothing they did or didn’t do was major or would keep me from flying the airline again)
Not a selling point I’m afraid. While nicely presented, I was decidedly underwhelmed (both flights), and I don’t expect a lot from plane food. (See X for the dinner menu.) I’ve never based my choice of carrier on the cuisine but for those who might, that’s my take.
Arrival in Nairobi
Upon our arrival, a lavish ceremony was waiting for us. Water cannons sprayed the plane, there was a long red carpet, and a marching band played while dancers in traditional African garb performed. At the end of the carpet, the Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto shook hands with passengers. The morning concluded with a series of heartfelt speeches from U.S. and Kenyan dignitaries and the Chairman of Kenya Airways.
Though my return home didn’t include the same fanfare as my departure, flying home in one flight was in itself a celebration.
Kenya Airways Official Website is found here.
Kenya Airways flight from JFK to Nairobi: Daily flight departing at 12 pm arriving at 10:30 am local time. (Official flying time: 14 hrs, 35 minutes)
Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to JFK: Daily flight takes off at 11:25 pm arriving at JFK at 6:25 am. (Official flying time: 15 hrs)
Though I was a guest of Kenya Airways, my sentiments are my own.