This is the fifth in a series of posts documenting my January 2019 trip around the world, which took me to Victoria Falls, Cape Town, Chiang Mai, and Hong Kong. You can read my last post, which covered my time exploring Victoria Falls, here.
Kenya Airways Flt. 792 Victoria Falls to Cape Town (VFA-CPT)
Boeing 737-700, Economy
Sch. Dep. 10:30AM Sch. Arr. 1:40PM
Act. Dep. 11:50AM Act. Arr. 2:35PM
Except for my flights on Ethiopian and South African, all of my intra-Africa flights have been an adventure, including my Air Namibia nonstop that adds stops when they feel like it, and SA Express unmarked plane with open seating. Given that Kenya Airways is part owned by Air France-KLM and is a SkyTeam member, I thought it might be different. It was not.
Kenya Airways’ fifth-freedom flight from Victoria Falls to Cape Town is pretty new, and was a factor in my selection of destinations. (Although there is also a newish nonstop on Airlink, it doesn’t run on Saturdays, which is the day I flew.) Three days a week, KQ does a Nairobi-Victoria Falls-Cape Town on an Embraer 190. Another three days a week it does a nonstop NBO-CPT. The flight was not very cheap at all, even booked far in advance, with economy prices of close to $300. I decided it would be a good use of the random Flying Blue miles I have; though there were still $83 in taxes and fees, I didn’t have a huge other use for 15,000 Flying Blue miles. There was award availability in business as well, but I figured I didn’t need it for under three hours in a regional jet. Prior to departure, I received a number of offers to bid for an upgrade to business, but the cheapest bid was $275 which was insane.
The internet had finally come back on the morning of my departure, and when I woke up, I received notification of a schedule change, with the flight being moved from 10:30am to 11:20am, and also switching from an ERJ to a 737. When I went to due online check-in, it showed an actual schedule change, not just a delay, with a new boarding time on my boarding pass. Since I hadn’t gotten a pickup time for my transfer, I told the Butler at the hotel of the change, and he called the tour company and asked them to pick me up at 9:20am, which he said was more than enough time.
The van came right on time and I was at the airport at 9:40am. I went to the check-in counters, but there was no one at any of them. Finally, I hailed someone down and he said the Kenya Airways woman was upstairs having coffee and I should find her. She told me the flight was closed, even though the flight wasn’t even supposed to originally depart for almost an hour, but I showed her my boarding pass and said the flight had a time change. She seemed not to be aware of this, which was very weird. She took my passport and disappeared, and then came back and hand wrote a boarding pass and luggage tag. The boarding pass simply said “Free”, which was weird since I had a seat assignment on my mobile boarding pass, and when I did online check-in, there was an offer to buy up to preferred economy seating! It was all very strange.
The flight screens in the airport were never updated, and still showed a 10:30 departure. There was no plane at the gate, though, so I went to the Dzimbahwe Executive Lounge, which accepts Priority Pass, and is surprisingly one of two lounges in the airport, with an Ethiopian lounge next door. The lounge was beyond basic, with some self-serve booze, hot trays with indeterminate contents, limited soft drinks, muffins, chips, and sandwiches. I couldn’t even get the wifi to work. The seating wasn’t particularly comfortable and I’d had a full breakfast, so I didn’t stay long.
I wandered around the airport a bit and there were some very expensive souvenir shops, a restaurant, and then a spa, where the Korean monks from my first night in town were getting massages. When I went to the gate, there were still only about a dozen people waiting, and no agent of any kind. I finally got wifi to work and it said the inbound flight wasn’t scheduled to land until 11am.
At 10:30am, they finally updated the screens to show a 11:30 departure. At 10:46, an agent came to the gate area and made an announcement to proceed to the gate for boarding, and around 10:50am, the plane finally landed. There were signs dividing business and coach boarding, but at 11:05am, the agent just said “boarding time, let’s go.”
The plane was quite old, one of only two 737-700s Kenya has in its fleet. On the plus side, it meant that the seats were old and plush, of a sort you don’t see anymore. There were pillows on each seat, and pitch was a bit better than average. The old-style overhead bins were pretty shallow, but I didn’t have a rollaboard so it was fine. I was glad I didn’t spend $300 for the old business class seats. The cabin was also very warm.
Open seating is always a bit of a disaster, but when the plane is already more than half-full it’s even worse. One of the Korean monks was trying to coordinate people getting seats all together, but that simply wasn’t an option. Some of the passengers from Nairobi had spread out and laid across multiple seats and it was just a mess. I was able to secure a window seat, and a middle seat stayed empty the entire flight.
At 11:27am, the captain made an announcement stating that the plane had been delayed inbound from Nairobi, and that there was a systemwide outage at VFA, so they had to coordinate paperwork with Nairobi. That likely explained the handwritten boarding pass and open seating, but I wondered if it related to the internet outage that had ended that morning. At 11:45am, the front door was finally closed, and we pushed back at 11:50am. Drop down screens in the aisles demonstrated the route map, and there was a live safety demo, followed by a pesticide spray of the cabin.
The flight to Cape Town was much longer than the flight from Johannesburg, given how far southwest Cape Town is – it was a 2.5 hr flight time covering 1185 miles. Wheels were up at noon, and there was a very bumpy ascent. I had tried to figure out what side to sit on as to have a view of the Falls, but saw nothing on the right side of the plane.
Once airborne, the flight attendants, who seemed bored and disinterested, came around with wet naps. Twenty minutes in, there was a food cart followed by a beverage cart. For food, it was an option of “beef or chicken,” so, pre-order vegetarians. Rather than a tray, there was a paper box with a little cake/muffin and utensils that they slid the hot tray into with your choice. The packaging for the chicken said “Swahili Chicken,” but it was just a tiny bland bit of chicken with spinach and white rice on the side. The beverage cart included a full bar, but I just went with a Coke Zero, and got a full can.
As I ate, the cabin cooled off, and by 1pm, my tray was cleared. There was no mention of any inflight entertainment, but I did notice “KQ Cinema” as an available wireless network. I tried to log in on both my phone and my Kindle and just received a blank sign-in page.
I never saw the flight attendants again, not even for a water service. Thankfully, we made up a large part of the delay and landed only about an hour after scheduled time at 2:35pm. Immigration wasn’t that bad since the vast majority of the flight appeared to be South Africans or connecting passengers, though I was stuck behind the Korean monks. My bag hit the belt just as I arrived at the carousel. I knew exactly where to go for an Uber, and at 3pm was off to central Cape Town and, spoiler alert, one of the most distressing hotel experiences I’ve ever had at the Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Foreshore.
I don’t think the experience on this flight was indicative of what I’d expect on Kenya Airways long-haul, especially on one of their new 787s, but it appears that its intra-Africa service is similar to its peers.