Kenya Airways’ recently launched a historic nonstop flight from Nairobi to New York, connecting Kenya and the East African region to New York with a nonstop flight for the first time. The aircraft used by KQ, as Kenya Airways is commonly referred to, for the ultra-long-haul flight was the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, Kenya Airways’ flagship aircraft.
Following the first arrival of the aircraft at New York’s JFK Airport, KQ invited AirlineGeeks onboard to tour the aircraft and see what to expect onboard when flying a Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
Kenya Airways took delivery of its first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner four years ago in 2014. Following the first arrival of Boeing’s latest ultra-modern aircraft in March 2014, the airline took delivery of one Dreamliner per month from June to October of that year, growing to a total of eight aircraft with two wet leased to Oman Air. The 234-seat aircraft feature a two-class configuration consisting of economy and business classes.
Powering the aircraft is the GEnx engines, which Kenya has chosen over the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines that have been crippling airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian Long Haul. The engines are tried and tested on ultra-long-haul routes such as Nairobi to New York, as Qantas uses the engines for its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner fleet which fly daily transpacific flights between Australia and the U.S., as well as daily service between Perth and London.
The aircraft has become the flagship for KQ as the airline retired its other long-haul aircraft including the Boeing 777-200 and Boeing 767-300ER, as well as subleased its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to Turkish Airlines. With the Dreamliner being the largest and only long-haul aircraft in its fleet, it serves all of Kenya’s intercontinental routes, serving cities such as London, Paris, Bangkok and, now, New York.
However, as Kenya Airways restructures under new CEO Sebastian Mikosz, it plans to take back its wet leased Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and Boeing 777-300ERs from Oman Air and Turkish Airlines, respectively, within the next two years and grow its route network using what will be the newly-restored aircraft. Once it takes back its Dreamliners, the fleet will grow to eight aircraft.
Although the Dreamliner was the only aircraft in KQ’s fleet capable of flying the Nairobi-New York route, it also proved to be the best aircraft for the job given Kenya’s preference for Boeing aircraft. Ultra-long-haul flying takes a toll on passengers, which the Dreamliner mitigates through technology that allows for a lower cabin altitude of 6,000 feet, higher humidity levels, larger windows ambient mood lighting, and spacious cabins.
With the flights to and from Nairobi timed to accommodate business travelers, those largely unseen passenger-friendly amenities play a large role in the service. Following the launch of New York service, KQ Chairman Michael Joseph announced the airline plans to fly to Atlanta in the near future to further connect to its SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines’ route network, a route expected to be served by the Dreamliner.
Onboard the Aircraft
After boarding the aircraft, resting at the gate during its 5-hour layover in New York before returning to Nairobi, we were greeted by the crew that would be operating the return flight and given an overview of its features. Following the overview, our tour began in the cockpit.
As the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was Boeing’s first foray into ultra-modern aircraft, the cockpit is vastly different than its predecessors. The dark cockpit, indicative of the modernity of the aircraft and the advanced technology utilized in its creation, is in stark contrast to the brown cockpits of the Boeing 747-400 and 747-8i, as well as the Boeing 777, Boeing 767 and Boeing 757 family of aircraft.
In the Dreamliner cockpit, glass replaces most of the gauges and instruments. Even the flight management computer is virtual, embedded within two screens on each side of the center pedestal, as well as the checklists and charts, found on a screen under the cockpit windows, although those are usually supplemented by an electronic flight bag in the form of an iPad on some carriers.
The cockpit is quite spacious, as with any widebody aircraft, and is able to accommodate four crewmembers with two jump seats behind the two front seats.
Forward Galley and Pilot Rest Area
Directly behind the cockpit was the forward galley and pilot rest area. The forward galley is where meals and drinks are prepared and features a coffee machine specific to the Dreamliner which is capable of making any hot beverage at any time for passengers.
In the pilot rest area, situated above the forward business class cabin, there are two bunks for pilots and a rear-facing recliner chair. As with the flight attendant crew rest area, amenities here are scarce as to encourage one thing, rest.
Pilots retire to the crew rest area one by one instead of going in pairs, according to a flight attendant. On the ultra-long-haul flights between New York and Nairobi, there are four pilots and 12 flight attendants who operate in shifts to avoid working while fatigued.
A unique feature of the galley is the addition of a self-service bar where drinks and snacks are available for all passengers, not just business class. The bar is located right next to the second loading door in the middle galley.
Kenya Airways business class was the highlight of the tour as the airline’s premium cabin, called Premier World, was voted Africa’s best business class by the World Travel Awards in 2017 and has been highly praised by travel bloggers and frequent travelers compared to other African airlines. On the Dreamliner, the five-row cabin is configured 2-2-2 in paired lie-flat seats separated by the middle galley and boarding door for a total of 30 seats.
A business class seat features 74 inches of pitch and 31 inches of width, according to SeatGuru, and comes with an amenity kit and a Kenya Airways-branded pillow and blanket. At every seat, you’ll find a power outlet, USB charging port, personal movable reading light, cup holder, tethered remote for the in-flight entertainment and noise-canceling headphones.
Since the seats are paired, there is no direct aisle access for window seats. However, when not in lie flat mode, there is plenty of room to walk passed your seatmate without disturbing them in the slightest.
The safety card and magazines are found in the center storage space between the two footrests under the in-flight entertainment screen.
The headphone jack, power outlet and remote is in the corner of the seat, easily accessible when in lie-flat mode but probably less so when in full upright mode.
Before the flight, the headphones are usually placed in the storage spaces between the two entertainment screens. However, they are deep enough to be used for additional storage space in addition to the headphones.
The remaining 204 seats on the aircraft belong to the economy class cabin of the aircraft. The seats, arranged in a 3-3-3, are notably different than their counterparts on other aircraft in terms of cushioning and appear to be plusher than others I’ve seen, which isn’t a bad thing for a 15-hour flight. My suspicions were confirmed when I sat in the seat and was very comfortable.
Kenya Airways joins the very short list of airlines offering more than 32-inches of pitch on its long-haul aircraft as economy seats feature 32.2-inches of pitch, joined with 18.5 inches of width, according to SeatGuru. Additionally, only one row does not have a window on either side, row 32.
The headrests are covered by an extended head cover, but they are still adjustable. Additionally, the layered seatback pockets are higher up to allow for more shin space.
The seats feature similar amenities to business class such as a 110 volt AC power outlet found under the seat, USB charging port located in the seatback in front of you, coat hanger, headphones, tethered remote and a standard sized in-flight entertainment screen, as well as a pillow and blanket. The tray table is also foldable so you can choose between half open for drinks and fully open for a meal.
In the rear of the aircraft, naturally, is the rear galley and flight attendant crew rest area. The horseshoe-shaped galley is where economy class meals are handled. Although we didn’t have time to climb up into the crew rest, it’s located above the last few rows of economy class.
Flying on a Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
If you’re flying Kenya Airways to a from a non-African city, chances are that you’ll be flying on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, until the airline takes back its three Boeing 777-300ERs from Turkish Airlines beginning in 2019. The interior of the aircraft takes on a Kenyan-inspired design to ingratiate you into the country before you’ve even landed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
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