A number of travelers will tell you that flying is a daunting and a most troublesome experience. And often, the best way to get through your journey quickly and efficiently is by flying directly to your destination. However, this is not always possible. For instance, most of you, when flying from Nairobi to say the United States, Europe, Canada or Asia, will frequently want to know the duration of a layover, to help you prepare, mentally and physically, for the long wait ahead. With this in mind, here then is our pick of some of the best airports to transit through, based on our clients’ overall experiences at these airports.
1. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)
I will begin with our JKIA, not because it is at the top of this list, but because most of our frequent flyers begin their journey from here. Amazingly, in 2016 and 2018, JKIA was named the most improvedairport in Africa by the Airports Council International (ACI). Another reason why JKIA must be included on this list. Getting to JKIA is usually the hard part; what with our legendary Mombasa road traffic, however, once at JKIA, you will notice that it’s not as bad as has been previously reported. For example, passengers in need of special assistance such as the elderly and the physically challenged, really appreciate the dedicated JKIA customer service team who provide assistance on wheelchairs, carts or accompanied, all through to the aircraft. To get assistance at JKIA, you would need to pre-book the service with your travel agent at least 72 hours before you fly.
Should you get to JKIA earlier than your flight time, worry not about how to occupy your time. Frequent flyers mention the numerous amenities that help to keep themselves and their children occupied, as they wait for their flights. At terminal 1 for example, a kiddy zone is present for those passengers with children. There are also several restaurants which are located at the food court upstairs with African, Chinese and even Indian cuisine. For those traveling for business and need a place to work as they wait for their flight, JKIA has several executive lounges especially targeting the passenger travelling for work. One of these lounges is the Aspire lounge. The lounge is open to any internationally traveling passenger whether holding an economy ticket, business or first-class ticket. The charge to access this lounge is approximately 50 dollars per person for 3 hours, and the lounge is open all day and night. Unfortunately, the Aspire Lounge does not offer sleeping facilities, but travelers appreciate the well-padded and comfortable seats.
2. Changi Airport in Singapore
Singapore’s Changi Airport is currently rated the World's Best Airport by Skytrax and has been rated at this position for the last 7 years. Kenyan travelers tend to look to Singapore as a holiday destination, and unsurprisingly, the Singapore tourism and Airports’ authority has ensured that all holidays’ adventures must begin on arrival. In 2019, the airport opened its Jewel – an entertainment indoor park - which is literally named ‘Jewel’. It boasts of having the world's tallest indoor waterfall, a luxury mall, an indoor rain forest and an IMAX movie theatre that is open all day and night, every day of the week to the delight of our Kenyan tourists. And best of all, the movies can be watched for absolutely free while waiting for your departing flight!
If you will be taking your family to Singapore for the December holidays, then you will find that Changi Airport probably has the most elaborate playgrounds that can be found in any airport around the world. Each of Changi Airport’s terminals have a playground where kids can indulge in play with various activities that include a thrilling three storey slide. The children therefore get to burn off a substantial amount of energy before the flight. This will guarantee that they will fall asleep as soon as the flight takes off, which leaves the parents free to enjoy the flight.
When it comes to Changi airport’s Automated Fast & Seamless Travel system - a service that consists of a do-it-yourself process for check-in, baggage tagging, and boarding your flight - business travelers will tell you there is probably why this airport is ranked first in the world. Predictably, Changi airport offers Free Wi-Fi to all; a benefit that is quickly becoming a staple for any airport looking to attract and retain millions of passengers to its terminals.
3. Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam - Netherlands
Schiphol Airport is the main international airport in the Netherlands. The KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which is the national airline of the Netherlands and a code-share partner to our Kenya Airways, has its hub located at Schiphol. This therefore means that sometimes, passengers travelling on Kenya Airways will have their flights executed by KLM and so transiting through Schiphol is inevitable. Passengers travelling with your family, have found that the Baby Care lounge at Schiphol is available for mothers who can bath their babies, feed and then put them to sleep in any of the available cots provided.
The baby lounge is open to international/intercontinental passengers and is located between departure lounges 2 and 3 at Schiphol airport. As a plus, Schiphol does have free Wi-fi use by everyone at the airport. A tip that frequent flyers will appreciate is that the WiFi accessed at a private airport lounge may be more secure than the general public WiFi. Schiphol airport has the Privium Club Lounge and The Airside Lounge, and the Lounges are located between departure halls 1 and 2 for the Privium Club Lounge and The Airside Lounge is located right after the security checking point. Only members of 'Privium Plus' can access the lounges and once they do, they can then enjoy some of the privileges which include priority check-in, accelerated security and border checks, and access to exclusive services. Membership costs about 130 Euro per annum and can be done before travel, via email.
VIP passengers have also rated the Schiphol’s VIP service as one of the best in Europe. With the VIP service, the staff will take care of all the travel requirements on arrival. The VIP service will also pick you up right at the foot of your plane with a luxury car and take you directly to the VIP center. While the VIP relaxes and waits for their luggage, the arrival formalities are all handled on the clients’ behalf! Note that the VIP service is only available from 7am to 11pm.
4. Dubai International Airport
Dubai international airport is a major transit hub and records passenger numbers of nearly 88 million every year! The large passenger numbers have not deterred travelers from transiting through this hub. When travelling on the Emirates airline, you will need to transit through this airport. And those with long layovers can benefit from the 96-hour visa which allows you access into Dubai to sample some of the touristic offerings of Dubai which include a desert safari and a dhow cruise. If you would rather not leave the airport, Dubai Airport does have a children’s play area children simply known as the ‘Kids Area.' It is located between Gates B7 and B8 at Terminal 3.
The Marhaba Lounge at the Dubai International airport is also pretty popular with our travelers. The Lounge is accessible by all ticket holders at a cost where you can enjoy food from a buffet set-up and refresh yourself with a hot shower in the Lounge. There is also the innovative ‘sleep n fly pods’ which are a marvel and provide an opportunity to sleep as you wait for your flight.
There is, of course, free and unlimited WiFi at this International airport. Baby Care Rooms are also provided across all of the terminals of the airport. The other features that make for a truly wonderful transiting experience for passengers at the Dubai International airport are the many five-star hotels present right inside the airport, which allows travelers to take a much-needed rest before departing for their next destination.
5. Hamad International Airport
If flying Qatar Airways from Nairobi, you will transit through this state-of-the-art airport.
Travelers say that this is probably the most luxurious airport in the world! Passengers who must carry noise-canceling headphones to avoid listening to loud but necessary airport announcements, really appreciate the silence at this airport. Hamad International airport actually has an oasis theme, hence the spa-like environment. There is of course Free Wi-Fi available for travelers and almost as an ode to a previous time, the airport has Telephone Booths which travelers can use to make a telephone call to anywhere in the world. They can do this by purchasing a prepaid calling card from Qatar Duty-Free. These Telephone booths are located throughout the passenger terminal.
It does seem that having a Kids’ play area is also becoming a staple requirement for an airport to be considered worthy and Hamad airport is no exception. Many travelers appreciate the play area offered at Hamad International airport and especially the Mac stations, the interactive art pieces and family rooms that offer privacy and relaxation. And for those with babies and may require strollers, travelers appreciate the nearly 500 baby Strollers that are available throughout the terminal. Then there is the airport’s Vitality Wellbeing & Fitness Centre. Surprisingly, tired travelers will still find the energy to put in a workout after a long-haul flight! The fitness center offers an indoor swimming pool, a hydrotherapy tub and a gym for use after paying an entry fee of about $50. This airport does have First and Business Class lounges as well. The Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge and the Al Safwa First Class Lounge which are regarded by passengers as some of the best lounges in the world, have amazing architecture and offer amenities that include 5-star cuisine, boutique-like accommodation and attentive passenger care.
I did mention at the beginning that flying can be troublesome, but as you can see, these particular airports make the flying experience that much more tolerable. If you are one to avoid long layovers, then please be inspired to actually plan a long layover, especially because tickets with longer layovers are usually much cheaper. As a parting note to frequent flyers, I would like to caution them about the free WiFi offered at airports. Free WiFi is not always safe and airports are fertile ground for identity theft. Frequent flyers are therefore always asked to take the same precautions to protect their privacy as they would when accessing any public WiFi while at home. For example, passengers are warned not to access their bank account information or use their credit cards when accessing free public WiFi.
The Author is the Founder and CEO of Saffara Ltd
This article was published in the East African Newspaper on the week of Monday the 15th of September, 2019, titled "LAYOVER? HERE'S WHAT YOU CAN DO".....