Trip Review: Kenya Airways Boeing 787 Economy Class – A Confusing Experience

In between some nomadic globetrotting I had some professional work to do in East Africa. I found a fairly amazing deal flying out of Milan Malpensa heading to Nairobi, Kenya. The itinerary was a good mix of flights which would allow me to review a few different airlines and aircraft (Air France on the return journey). This review will cover the journey from Amsterdam to Nairobi on the Kenya Airways 787-8.

Kenya Airways has seven 787 Dreamliners. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The boarding time for this flight was 8:05am. Apparently, the aircraft had arrived late and so I witnessed many passengers walking up to the gate desk and asking if boarding had started yet. After about 20 minutes we were finally able to board and I headed to my seat at 31J.

Gate G5. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Amsterdam Schiphol is one of my favorite airports. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The flight was delayed for roughly 20 minutes. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

According to FlightRadar24, I was onboard a 787-8 with registration 5Y-KZJ. This jet is four years old. FOUR YEARS!? The IFE feels like it’s at least seven years old; maybe my perception of old/new IFEs and their age is a little off.

Cabin crew distribute headsets in advance of passengers arriving. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Boarding the aircraft, I was warmly greeted by the Kenya Airways (KQ) crew. Due to everything being delayed, I had to pass two crew members while they were placing headsets on the seats. One ran out of headsets but was pulled away to do other pre-flight procedures.

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Seating and IFE

The economy class cabin. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The economy cabin is a 3-3-3 layout. Arriving at my seat, I found the seat to offer decent legroom… bonus points for not having a bulky IFE box under my seat taking up my foot space (I like to stash my backpack under there for easy access to my computer and documents). As is standard with all Dreamliners, the window shades dim electronically. I love watching or hearing people behind or in front of me realizing this for the first time – there’s such a sense of confusion mixed with wonder!

Legroom was good enough. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

I had the window seat and was joined by two young french teenagers who seemingly were quite new to the flying experience – unfamiliar with the function of the silver knob on the seat back (coat hook) and how a two-pronged IFE audio system works. I always have to remind myself that I fly a whole lot more than the majority of people and things that I assume are obvious may not be so for everybody.

A photo of seat 31J. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

As stated above, the IFE audio system used two-prong headsets. I feel like this is a sign of an older aircraft as newer ones just go with the single so people can use their own earbuds and headphones. The IFE seemed fairly old and the touchscreen was rather slow and was more responsive using the remote control on the retractable cable.

The inflight entertainment system. The entertainment selection was ‘okay’. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The movie offerings seemed okay to me. Not amazing, but not too bad either. It’s a very subjective opinion and I’m aware that my high frequency of flying means that I might be harder to please. There were certainly some Hollywood blockbusters available. I also feel like TV comedies “Fresh off the Boat” and “Big Bang Theory” are quite prevalent on the various airlines I’ve flown – maybe it’s just me.

The inflight entertainment system comes with a single USB socket and coat hook. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Food and beverage

We took off about 30 minutes behind schedule and once we reached cruising altitude we were given “breakfast”. This consisted of a box with two packaged pastries inside: A mini croissant and a lemon frangipani square. That was the first disappointment of the flight. It also came with a selection of beverages (juices, sodas, alcohol).

“Breakfast” in a box. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

About two hours later, the beverage cart came through again and offered another round of beverages. After that, it was another hour and a half and we received a small pack of peanuts (lunch?) – and another offering of beverages.

The (lunch?) snack between breakfast and dinner. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

At this point, we had three hours left in the flight and I was starting to wonder if this incredible deal I received was some kind of extra-basic fare that didn’t include a hot meal. I was flying a legacy carrier intercontinental – surely there would be something, right? It definitely made me rethink my assumptions about what I should expect.

But finally, near the end of the flight, with just over two hours remaining, a “real meal” was served. However, as I was seated near the back of the cabin it took an extra half hour for me. I’m definitely more accustomed to getting the big meal upfront with the mini, pre-packaged foods served as the second meal. However, seeing as our flight was landing around dinner time, this also makes sense.

Dinner service. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The food was surprisingly good. I really enjoyed the main course which was chicken, pureed spinach and rice. The chicken had just a little bit of spice which was quite enjoyable.

Wrapping up the flight

After meal service was finished and our trays cleared there was about an hour left to go in the flight. We landed 15 minutes late but without incident. However, I was fairly surprised that there was no jet bridge connecting our plane to the terminal…. even though our aircraft was parked right beside one. Rather, all the passengers exited via stairs and poured out onto the tarmac in a disorganized mess wondering what was going on.

After about five minutes, a bus arrived to collect most of the passengers. It took another five minutes for another bus to get the rest of us.

Confusion on the tarmac after arrival. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The overall feeling I’m left with after this flight is one of confusion:

  • I’m confused as to why a four-year-old plane has such an old IFE (I flew an Air Canada 787 (economy) four years ago and their IFE was fast and responsive).
  • I was confused why the full meal service would be scheduled so close to landing.
  • Finally, I was confused about our use of stairs to exit the plane. I know Nairobi’s airport is capable of better.

However, the flight had some great points as well:

  • The environmental comfort of the 787 (quieter cabin, increased humidity).
  • Friendly service by KQ crew, with frequent beverage service.
  • Tasty dinner (perhaps the credit goes to KLM’s catering service in Amsterdam though?).
  • Great price and a reasonable (scheduled) arrival time that isn’t too late.

The verdict

I’ve only flown one other airline to Nairobi: KLM. It’s a tough decision as to which I prefer. This is because my experience with KLM up to this point has been on their aging 747s. However, KLMs service is always of a high standard on long-haul routes.

KQ119 at Gate 5 in Amsterdam. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

In my opinion, flying Amsterdam to Nairobi on KLM vs Kenya Airways comes out about equal. I think one airline has slightly better service on an older and more worn-down aircraft.

On the other hand, KQ’s service wasn’t bad and you get the nice environment of the 787… with an ever so slightly newer IFE. Therefore, if these two airlines were options for me then it would come down to price or schedule.

Have you ever flown Kenya Airways before? What was your experience like?

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joseph

I avoid KLM like the plague. If I wanted to be berated by a 80-year-old serving me stale bread I would visit my grandmother’s house. With that, I may give Kenya Airways a try to Nairobi.

Jon

Having flown KQ from Europe to Nairobi a number of times, as well as the newer direct route from New York to Nairobi, I’ve always been impressed with KQ’s level of service. KQ provides much better service than the domestic flights in the States.

Omar

I have flown KRT-NBO-JNB on Kenya airways and we were served only sandwiches on both 3 hours legs each , I think catering is not that high on this particular airlines agenda.

0504Traveller

I flew Kenyan about 4 years ago and then again last year and I saw a drastic difference, an improvement, in both their on ground and on board service. The flight 4 years ago was from DAR-NBO-SEZ and it was not a comfortable experience – the planes were uncomfortable, the service was lackluster, and the airport at NBO was not great. This time I flew from LOS-NBO-DAR and then KGL-NBO-DAR and both the onboard service and the onground service had improved drastically. The seat comfort had improved, all planes had PTV screens and USB ports, and the catering was decent.… Read more »