One of my clients, who is a frequent traveler to the US, tells me that due to her large mane of dreadlocks, she is frequently selected for the infamous ‘random’ search on arrival. The search target is usually her mane of dreadlocks where security will remove her carefully done up hairstyle and search her hair thoroughly. Her frequent travel has not only accumulated thousands of flying miles for her, she has also accumulated interesting conclusions about entry points into the United States. She believes that JFK (John F. Kennedy airport) and LAX (Los Angeles airport) are the friendliest airports in the US and that she must always land at JFK or LAX, and then take a flight or travel by train to her final destination. I am therefore of the opinion (a simplistic opinion) that Kenya Airways is on the right track by choosing to fly directly to New York and not to any other state. My conclusion is all tongue in cheek of course.
Back to matters at hand - the wait is finally over! Kenya Airways begun to fly directly to New York from the 28thof October 2018. This flight has been a long time coming!
In our excitement however, we believe that frequent travelers have not been fully sensitized on the DOs and DON’Ts on the direct flights into the US. I shall change that today, so Let’s make a start:
1. DO use Delta airlines when connecting to or from other cities in the US
You or Your travel agent can book 2 tickets; one from Nairobi to New York on Kenya Airways and the other from New York to say Los Angeles on Delta Airlines. For now, it does look like the partnership agreement between Kenya Airways and Delta is not final which means that you cannot get a one-through ticket on this direct flight to another state in the US. The advantage of booking with Delta is that the KQ flight lands at terminal 4 at JFK and the Delta flight boards at terminal 4 as well, therefore allowing you to have a smoother and faster change of planes. The disadvantage of having two tickets is that you cannot check in your luggage through to your final destination, which means that when you disembark in New York, you will be required to pick your luggage and then check in again for your onward journey. I do hope that the Kenya Airways partnership with Delta will be firmed up soon. Tourists from the US to Kenya have over the years been forced to spend long hours at airports and, sometimes we are forced to book for them dayrooms to allow them to take a shower and sleep in as they wait for their onward flight to Kenya. The connection with Delta airlines will therefore ensure that they get a wonderful start to their Safari, with a shorter connection and the one stop-over in NYC.
2. DO Arrive Early for the flight at JKIA.
This flight is a direct flight into the United States, which therefore means that the security checks will go up a notch higher because Nairobi is the last security check-point. There is more time spent on security checks than the normal security checks given to passengers at JKIA. And our Nairobi traffic is legendary, which could cause further delays. Our advice to you therefore is that you must leave your home at least 4 hours before your flight departing time to allow for any type of eventualities. For your ease, note that the flight will be departing from JKIA’s gate 19 at Terminal 1A which is dedicated to this flight.
3. DO Prepare for Additional security measures at JKIA for all passengers on the KQ flight.
For the inaugural flight, nearly 40% of the passengers were randomly selected to undergo these extraordinary security measures. 6 minutes worth! They included personal interviews for passengers before getting onto the plane. Therefore, be prepared. Ensure that you get to the airport early enough – I would suggest 4 hours before flight departure - to allow for any extraordinary security checks that will be required. On the United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website, it is stated that passengers with laptops must remove them from their bags or suitcases and place them in a separate tray for scanning at the airport security checkpoint. Prepare for this enhanced screening in advance to expedite the process and not cause any delays to the other passengers.
4. DO bring Laptops and other devices on the flights
In 2017, the US Department for Homeland Security instituted a ban on devices larger than a mobile phone on Non-US Airlines coming directly into the US, from several Middle Eastern and North African airports. This meant that passengers were not allowed to keep their devices with them and were obliged to check them in at the airport on departure. For business travelers, this was very inconvenient. Thankfully, the ban came to an end in July of 2017 and travelers from the countries listed in the original ban can now bring their laptops onto an aircraft bound for the United States. What of the flights departing from Kenya? From the inaugural flight on Sunday, passengers were allowed to bring their laptops on board, and we hope that this will not change.
5. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT make jokes about security
Kenyans are a happy people. Just look at all the memes going viral about the inaugural KQ flight. They are hilarious! However, this type of humor should not be extended to airport security or the US security personnel manning the security areas. They will not see the humor. Should you happen to slip and make a joke, you will be promptly refused entry onto the plane, or worse, held for questioning.
6. You DO earn your Frequent Flyer Miles on the KQ & the Delta ticket
Because Delta and Kenya Airways are both members of the SkyTeam alliance, all Frequent Flyers can earn and redeem miles on both airlines. This is excellent news for frequent fliers who value their miles for the benefits they receive. In addition, the Elite Plus flyers will also benefit from Sky Priority services all over the United States as well.
I must admit that amidst the cheers and ululations that greeted the landing of the inaugural flight in New York, we in the tourism industry were probably the happiest of them all. With the newly launched direct KQ flight, Tourists from the United States can now arrive in Nairobi at 10.00am, which gives them a chance to get out to their safari destination on the same day of arrival. This will cut down on the expensive overnight hotel stay in Nairobi which was previously a requirement to give the traveler some time to rest before embarking on their Kenyan safari destination.
The future is looking up!
The Author is the Founder and CEO of Saffara Ltd
This article was published in the East African Newspaper for the week beginning Saturday the 3rd of August, 2018. Read it here as, "DOs and DON'Ts of the Kenya Airways flight to the USA"
Wanjiru Catherine, CEO