From Johannesburg to Nairobi I flew on Kenya Airways in business class aboard a Boeing 737-800. This marked my first-ever flight on Kenya Airways. Although the trip home did not get off to a smooth start due to an extended delay, the in-flight product was perfectly comfortable for a regional flight.
Kenya Airways 737-800 Business Class Review (JNB-NBO)
I chose Kenya Airways for my journey home because Air France/KLM Flying Blue offered a deal I could not refuse: just 58,000 miles and about $458 in taxes/fees for business class from Johannesburg to New York via Nairobi. I’d never seen Kenya Airways that cheap and when I saw it, I jumped on it.
Kenya Airways flies out of the International Terminal at OR Tambo Airport. I checked in about 90 minutes prior to my flight and was asked to fill out a COVID-19 declaration during check-in, attesting that I was eligible to travel to the USA (this despite being a U.S. citizen and the U.S. dropping its pre-flight testing mandate).
Security and passport control took less than five minutes.
Kenya Airways uses the Bidvest Premier Lounge for its business class and Skyteam Elite Plus members, but I used the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse instead, using my Capital One Venture X card.
My boarding pass indicated boarding would commence one hour prior to scheduled departure. I showed up at the gate around that time and found no gate agent and only a locked door with the flight details above it. It appeared we would be departing from a remote gate.
20 minutes passed before a gate agent finally showed up. We were led down the stairs and told to wait again. Boarding passes were scanned and we were next directed outside and down another set up steps and asked to wait on the tarmac. 10 more minutes passed before we were finally allowed onboard.
Masks were distributed at the base of the stairs – at the time, masks were still required on Kenya Airways (which caught me off-guard, along with most other passengers).
Kenya Airways (KQ) 763
Johannesburg (JNB) – Nairobi (NBO)
Saturday, July 23
Depart: 5:30 PM
Arrive: 10:35 PM
Duration: 04 hr, 05 min
Distance: 1,801 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 1A (Business Class)
A flight attendant said hello as I entered the plane and found my seat in row one.
The Kenya Airways 737-800 features 16 recliner seats in business class (“Premier World”), arranged over four rows in a 2-2 configuration. Seat pitch is a generous 47 inches while seat width is 21 inches. Each seat has a built-in footrest that extends about 45º.
Seats are controlled by three buttons (one for reclining, one for the footrest, and one to release the screen). Each seat is also provisioned with an IFE screen and universal power port in the center console, as well as a passenger service unit (remote control).
I chose the bulkhead because it was the only seat left, but found the legroom generous.
Apparently my seatmate across the aisle did not…
Thankfully, each seat had individual air vents, which kept the space around me cool.
Boarding was complete by 5:25 pm and we pushed back at 5:28 pm, two minutes ahead of schedule. The safety video played as we backed out of the stand.
However, an “indicator light” came on in the cockpit and the captain announced we were returning to the gate.
For the next hour, we sat at the gate with no updates from the flight deck. Finally, at 6:49 pm we pushed back again, with our arrival time in Nairobi set for 11:25 pm. My connection to New York was set to depart at 11:35 pm, which would make me certain to miss it unless it too was late.
Not much I could do now, though, except sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. The computer showed we would make up a few minutes en route, but we ended up losing even more time.
Later in the flight, I tried to sleep and appreciated the thick but light duvet and large pillow.
Food + Drink
Pre-departure beverages were offered during boarding to business class passengers, a choice of sparkling wine or water.
No menus were distributed after takeoff. Instead, a flight attendant showed each passenger a single photocopied menu and asked for our dinner choice.
Next, hot towels were offered.
I chose stuffed beef with goat cheese and parsley, which was served on a tray with a wrapped bread roll and covered chocolate dessert.
I skipped the bread and dessert but found the main course a good way for airlines to due beef. Although it was cooked well done, the goat cheese and parsley made it more tender.
Water bottles were offered after dinner.
In-Flight-Entertainment + Wi-Fi
Each business class seat had a 12-inch screen that unfolded from the center console. The library included a very limited collection of movies and TV shows.
All audio channels were “blocked.”
Wi-Fi was not offered on this jet and is not offered on any Kenya Airways flight.
The business class lavatory was located adjacent to the flight deck and was a standard Boeing 737-800 lavatory. No additional amenities were available.
We landed at 11:28 pm and taxied up to the gate, pulling up at 11:35 pm, five minutes after my flight to New York JFK was set to depart. Would I make my connection? Stay tuned.
My first flight on Kenya Airways was pleasant, looking beyond the delay. The food was a bit skimpy for a four-hour flight but still satisfying and the seat was comfortable for lounging and even a short nap. The limited library of movies and videos could certainly be improved upon. While the delay was annoying, I am thankful I have not run into many of them this year.
Next: what happened in Nairobi.