More African Countries Reject Planes Without Business Class

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Kenya Airways is working on making their regional flying more profitable. They’re largely trying to do this with Jambojet, which is a Kenyan low cost carrier that’s a subsidiary of Kenya Airways.

Lots of airlines try to keep costs down by using low cost carriers, and Kenya Airways is no exception. However, it seems that’s not always being well received.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a rather ridiculous demand from the government of Burundi. The airline was supposed to start flying between Nairobi, Kenya, and Bujumbura, Burundi. However, the flight had to be canceled last minute, as the Burundi government pulled permission for the airline to operate the flight, in spite of initially approving it.

The government felt that the Jambojet Q400 without business class was “unbefitting of the status of government officials traveling to Nairobi for connecting flights to other parts of the world.” Do they really feel they’re better off having no service than service from a low cost carrier?

Well, I guess Burundi gave some other countries ideas here, and it may mean that Jambojet will face some headwind in their operations, as reported by The East African.

Kenya Airways intended to swap the planes on their routes to Djibouti and South Sudan from Kenya Airways Embraer 190s to Jambojet Q400s, though the governments have rejected that, and not granted the airline permission.

The airline was then supposed to start flying to Mogadishu, Somalia, using Kenya Airways planes that were freed up from other routes being swapped to Jambojet planes. Now they can’t do so due to lack of available aircraft.

This is all part of Kenya Airways’ strategy of lowering costs on short-haul flights, which is fair enough for the perpetually struggling airline. However, they didn’t seem to anticipate this challenge. Kenya Airways’ CEO says:

“These rejections have hampered our regional expansion plans. So while we have an aircraft that is much cheaper to operate and is a very decent one that even the UK and US carriers are operating, but political decisions will not allow us to operate it.”

While Burundi flatly declined the plane because it doesn’t have business class, it’s not clear whether the other countries are rejecting it because it doesn’t have business class, because it’s smaller, or because it’s not as “luxurious” to be served by a low cost carrier.

Given that this seems to be a recurring issue, it might be time for Kenya Airways to reposition their low cost carrier? Maybe they could adopt a model similar to what you’ll find in Europe, where there is a business class cabin, consisting of an economy seat with a blocked seat next to it? And maybe the airline should be called “Kenya Airways Express” rather than something like Jambojet?

As if aviation in Africa wasn’t complicated enough already…

  1. And this ladies and gentleman, is an ideal example of the sort of irrational bureaucratic policies (combined with heaps of corruption) that keeps Africa poor.

  2. As a a person traveling only in paid first class and private jet, I can not be more agreeable with this. Who the hell love those turboprop jets?

  3. I travel over 100,000 miles a year in paid first class, though this is getting increasingly harder to do due declining number of airlines / aircrafts with a first class. I hope this doesn’t start happening to business class too

  4. Well, when I travel around Africa, I prefer BC (mostly paid, occasionally on miles) so it makes sense to me. Sitting EC in a small narrowbody is quite claustrofobic.

    Having said that, I have no immediate plans to visit Mogadishu or Sudan anyway.

  5. @Justin actually it’s mostly structural inequalities generated by a long history of colonialism and subjugation, as well as continued exploitation by the west that “keeps Africa poor”. Good try though

  6. @Ted: Eye roll. It’s insulting to Africans to say that they lack agency in their own outcomes after 50+ years of independence. Especially since economic outcomes have begun to diverge considerably with many Asian post-colonial states. And for that matter, there is substantial economic disparities within post-colonial Africa too.

  7. The government officials making these demands aren’t going to be negatively impacted by the routes being unserviced commercially. He lack of commercial service simply justifies their continued use of chartered and government owned aircraft.

    To paraphrase Meatloaf, “I would do anything for commercial service, but I won’t fly coach.”

  8. @Justin: Colonial practices in Africa and Asia were significantly different, so it’s no real surprise that the consequences have been different. Furthermore, with the continuation of things like the Central/West African Franc and other structural adjustment programs and destructive resource extraction perpetuated by western companies, it’s debatable whether or no colonialism really ever ended in some parts of Africa.

  9. From one of the world’s poorest countries where 99.9% of the population can’t afford to travel and entirely reliant on aid And officials travelling in premium cabins on fares paid for by citizens of the west. Oh I’m sure they pay themselves .. not. What did they expect ? A787 ? I’m sure they pay themselves ? And medium haul business in Europe is usually the same seat So give them a sandwich instead of a kit kat. Two pieces of checked bag , more miles if booked in J and voila ..

  10. I think Ted is very right. Yet, if you are looking for a narrative that allows us to remain on the sunny side of world economy, blaming “Africans” for their lack of resourcefulness works better.

    But oha, I wanted to make a point about aviation: I don’t think anything but a clearly visible business class hard product works on many sub Saharan routes. Take Asky, for example: horrible service, no legroom but wide brown leather seats shouting “business class”.

    I also agree with the national carrier thing – airlines names might just be more important here than in other markets.

  11. Meanwhile Ethiopian Airlines is quietly setting the ground work to be the undisputed dominant carrier in Africa given their brilliant moves around the continent setting up airlines and deploying their resources and operational know-how to ensure the success of these new airlines

  12. @debit2, who are you? Clearly, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no such thing as a turboprop jet.

  13. @Ted: Colonial practices might be different but only as a policy modifications to how the aboriginals responded to treatment of the colonists. Hong Kong and Singapore are the island nations under the British Empire that have a vibrant economy. Africa continent has the richest natural resources in the world. Yet, I am not aware of any African nation that can boast about its robust economy and corruption free. When people talk about Africa, I always think about warfare, poverty and diseases, namely AIDS and Ebola. Traveling in Africa requires me to adapt to their standard practices that are unseen elsewhere in the world: More than four hour layover may not be adequate time frame for a connecting flight and seven out of eight intra-flights in SA with SA Airways were tardy. Western colonialism no longer exists but China has now emerged as the biggest bully and predator on poor countries with corrupt heads of state. Sri Lanka has already lost a strategic port to China for 99 year lease due to unpaid debts. SA issues hunting permits to white male hunters to slaughter the Big 5 so they can boast on their social media accounts in the name of conservation. Human resources determine the fate and future of a nation.

  14. I think this demand shows more of the class disparity in the countries. In their mind its probably “How can I (rich, affluent, educated, iPhone Owner) sit in the same area as commoners?” . Can the Q400’s support 2-3 biz class seats?

  15. This sounds a lot like a hare-brained rationale to protect what is probably nothing more than some kind of protectionist scheme. Are these countries just trying to prop up their domestic airlines by finding any pretext to block the Kenyan carrier?

  16. @Justin , you aren’t entirely informed when you say “It’s insulting to Africans to say that they lack agency in their own outcomes after 50+ years of independence.” Just to give you one example, France retains vast power over the currency (and therefore finances) of a good chunk of its former colonies.

  17. @globetrotter: Did you listen to yourself as you wrote that? Yes, it’s possible when YOU think of Africa, you think of AIDS, Ebola, corruption, but if that’s all you (think you) know about the continent, then it’s seems like maybe it’s YOUR education that’s lacking.

  18. Also, western colonialism in Africa definitely still exists—see @Franklin’s point about the CFA in west/central Africa for example.

  19. Classic Africa.
    No one is denying colonialism existed and was a large hamper to Africa, but its incompetent policies like this that are what’s truly stopping Africa from growing in the 21st century.

  20. When it comes down to it, @Justin’s first post sums it up in a few words. These tinpot airlines servicing ‘shithole’ countries are a mere blip on worldwide aviation. Like as in many countries, these are state-supported vanity projects which ultimately further impoverish their host nation.

  21. European/North Americans just don’t understand how important ‘face’ is to most nations of the world. Not just sub-continental Africa. One’s measure of importance and self worth is measured by the tangible extravagances that you are entitled to and that others can see. Saving ‘face’ is the end-all and be-all in these societies. Even in highly industrialized and modern nations such as Singapore this is still true. Face is everything.

    A simple solution would be to trade in the Q400’s for C100’s. I’m sure that Bombardier would give a good trade-in and then they could fly the best plane in the world. And the cost to operate would be very similar.

    Q400’s are very comfortable to fly for flights less than two hours. They could easily accommodate a ‘business class’ section by replacing the first three rows with US domestic first recliners. But they still have fans on the wings …..

  22. I completely agree with @Ted and @Robert 103. @Globetrotter US has always been the biggest bully in the last sixty years. Even in media reports, it states that the US shudders at the thought of any other nation challenging its dominance on the world stage. Trump is one of the dominating bullies. I will admit, he has some good qualities but it does not provide a good enough explanation for his “white power” beliefs.

  23. @Globettrotter ………you have hit the nail on the head . You know what you are talking about in Africa .

  24. @Ted: I noticed you ignored my point about how there are significant disparities within Africa as well. Why does Botswana perform significantly better than neighbors Zimbabwe or Zambia. Why have Zimbabwean socio-economic outcomes deteriorated since independence? Africa is a highly diverse place and it is not colonialism that is the principal independent variable driving those disparate outcomes.

    The CFA Franc argument also makes no sense in terms of translating to economic outcomes. Many emerging markets have pegged currencies and therefore severe constraints on independent monetary policy yet perform significantly better than sub-saharan africa. Hong Kong operates a currency board for heaven’s sakes and I think there are many Hong Kongers who like the idea of the stability that the HKD peg has provided over decades. There are legitimate arguments that the stability and economic integration between CFA countries that the CFA franc provides are benefits, even if it comes at the expense of independent monetary policy. The ability of small countries to exercise independent monetary policy is always in question anyways, even if they operate a freely floating independent currency regime. Even large countries like Canada have their monetary conditions affected by larger trading partners.

    Governance, corruption and institutional strength. This is not an ideological talking point, but rather the consensus among development economists as the key to economic development. And 50-years after many African countries’ independence, simply saying that it’s all colonialism’s fault is a dangerous mis-diagnosis that will only excuse and condemn Africa to more bad outcomes.

  25. Pursuant to the CFA Franc point. Here is a list of countries/jurisdictions with currency boards (ie. hard currency pegs) and therefore no independent control over monetary policy: Hong Kong (USD), Macau (HKD), Denmark (EUR), Bulgaria (EUR), Bosnia (EUR), Brunei (SGD). There are several more smaller countries that operate currency boards that I’ve excluded. There are also many countries that unilaterally choose to use another country’s currency including Panama (USD), Ecuador (USD), East Timor (USD), El Salvador (USD). Montenegro (euro), while others have high levels of dollarization and euro-ization in parallel to domestic currencies. I’m not even including the more flexible currency pegs operated by many other emerging markets.

    So, this idea that not having one’s own currency is somehow tantamount to colonialism and a rationale for poor economic development just does not pan out when actually looking at global comparative exchange rate regimes. Many wealthy countries and many poor countries and many middle income countries simply do not operate a sovereign, independent monetary policy.

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