Kenya Airways Granted Permission To Fly To The US

Filed Under: Other Airlines

A bit over a week ago I wrote about seven rumored longhaul flights to the US, and provided an update on the latest we’ve heard on their progress. Some airlines are overly optimistic when it comes to the routes they’ll launch, so it’s always interesting to see if airline executives deliver on their lofty promises.


One route I accidentally left out of that last post was Kenya Airways’ rumored Nairobi to New York flight. This rumor originated in mid-March, when Kenya’s Daily Nation wrote the following:

Flights from Nairobi to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport will be launched in early May.

This is after Kenya Airways formally requested the US federal aviation department for a licence to fly directly to the US.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the Nation that the application was presented at the US Embassy in Nairobi.

This was bizarre for a couple of reasons:

  • They’d be launching flights to New York with just a few weeks notice, which doesn’t seem like much for launching such an ambitious route, in terms of selling tickets, marketing the route, etc.
  • Supposedly the request was “presented at the US Embassy in Nairobi,” which is not how you request permission to operate a new route, and there was also no record of such a filing with the DOT at the time

I figured this route was a pipe dream. Well, it looks like this might actually happen, and that we may soon see Kenya Airways in the US… surprisingly.

The Department of Transportation has now granted permission to Kenya Airways to operate flights to the US. Per their filing:

Scheduled and charter foreign air transportation of persons, property, and mail from any point or points behind Kenya, via any point or points in Kenya and any intermediate points, to any points or points in the United States and beyond.

Permission for the route was tentatively granted on June 12, but then there was a period where the permission could be contested, etc., so it has only now been finalized. Now it’s just up to Kenya Airways to decide if they actually want to start service to the US or not.

The airline is doing horribly financially, and has been getting rid of planes in order to minimize losses (they’re leasing some 787s to Oman Air), etc. I can’t imagine they’d make any money on a route to the US given how long it would be, but I guess we’ll see if they’re willing to pay the price for the prestige of operating it.

If this flight does take off, you can bet I’ll be booking it, as Kenya Airways has been on my list of airlines to review.

What do you guys think — will Kenya Airways fly to New York (or another point in the US)?

(Tip of the hat to @MeenzMev)

  1. It’s an interesting route, and one that could potentially take off because there aren’t too many airlines with service between the US and Africa. However, their financial situation and lack of codeshare agreements with US airlines could lead to a lack of passengers from the US taking advantage of the route. Their only aircraft that could manage it are their 787s.

  2. @Roger: or they have to schedule a stop en route. TER would do nicely (almost directly on the great circle route), or LPA.

  3. Getting a direct US-Kenya flight has been a topic in Nairobi for years, maybe even decades, with NBO investing heavily in its infrastructure to achieve the necessary certifications. Kenya being Kenya, and the airline being just a puppet of certain figures in its political circles, I think we will see this route fast tracked with little regards to the financials involved, simply to give Kenyatta another little prestige Project completed before the new elections after the new rail was finished just in time for the original elections. But I think it will just be a weekly frequency or something to not ruin KQ even more than necessary.

  4. Took Kenyan from BKK-HKG in biz on their 787. I was disappointed by the flight. All Thai flight attendants, who were terrible at their job, and the food choice were just Thai or Chinese. Hopefully this route will be better.

  5. Kenya Airways flight to US is happening. Being part of Sky team, KQ will definitely team up with Delta another member of Sky team to leverage on the synergies and partnership. There is likelihood that KQ might want to fly to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta, the hub of Delta to fully exploit their capacities.

  6. @Chuck

    You took a shorthaul 5th freedom flight between Thailand and Hong Kong, and you were surprised that the FAs were Thai and the catering on board was Thai and Chinese???

  7. I think the most important part of this approval is that they can now begin codesharing with skyteam partners to the US.

  8. Flew them back in 2005 from Amsterdam to Nairobi. Spotless 777, friendly flight attendants and great service. I hope the product has held up!

  9. Status seems to be important for some African airlines and nations. They want their own airline and it should offer at least non-stops to London and New York. Whether they can make money is dubious but perhaps it’s a flagship route and they are willing to take a loss?

  10. Very good idea East african. Airways fly to USA.
    Make sure there is a ” First aid box”
    in flight when needed!

  11. Wife and I flew them Amsterdam Nairobi return in business as part of a trip from Chicago. I thought they were pretty decent. Lots of room and nice food. Friendly enough attendants etc. newish 787. Kenya itself was an amazing destination. Would love a direct flight to Africa from ord.

  12. They can do the route profitably, as long as two conditions are met:
    1) Delta is willing to feed it at New York. For this, Delta may want to consult JV partner Air France-KLM on its opinion, as it impacts their JV’s financial performance.
    2) Schedule has to work for connections at NBO. So for the NYC local market, they can offer a one-stop to major destinations they serve in Africa without overnight layover.

  13. This would be interesting as there aren’t any flights to East Africa from the US! We flew Kenya Airways to/from Nairobi and LHR and AMS last year. In economy. It was NOT a pleasant trip. No ventilation, stains on the seats and overall felt dirty the whole time, food not good either. But it was on time and we were able to use Delta points to book so it was basically free… Also service wasn’t great at the gate (on the plane it was fine). We were willing to pay to upgrade to business class, there were open seats yet no one wanted to help. We were told they would handle this request onboard but of course that’s not how it works. Employees certainly weren’t very motivated or service oriented. Overall we wouldn’t fly them again if given the choice, but price ultimately might force our hand. And the convenience would be impossible to beat. Maybe we could try booking a biz class seat…

  14. “This would be interesting as there aren’t any flights to East Africa from the US! ”

    Ethiopian serves 3 US cities

  15. Flew AMS-NBO-BKK in April 2017. The planes were less than 2 years old, but already showing signs of wear and tear. My biz class seat was inoperative… had to remove the cushion to manually set the seat from flatbed to chair position and all in-between settings for a lazy boy configuration were not possible. It was not a problem because I only wanted a flatbed during the red-eye flight.

    Their schedules are absolutely very convenient for a tourist to maximize their layovers. Red-eyes from Europe arrive NBO by dawn. That’s enough time to get to the lounge for a shower, breakfast and then get into the country for a full day safari adventure. Then, back to the airport by dinnertime and catch the continuing flight to Asia that departs shortly before midnight.

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