Review: Kenya Airways Business Class 787 New York To Nairobi

Filed Under: Other Airlines

I had landed at Newark Airport off the world’s longest flight from Singapore before 7AM, and took an Uber to JFK, where I arrived at around 8AM.

By chance I happened to stumble upon a Kenya Airways press conference happening on the arrivals level of Terminal 4. The inaugural flight had just landed from Nairobi, and they had tons of executives and media in attendance. I can’t think of a much less glamorous place to have a press conference than JFK baggage claim. 😉

Kenya Airways press conference JFK

I headed upstairs to the departures level and tried to find the Kenya Airways check-in desk, which I assumed wasn’t yet open, since it was five hours until departure. I asked several employees if they could point me in that direction, though no one had heard of Kenya Airways. So I just had a seat for a bit.

JFK Terminal 4 check-in hall

At 9AM I saw a check-in area being set up, and also some balloons, so I assumed that was Kenya Airways. Sure enough it was. All of the contract employees were still being trained on the airline, there were lots of selfies and pictures, etc. Finally at 9:15AM check-in opened.

Kenya Airways check-in JFK

I headed towards security. In the afternoons security in Terminal 4 is awful, though it wasn’t bad at all this early in the day. I headed in the direction of the SkyClub, and while doing so walked past our departure gate, #29. What a pretty 787!

Kenya Airways 787 JFK

Kenya Airways uses the Delta SkyClub at JFK, which I’ve reviewed before, so I won’t do so again. I did have a bit of an adventure arguing to get in, though, since the SkyClub agent was convinced that Kenya Airways wasn’t a SkyTeam airline, and as a result didn’t want to let me in. Fortunately we got that sorted pretty quickly.

Delta SkyClub JFK Terminal 4

I spent a couple of hours in the lounge working, and also took a much needed shower between two ultra longhaul flights.

Delta SkyClub JFK Terminal 4 shower

My boarding pass indicated that boarding was starting at 12:15PM, though I decided to head to the gate about an hour before that, since I figured there might be some festivities due to this being an inaugural flight. Sure enough there was a party in full swing.

They had a table with all kinds of snacks set up.

Kenya Airways inaugural flight party

On top of that the Kenya Airways crew was in the gate area, obviously very excited to be on the flight. Below they’re posing with the US Ambassador to Kenya (the third from the left), and the Kenya Airways CEO (the sixth from the left).

Kenya Airways crew posing at JFK

Fun story — the US Ambassador to Kenya actually flew roundtrip on both inaugural flights. He had just landed from Nairobi, and a few hours later turned around right back to Nairobi, just to be on the inaugural flight.

The CEO, on the other hand, took the inaugural flight from Nairobi to New York, and was then staying in New York. He was extremely approachable, kind with both employees and passengers, and generally a great guy.

There was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the gate, and then finally at 12:15PM boarding began, just as expected.

As I walked down the jet bridge I was presented with a goodie bag to celebrate the inaugural flight.

Kenya Airways JFK inaugural flight goodies

Kenya Airways 3
New York (JFK) – Nairobi (NBO)
Monday, October 29
Depart: 1:00PM
Arrive: 10:30AM (+1 day)
Duration: 14hr30min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 5J (Business Class)

I boarded through the second set of doors, where I was greeted by two flight attendants with massive smiles on their faces who pointed me in the direction of my seat. Kenya Airways’ 787s have a total of 30 business class seats, spread across five rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.

There are three rows in the forward cabin.

Kenya Airways 787 business class cabin

Kenya Airways business class cabin 787

Then there’s a mini-cabin behind the second set of doors. I had assigned myself seat 5J, the window seat in the last row on the right.

Kenya Airways business class cabin 787

Usually I’m someone who prefers direct aisle access on a longer flight, but I really do like the window seats in this configuration. That’s because you can sleep facing the window and then you really feel like you have privacy.

These definitely aren’t the most cutting edge business class seats, and for that matter these are the same seats that many other airlines have. They’re great if you’re traveling with someone, and I also do like that there’s plenty of room for your feet. Many of the newer business class seats nowadays require you to place your feet in a footwell of sorts, which feels tight.

Kenya Airways business class seats 787

Since I was the first onboard I also had a look at the economy cabin. Kenya Airways’ 787 economy has seats in a tight 3-3-3 configuration, which has become the industry standard. Every seat had a personal television.

Kenya Airways 787 economy cabin

Kenya Airways economy cabin 787

As you can see, the back of each seat had a small storage compartment, a personal television, and an ottoman. You could place things under the ottoman during the flight, as there’s not otherwise much storage.

Kenya Airways business class seats

Kenya Airways business class seats

The seat controls were located between seats, and were easy to use.

Kenya Airways business class seat controls

The entertainment controls, power outlets, and headphone jacks were underneath the center armrest. These are almost impossible to access if you keep the armrest in the standard position, though a lot of people don’t realize that you can actually raise the armrest, which makes it easier. I also like to raise the armrest when sleeping for a bit of extra privacy. I sure wish they’d have an actual partition between seats.

Kenya Airways business class armrest

The tray table folded out from the center armrest, and was a single, solid surface.

Kenya Airways business class tray table

While there were reading lights above the seats, unfortunately Kenya Airways doesn’t have individual air nozzles on their 787s.

Kenya Airways 787 no individual air nozzles

Already waiting at my seat upon boarding was a pillow and blanket. The pillow wasn’t very thick, and while I thought the design of the blanket was cute, it didn’t compare to proper bedding, especially for a flight this long.

Kenya Airways business class pillow & blanket

There were also headphones at the seat, which I found to be uncomfortable and have poor sound quality, so I just used my own headphones.

Kenya Airways business class headphones

I was expecting this flight to be nearly empty (since the demand for this daily flight just doesn’t seem to be there, not to mention it takes a while to build up demand). However, as it turned out, Kenya Airways invited nearly 150 guests onto the flight. This included journalists and people working on other projects in Kenya. So the flight was nearly full, but not with paying passengers.

About 15 minutes after boarding I was offered a pre-departure beverage, with the choice between water or lemonade (there was no alcohol on the ground). I ordered lemonade, which was served in proper glassware.

Kenya Airways business class pre-departure drinks

About 10 minutes later the crew distributed magazines, newspapers, and amenity kits.

One of the excellent Kenya Airways flight attendants

The amenity kits were cute but really basic. I loved the lion paws they had on the socks, and otherwise the kit had earplugs, eyeshades, a pen, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a comb. Surprisingly there was no lip balm or lotion.

Kenya Airways business class amenity kit

Boarding was efficient, and by the time boarding was complete business class was full (I’d estimate about two thirds of the passengers were part of the press trip). Around this time the Kenya Airways CEO boarded the plane to make an announcement thanking everyone for flying with Kenya Airways.

As he explained “thank you for flying with us, I won’t be with you, but I want to thank you for being with us on this history journey. In 14hr30min you’re going to be having breakfast in Nairobi. We are happy you are flying with us today, but we need your support for the next 365 days to make this route a success.”

A minute after that the captain added his welcome aboard. You could hear the pride in the captain’s voice that he was operating this flight, and he explained that we were just waiting on ATC clearance to depart. He said that our flight time was 12hr55min, and that we’d be cruising at 39,00 feet.

A moment later the cabin manager, Victoria, made her welcome aboard announcement.

At 1:05PM we began our pushback, and at that time the safety video was also screened.

Pushing back JFK

As we taxied out another flight attendant came by my seat to familiarize me with it. Our taxi was fairly quick, and there were lots of interesting planes parked on the apron.

Avianca A330 JFK


By 1:20PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 31L.

Taking off JFK

Our takeoff roll was fairly quick, and in less than a minute we were airborne and started our gradual climb.

View after takeoff from JFK

The seatbelt sign was turned off just five minutes after takeoff. As we continued our climb I decided to check out the map for our flight to Nairobi.

Moving map to Nairobi

As you can see, the moving map indicated we’d be arriving at 9:23AM, more than an hour ahead of our scheduled 10:30AM arrival.

Moving map to Nairobi

I also checked out the rest of the entertainment selection. There were roughly 100 movies and roughly 100 TV shows, so I’d say that’s a pretty solid selection. It’s not the best in the world, but frankly much better than I was expecting.

Kenya Airways inflight entertainment

Kenya Airways inflight entertainment

I decided to watch “Live Of The Party” starring Melissa McCarthy, which was pretty funny.

Kenya Airways inflight entertainment

About 20 minutes after takeoff the Kenya Airways chairman came around to welcome each passenger (the CEO took the inaugural flight from Nairobi to New York, while the chairman took the inaugural flight from New York to Nairobi).

Five minutes after that menus were distributed. Rather impressively Kenya Airways offers business class passengers menus in leather binders.

Kenya Airways business class menu

The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

I was surprised how long after takeoff it took to get a drink. Warm towels were distributed about 70 minutes after takeoff.

Kenya Airways business class dinner service — warm towel

Then the first drink was served around 80 minutes after takeoff. I don’t really get what took so long, given that they were providing this service off carts.

Kenya Airways business class dinner service — drink cart

I had a glass of South African sauvignon blanc as well as a still water to drink (to my surprise they didn’t have regular sparking water, but rather just had soda water). I was also offered a small plate with some sort of a tomato amuse bouche, as well as packaged mixed nuts.

Kenya Airways business class dinner service — drinks, nuts, and amuse bouche

I also had a glass of champagne. Kenya Airways serves J. M. Gobillard et Fils NV Grande RĂ©serve Premier Cru Brut, which I hadn’t previously heard of, but it was pretty decent.

85 minutes after takeoff the crew came through the cabin to take meal orders.

90 minutes after takeoff the captain made yet another announcement, informing us that we were cruising at 37,000 feet, and would climb to 39,000 feet as we got lighter.

He explained we were overflying the East Coast of Canada towards St. John’s, and that we had a northernly routing due to strong winds. So he said we’d fly across the Atlantic, 300 miles off the cost of Portugal, and then over Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, and then Kenya. He estimated we’d land at 9:10AM.

A full 2hr20min after takeoff my table was set for the lunch service. I’m impressed that Kenya Airways doesn’t serve food on trays, but rather places everything directly on your tray table.

Kenya Airways business class dinner service — table setting

Five minutes after that, 2hr25min after takeoff, the starter was served. For the starter you had the choice between a soup or an appetizer. I selected the appetizer, which consisted of grilled halloumi cheese and roasted sweet bell peppers, on a finely ground pesto sauce. It was alright, though a bit on the bland side.

Kenya Airways business class appetizer

My seatmate chose the carrot and ginger soup.

Kenya Airways business class appetizer

We were also offered a selection of bread, though the choices were just between a simple-looking wheat and white roll.

Kenya Airways business class bread roll

Even though we took off only shortly after 1PM, the sun was already setting at this point.

Sunset enroute to Nairobi

Here’s the moving map at this point:

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

The main course was served 2hr40min after takeoff. For the main I selected the Maine crusted red snapper fillet with cream of yellow fruit lemon sauce, pearl couscous, heirloom glazed baby carrots, and broccoli.

This dish was excellent. It was beautifully plated, and tasted good too.

Kenya Airways business class main course

Next up was dessert, which was served three hours after takeoff. This was served off a trolley, and there was the choice between a sea-salt spiced caramelized guava tart with mango puree drizzle, a fruit plate, and a cheese plate.

I ordered the tart, while my seatmate had the rather plain-looking cheese plate. The dessert was alright, though nothing special.

Kenya Airways business class dessert

Then 3hr35min after takeoff a trolley was brought through the cabin with tea, coffee, and liqueurs. At this point I saw that they had cappuccinos on the menu, so I decided to order one.

I know that Kenya has great coffee, so I was keen to try their cappuccino, and it didn’t disappoint. The cappuccino was exceptional.

Kenya Airways business class cappuccino 

So, what can I say about the meal? There were big pros and big cons. The pros include:

  • The service was friendly; the crew was genuinely excited to be there, and it showed
  • The presentation was good, in the sense that everything was served directly on the tray table
  • The food quality was generally decent, and the cappuccino was great

The cons include that:

  • The service was really slow — I understand it’s a long flight and they aren’t in a rush, though it shouldn’t take 3.5 hours to complete the service; however, I might just chalk this up to this being the inaugural flight
  • I thought the food selection was sort of limited and bland; we’re talking about a 13 hour flight, so I feel like the food selection should be more expansive, and maybe they should have some sort of Kenyan options (even if it’s just a stew)

At this point we had 9hr20min remaining to Nairobi, so I decided it was time for some shuteye, given that it had been a really long day for me already.

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

I checked out the lavatory at this point. There were two lavatories located between the two business class cabins, and they were the standard 787 lavatories without any noteworthy amenities.

Kenya Airways 787 bathroom

I reclined my seat into the fully flat position, faced the window, and slept so well.

Kenya Airways fully flat bed 787

I managed to get about 5.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is pretty good for me, as I woke up with just under 3hr50min remaining to Nairobi.

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

I headed back to the lavatory, and saw that on the left side of the galley between cabins was a small bar setup. However, this only had soft drinks and some packaged nuts. For a flight this long they should consider offering some more snacks there.

Kenya Airways business class onboard bar

Kenya Airways also has a light snack menu, which read as follows:

I just asked the flight attendant if they had a snack (I didn’t mention any in particular), and was brought the below, which was a pie and pizza. It was as greasy as it looks.

Kenya Airways business class snack

After that I ordered a coffee with some milk.

Kenya Airways business class coffee

I worked on my laptop for a while (though note that Kenya Airways doesn’t have Wi-Fi on their 787s), and then about two hours before arrival the cabin lights were turned up in anticipation of breakfast.

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

Since the cabin lights were turned up I felt like I could finally “undim” my window to look outside.

View enroute to Nairobi

Warm towels were offered within a few minutes, and then about 90 minutes before arrival breakfast was served. The breakfast menu read as follows:

The first course consisted of a really boring fruit plate, some packaged yogurt, and cereal. Frankly I thought this selection was really lame. At least offer some berries or higher end yogurt, in my opinion.

Kenya Airways business class breakfast

There was also coffee and a selection from the breadbasket.

Kenya Airways business class breakfast

For the main course there were two options — scrambled eggs with chicken sausage, roesti potatoes, sautĂ©ed mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes, or stuffed banana crepes with chocolate syrup.

Kenya Airways business class breakfast

I chose the scrambled eggs. While the accompaniments were good, the eggs themselves weren’t.

Kenya Airways business class breakfast

About an hour before landing the crew started a raffle. As they explained it “as is tradition in any African setting, guests get gifts, so we are raffling some prizes.” So for the next 15 minutes they picked seat numbers randomly and started giving out fragrances (both from Mercedes Benz and Dolce & Gabbana).

Moving map enroute to Nairobi

By the time that was done we were starting our descent, and then at around 8:45AM Nairobi time, the captain announced that we’d be landing at 9:10AM. I was impressed that during the descent the flight attendants came through the cabin to thank everyone in business class for flying with Kenya Airways.

View approaching Nairobi

View approaching Nairobi

We had a smooth touchdown in Nairobi at 9:10AM.

View approaching Nairobi

As we rolled out to the end of the runway I noticed some military-looking trucks with sirens. I wasn’t sure if they were escorting us, if they had photographers taking pictures of the inaugural flight, or what.

Taxiing Nairobi Airport

At least one of them just seemed to have a guy with a machine gun in the back.

Taxiing Nairobi Airport

We had a fairly long taxi.

Taxiing Nairobi Airport

Taxiing Nairobi Airport

Then out of nowhere we got a pretty awesome water cannon salute.

Water cannon salute Nairobi

Here’s a video of that:

We then pulled up to our arrival stand, which is the first time it became clear to me just how big of a deal this flight was for Kenya. There must have been more people meeting our flight than passengers, including the country’s vice president.

Inaugural flight arrival ceremony Nairobi

Welcome ceremony

Welcome ceremony

Here’s a video of the arrival celebration, which was overwhelming, to put it mildly:

After that I headed towards one of the buses waiting to take us to the terminal.

Kenya Airways 787 upon arrival in Nairobi

Kenya Airways 787 upon arrival in Nairobi

Kenya Airways 787

Buses to terminal

Unfortunately the VIP treatment ended the second we arrived at the terminal, as I explained in a separate post.

Kenya Airways 787 business class bottom line

I have mixed feelings based on my Kenya Airways 787 business class flight.

On the plus side, the crew was extremely friendly, the food was well presented, and this is an excellent new option for flying nonstop between the US and East Africa.

At the same time, I feel like there are some ways that Kenya Airways can improve significantly without investing that much. First of all, they could speed up the service, and it may be that my flight was just an anomaly in that regard.

But beyond that I’d say they could slightly spruce up the meal service for their new flagship route, have a better snack menu, maybe have more snacks at the bar, and also offer better bedding.

I guess the way I view it, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Kenya Airways again if flying to the region, though I’m not rushing to fly them again either.

I’ll be very curious to see how this ambitious route does over the coming months and years. Starting the service daily seems silly, and the airline is already reducing frequencies. I wonder what the status of the route will be a year from now…

  1. Nice!
    Looks like the same exact seats that are on the LOT 787. I think it’s the same headphones too, and same font in the menu

  2. Nice to see that a usually pretty mediocre airline tried to impress for once. At least they had put some drinks and snacks at the galley bar, on their other long hauls, like the 9 hour Nairobi – Bangkok flight, they don’t bother to put anything.
    Sorry for being met by the Deputy President on arrival. He’s a particular nasty fellow.

  3. Lucky, any chance you can start adding the table of contents at the end of the post as well so you wouldn’t have to scroll up each time to get to the next part of the trip report 🙂

  4. Too funny about the Delta SkyClub Dragon Lady. Ben took a photo of the entrance leading into the lounge. On the right, it had a board that listed all of the SkyTeam members. If she did not know, she should look at that every time she starts her shift or even better yet, take a photo of it so she can self-check herself when there is doubt on her mind.

  5. Very friendly but extremely slow is Kenya to a T, so I’d say they captured the essence of the country pretty well.

  6. Interested what you think about Nonstop Dan’s poll on YouTube about being offered a media upgrade by Qatar. He wants to know if he should take it or stay in economy to stay true to the unbiased nature of his channel. What are your thoughts? Would you take a media upgrade on airline you’ve already flown before?

  7. Great trip report – thanks Lucky. Excited now for this flight, which I’m taking in Jan. Although I might bring along my “cooling gel” pillow bummed from United Fauxlaris given the sub-par bedding…

  8. @Jake They flew the plane there. This was the inaugural return. The true inaugural flight was the outbound leg from NBO to JFK.

  9. @Jake Stupid typos. I meant that they flew “on” the plane there. They obviously didn’t fly the longhaul then turn around and fly back, but I would bet that they just took the flight there in business class since, as Lucky reports, it seems like it was pretty open anyway.

  10. @Jake I know the prep for KQ flew EK to NYC a few days prior. Not sure if it included the FAs but it would be my best guess.

  11. That’s a pretty rough flight departure time- hard to sleep until the last few hours of the flight. Even a 5 PM departure would be better.

    Lucky, I thought you said you liked taking trains? Why not take NJ Transit and LIRR/Airtrain between the airports? Would have saved you around $45, and probably slower than driving outside of rush hour, but faster during rush hour. Didn’t want to navigate Penn Station after an 18 hour flight?

  12. @ DCJoe — In this case the ride took less than an hour, while it seemed like the train journey would take at least 90 minutes. I was able to work productively the entire drive thanks to tethering. So it seemed worth it to me, especially given that it was a Monday and I had a limited time to work with wifi before my flight.

  13. @Lucky
    Do You know that Kenya Airways CEO, who you liked writting about him: “He was extremely approachable, kind with both employees and passengers, and generally a great guy” is a citizen of my country, Poland? Yes guys, he is Polish and he used to be the CEO of Polish Airlines LOT in its past. After he was fired some years ago, he was hired to Kenya Airways. And I am glad he is still nice guy.

  14. @lucky – you know how silly it is when you say “X was worth it because I was working” and what sort of backward logic that is? Are you saying your time is worth $100 an hour? $200? $500? And if it is, wouldn’t it simply be better to reduce work rather than spend all the money “to work” and pocket the same? You say it like you are some Fortune500 CEO… this is total “blogger justification”.

  15. @Lucky- That’s fair- although in my case I can’t really use a computer in a car for more than a few minutes without getting motion sickness, whereas working on the train is easy for me.

    Personally I am not a big fan of Uber/taxi over trains unless the time/hassle savings is pretty big. I find the setup to be uncomfortable to be in a space with just one other person but not talking- while I also find it uncomfortable to be chit-chatting for an hour with someone I don’t know!

  16. I took this flight last week, and I think they have addressed many of the points you raise. The quality of the food was noticeably better than in your review. The dessert was potentially the best thing I’ve ever been served on a plane. Service was also quite a bit speedier. The bedding was still lacking.

  17. You mention the “small bar setup” only had soft drinks but I can clearly see “Tusker” in the picture and I don’t think Tusker is a soft drink…….it’s lager.

  18. Trust me, you got a great experience for KQ’s standard. I flew on them twice – AMS-NBO and NBO-CDG. Here’s to hoping I never repeat that experience. The KQ flight attendants were the rudest people I met in my entire 2-week trip to Kenya – just seemed to not care and were very happy when we got off the plane. The economy seats are really hard compared to most airlines on the 787. Food was inedible for some meals, and not enjoyable for the others. No snacks or anything. On AMS-NBO we didn’t even get blankets. And I feel like you’re over counting the entertainment. I feel like there were closer to 50 movies and 50 shows. Plus most of them are outdated and just outright bad things I would never watch. The FAs also looked at me like I was crazy when I took some photos, which is something I normally do on flights. No wonder KQ doesn’t make money and Ethiopian is so profitable.

  19. Very poor journalism.

    Your article is not well-written. It contains a lot of negativity about logistical minutiae. You fail to paint a coherent picture of the experience by your constant pinpointing of things like thin pillows and not being let into the Skyclub smoothly. Your website implies you fly a lot so you should be accustomed to things like that. Any frequent air traveler would know that some of the things you are complaining about are pretty much industry standard. For example, most airlines have poor quality headphones and not all B787’s are customized to have a lot of storage space, air nozzles or arm rests.

    You are unfairly bashing KQ for things pretty much every airline in the industry does and your article has a very condescending tone toward the airline. Your article lacks the professionalism of a review and borders on being an informal description of all of your experience. You need to work on your writing.

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