Kenya Airways Business Class (Premier World) – ‘The Pride of Africa?’
‘The Pride of Africa’ is Kenya Airways’ well-known slogan that, since 2005, also adorns the airline’s aircraft. Kenya Airways has been in existence for over 40 years and, in 2010, became a member of the Skyteam alliance and thus a more attractive option for frequent travellers and point collectors. Nowadays, they use Flying Blue as their frequent flyer program.
One of Kenya Airways long-haul routes goes from Nairobi to Hong Kong with a stop in Bangkok, a stopover which means you can also buy tickets exclusively for the route, Bangkok-Hong Kong and vice versa, for a pretty cheap price. We took this opportunity to test Kenya Airways between Hong Kong and Bangkok in their business class, called Premier World, on a Boeing 777-200ER.
At the Airport
The check-in took place just before lunch at Hong Kong’s excellent in-town check-in at Hong Kong Station, in the city centre. This is available for most major airlines up to 90 minutes before departure, the only requirement is that you take the Airport Express train to the airport and present your ticket to enter the boarding area. Kenya Airways’ check-in desk is shared with most major Chinese airlines, including Air China, which seems a bit strange and illogical.
Check in was very thorough, as previously was the case when I checked into central Hong Kong. The man at the counter wanted, for example, to see my return ticket when I travelled to Bangkok on a one-way ticket. I did, however, have all the paperwork in order and was quickly processed. A priority tag was attached to my bag and I got my boarding pass with my pre-booked seat and a lounge invitation.
As I had a friend who was on an earlier flight that evening, I joined him at the airport at 5pm, more than four hours before my departure. There was a great deal of queuing at security checkpoints, although everything went surprisingly smoothly.
Kenya Airways uses the Air France lounge in Hong Kong, perhaps not so surprising as their Flying Blue frequent flyer program is also the official rewards program of Kenya Airways. The lounge is one of the better ones that Air France operates and above all, it is the range of food and drink which is slightly better than what is typically the case in Europe. During this visit, for example, there were sandwiches, cold snacks, hot food and a wide range of drinks. The decor is the same as in most of the Air France lounges and familiar if you fly often with Skyteam.
I also had time to visit China Airlines’ lounge at the airport. I had access because of their membership in the SkyTeam. It was a lounge with a stylish decor and friendly staff, but with a much more limited selection of food and drink.
Boarding and First Impressions
Boarding had begun an hour before departure and the information that was on the departure screens clearly stated that they wanted to get away 15 minutes earlier than the official departure time of 9:50pm. This was presumably to have a less stressful turnaround in Bangkok before the flight towards Nairobi.
I went to the gate half an hour before departure and was greeted by an empty gate, number 41, where the screens flashed “Final Call”. There was not much the ground staff could say or do about it, to arrive half an hour before departure can not be considered late, but it was obvious that they wanted to get everyone onboard as soon as possible.
The front passenger bridge was used for business class passengers and I quickly found my seat 02L, a window seat on the second row. My first impression of the cabin was a mixed one. This was one of Kenya Airways’ newer Boeing 777-200ER, and it was clearly fresher than the pictures I have seen of their older long-haul aircraft, primarily Boeing 767s, but it was still a cabin that failed to stand out or give a special impression.
Fairly quickly, one of the flight attendants came to greet me and offered a welcome drink, a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. I took the latter. Newspapers were offered as well as the menu for the flight and the landing card for Bangkok.
There was no early departure in the end, but a punctual one at 9:50pm. After the safety video, flight KQ 861 took off to Bangkok with a flight time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.
On board the Kenya Airways Boeing 777 were four rows of business class, in a 2-3-2 configuration, which meant 28 seats in total. The seat was one of Kenya Airways newer models and was very spacious, with legroom of a full 75 inches (190 cm) and in reclined position, it was almost completely horizontal, except for a slight incline.
Although it was a relatively new aircraft, with a roomy and comfortable seat, the cabin felt older than it probably was. Both the cabin layout and seat design gave an old-fashioned feel with dark red seats and small screens that sat firmly attached to the seat in front. Even the seat controls were very simple, with only four buttons, two for regulating the backrest and two for the footrest.
10 of the 28 seats were occupied on this flight to Bangkok, which meant plenty of space on board and anyone who wanted to, could get their own row.
Kenya Airways’ entertainment system consisted of a small selection of movies, TV shows, music and games. Additionally, there was a flight map one could follow. The screen sat rigidly mounted on the seat in front and was small in comparison to some of the newer entertainment systems available on the market today. While the sound and picture were of relatively simple quality, there was nothing I used to any great extent during the flight.
The menu for the flight was handed out before departure and had a very nice cover, a picture of a glass of white wine and a platter garnished with noodle salad on it. The menu was written in both English and Chinese, and also contained the drink menu with a brief description of the different wines.
During the journey to Bangkok, one simple hot meal was served, consisting of three choices of main course and dessert, but no starter. The three main dishes were, a Western dish, an African dish, and a Chinese dish, which on this flight, was steak with pasta and vegetables, chicken Murgh Rogan with basmati rice, and Hock Kien noodles with vegetables.
The drink menu consisted of a champagne (Moët & Chandon), two white wines, two red wines, a port and a standard selection of spirits and soft drinks. The drink menu actually contained most of what one would want to order and there was really nothing missing, but it was not a drink list that stood out or offered anything out of the ordinary.
The ordering of food and drinks had already taken before departure and once we were up in the air, it took only a few minutes before white cloths were laid on the tables and meal trays were distributed, along with drinks. The whole meal was served on the same tray and, as I mentioned, there was no appetiser on offer. I chose the African chicken dish and a glass of champagne. As well as this, bread was offered from a basket. The chicken dish tasted very good and the presentation of the food and drinks was great. Later, I was offered additional bread and a refill of my champagne glass.
The dessert was a good chocolate mousse dessert with a raspberry garnish, and thereafter, tea and coffee were offered once the tray was removed. I ordered a cup of black coffee and a whisky, which was served with a Kenya Airways cocktail stick.
The meal service was fast and efficient and it was ready within an hour after take off from Hong Kong. The time passed 10pm and many wanted to get some rest. The meal was marketed not as dinner, but as a “Hot light meal.”
The strange thing about this flight, was that virtually all the cabin crew were Asian except for the two people who came from the airline’s home country, Kenya. This in itself was not a problem, as many people from South East Asia are, on the contrary, very good when it comes to service, but the feeling of being on an African airline was not really there.
All the staff were very friendly and accommodating. The meal service itself was fast but later in the flight, if you wanted something more to drink, you had to press the call button and someone would arrive at your seat within seconds. No attempt was made to address me by name or pay any special attention to me as a gold member of Flying Blue.
Since this was a short evening flight, there was no reason to sleep properly on board, although, for fun, I tried out the reclining seat. The seat was reclined into a near horizontal position, but still with a slight incline. The seat was also surprisingly comfortable to rest in and I think I would have had no problem sleeping on board. A pillow and a blanket were next to the seat.
With a punctual departure from Hong Kong, we landed in Bangkok a few minutes before the scheduled time. All passengers nn business class, who ended their trip in Bangkok, were given a fast track card for faster progress through passport control. However, queues were basically non-existent and the card was never needed, which is not commonplace in Bangkok.
My checked baggage arrived quickly on the band, the priority tag did its job.
A mixed bag of impressions. Actually, there was nothing that was bad about the experience – good food with good choices, a spacious and comfortable seat and friendly staff, but there was also nothing that stood out and really impressed.
The ticket was very affordable and I would not hesitate to choose Kenya Airways again. Next time, I would like to try the airline on a longer flight and preferably with a Kenyan cabin crew.