Bookings for Kenya Airways maiden direct flights to the US have started in earnest.
As part of readying itself for the inaugural flight, the Government is streamlining management of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to enhance passenger experience.
This was revealed as it emerged that KQ may recall some of its leased airplanes as it prepares to launch non-stop transatlantic flights in October.
The airline intends to fly planes daily from Nairobi to New York and its biggest shareholder, the Government is pulling all stops to make the venture successful.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told Sunday Standard that KQ counters are already being set up at the JFK International Airport in New York and customers are excited.
“We would have even started today because everything is ready. We however did not want to launch the flights as a loss-making venture hence the idea to time them with the start of the festive and high tourism seasons,” he said.
“From the enthusiasm we are seeing from travelers it is clear people have been waiting for this and they want to travel because by the end of the first day when we launched ticketing 62 people had bought tickets,” he said.
According to the flight schedule, a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner with a capacity of 234 passengers, 30 of them in business class and 204 of them in economy will depart every day from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 11:25pm.
The plane will arrive at JFK International Airport in New York the following day at 6:25am.
From New York it will depart at 12:25pm landing at JKIA at 10:55am. Another plane is expected to go the opposite direction with the outbound flight. And to ready itself, all employees of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and service providers will next week sign a charter that will place them under one command structure for easier management.
“We want one chain of command at the airport because we have so many agencies working there and everyone is doing things the way they feel is best,” said Macharia.
“At the port of Mombasa we have two agencies but all of them are answerable to the CEO. This is why the port is efficient nowadays. Why can’t we do it at JKIA and it is the first point of contact between visitors and Kenya?” posed the CS.
The State also wants all service providers including representatives of taxi companies that operate at the airport to be vetted and accept to work within specific guidelines as it seeks to transform JKIA into a first class airport befitting its Category One status.
“Presently all the State officials who work at JKIA report to their line Ministries. This is not tenable if we want it to be a world-class airport,” said Macharia.
Kenya Airways intends to hire 150 people for the JFK-JKIA route including pilots, air hostesses and ground staff in New York.
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The national carrier has seven Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners in its fleet after it leased two to Oman Air in 2016 in order to cut cots.
The airline which has 39 aircraft has in the last two years also subleased three B777-300ERs to Turkish Airlines, sold one Boeing 777-200ER and returned two leased Embraer E170 aircraft to their owners.
KQ, as the airline is also known is charging $869 (Sh87,000) for a return ticket on the direct flight. The flight time will be 14 hours outbound and 15 hours inbound.
There are only six airlines that offer direct flights to the US from Africa and the only one that is from the region is Ethiopian Airlines.