I don’t want to say “I told you so,” but…
Kenya Airways’ Nairobi to New York flight
Kenya Airways launched a daily nonstop flight between New York and Nairobi in late October 2018 (I reviewed the inaugural flight from New York to Nairobi). This was an airline that was on the verge of liquidation in 2017, but as is often the case, they let their ambitions get ahead of their business sense.
Inexplicably, the airline decided to immediately launch daily flights in the market. This is the first nonstop flight between New York and East Africa, so to operate that flight daily from day one makes no sense. They’d be much better off starting with a few flights per week, and then gradually increasing service as demand picks up.
Not surprisingly, the airline quickly backtracked on that, and permanently reduced frequencies to New York.
Nonetheless this was a huge point of pride for the country, and the route was constantly referred to as a game changer (like over and over and over, as you’ll see in the below video).
How is Kenya Airways’ New York flight doing?
Kenya Airways just celebrated their six month anniversary of operating the route, so how’s the route doing? Well, I think this statement from Kenya Airways CEO Sebastian Mikosz tells you everything you need to know:
“I do not consider it to be a lucrative route. There is nothing lucrative about flying to New York.”
Nonetheless Kenya Airways seems committed to keeping the route, at least for now:
“The route is necessary but difficult. It is performing in the range that we expected. It is feeding our African network. It positions us differently.”
The airline just reported a roughly 75 million USD loss for 2018, which they attribute largely to volatile fuel prices, as the airline has seen fuel expenditure increase significantly. The airline hasn’t provided a more detailed summary of the financial performance of the JFK route, though I think it’s safe to assume it’s losing money.
It’s no surprise at all that Kenya Airways’ New York flight isn’t lucrative for them. I suspect the airline will keep the route around for prestige reasons and for general business ties, as a way of encouraging US tourism and investment in Kenya.
At least they’ll keep it around until Kenya Airways’ management decides they can no longer keep losing money.
This route has been such a huge point of pride for the airline from the beginning, and it’s sad to see it’s not making money. But like I said, the fact that they decided to start with daily flights suggests to me that they were never really realistic about it.