Ticket pricing, on-board experience and choice of aircraft will be the main factors that Kenya Airways will be banking on to win passengers over as it starts its long haul flights to New York later this year.
The carrier will become the third African airline to fly directly to New York, after South African Airways (SAA) and Ethiopian Airlines.
Kenya Airways will have an introductory price of about $800 for an economy ticket: Gulf carriers charge the same for a premium economy flight with a minimum two-hour layover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Kenya Airways chief commercial officer Vincent Coste said that KQ’s route strength will be the elimination of the layover time for time-conscious travellers.
“By reducing flight time by about seven hours, and with a non-stop flight, KQ will offer a competitive service from the US to East Africa,” Mr Coste said.
The African airlines that currently fly directly to the US use similar wide-body aircraft. SAA operates the Airbus A340-600s and Boeing 777-200 on flights to Washington and New York. Ethiopian operates Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 and occasionally Airbus A350-900 aircraft.
In terms of comfort, SAA’s wide-body Airbus A340-600 aircraft and Ethiopian’s Airbus A350-900 have been rated by industry experts as offering a better flying experience for passengers than the advanced Boeing Dreamliner 787-800 that Kenya Airways and Ethiopian use.
According to Airbus, its economy cabin has legroom of up to 86cm, offering extra comfort for long-haul travel. The Dreamliner 787-8 has 69cm of legroom. The Airbus seats are 45.7cm wide, about 2.5cm more than the standard-width seats featured on the Boeing.To some this may not be a big deal, but cramped seating is a complaint frequently heard from economy-class passengers. These few centimetres can make a big difference on long haul flights.The Airbus also boasts of the tallest ceiling of any commercial aircraft, as well as larger overhead bins allowing for ample stowage space for passengers.Besides comfort, the viability of daily flights on a route that has previously been rated as low revenue with few passengers is questionable.The Africa-Europe route accounts for more than half of passengers travelling.