Review: Pearl Lounge Kigali Airport

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I arrived at Kigali Airport at around 5AM for my 8AM flight to London (via Brussels).

While a lot of airports have extensive security, Kigali Airport takes it to the next level for cars. They “scan” cars in such a way that you have to actually get out of the car, then your car goes on a “track” (similar to a car wash), and then you can get back in, before eventually being dropped off at the terminal.

As I approached the entrance to the terminal there were two people with machine guns. I tried to enter the terminal, but they told me to stop.

“Where are you going?”
“Not yet.”
“When can I enter?”
“Not yet.”
“Okay, but are we talking like 10 minutes, or an hour, or…?”
“You need to wait.”

So I just stood there and waited.

Fortunately the wait wasn’t long at all, and about 10 minutes later I was allowed into the terminal, after an ID check. The check-in hall was empty.

Kigali Airport check-in hall

I stopped by the RwandAir check-in desk to grab my boarding pass.

Kigali Airport check-in counters

Next up I had to go through immigration, where there was no wait at all, given that I was the first person to enter the terminal.

The Kigali Airport airside is reasonably nice. It’s well maintained, though fairly simple. It has a couple of coffee shops and some duty free shopping, and tons of seating.

Kigali Airport airside cafe

Kigali Airport airside

Keep in mind that this area isn’t past security. So you hang out here until your flight is almost ready for boarding, and then you get into the actual gate area, which has virtually no amenities.

Note that while the check-in area was completely empty, the airside wasn’t. Presumably that’s because there were connecting passengers making airside connections.

Kigali Airport airside

Kigali Airport’s main lounge is the Pearl Lounge, which is airside and impossible to miss. It’s open 24/7. This is the lounge available to premium passengers traveling on all airlines from the airport (including RwandAir), and it’s also a Priority Pass lounge.

The lounge is large and was quite empty the entire time I was there, though it wasn’t especially nice. The lounge consisted of one main room, and had tons of seating. There were some dining tables with two chars each, leather chairs along the walls, some communal tables with high-top seating, and more.

Kigali Airport Lounge seating

Kigali Airport Lounge seating

Kigali Airport Lounge seating

Kigali Airport Lounge seating

Kigali Airport Lounge seating

There was also a play area for kids.

Kigali Airport Lounge kids area

In the very back of the lounge was the entrance to the government lounge, which sadly Priority Pass or a business class ticket doesn’t get you into. Grrrr…

Kigali Airport Government Lounge

The lounge’s food and drink offerings was basic. There was a bar in the main part of the lounge.

Kigali Airport Lounge bar

While I wasn’t drinking at this hour of the morning, it appears that the first glass of wine is free, while all subsequent wine as well as all liquor needs to be purchased. Below is some of the pricing.

Kigali Airport Lounge drink costs

Kigali Airport Lounge drink costs

Kigali Airport Lounge “promotion”

There were fridges with soft drinks, bottled water, and beer.

Kigali Airport Lounge drinks

The buffet was in a separate room back towards the entrance to the lounge.

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Snacks were basic, and included whole fruit, various types of bread and pastries, cereal, and some cold cuts.

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

There were also tasty sweet packaged thingies, which I had to try.

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

Then there was instant coffee (yuck!) and powdered creamer. Do note that there’s a proper espresso machine at the bar, though there was no one working at it while I was in the lounge, and when I asked about it I was told “later.”

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

There were also a few types of juice.

Kigali Airport Lounge buffet

There were bathrooms in the lounge, and even a couple of shower rooms, though the showers didn’t look terribly appealing.

Kigali Airport Lounge bathrooms

Kigali Airport Lounge shower

The lounge had wifi, though it was slow.

My boarding pass indicated boarding would start at 7:30AM, though at 6:20AM an announcement was made that the flight to London was pre-boarding. I figured that wasn’t accurate, but went anyway, since I always try to be first onboard for pictures, just in case.

There’s a single security checkpoint for all the gates, and since I was going so early, there was no wait, and I was through within a couple of minutes.

Kigali Airport doesn’t actually have any “gates,” but rather has what’s essentially a bus terminal from which they send people on their way. There’s one main area with a lot of seating.

Kigali Airport departure gate

My flight was departing from gate 6, which was in a separate room off to the right.

Kigali Airport departure gate

Kigali Airport departure gate

No one else showed up for at least 30 minutes, though I was just as happy here as in the lounge, since the wifi worked here as well. Shortly before boarding someone came up to my to verify my passport, and then handed me a laminated “boarding card.”

RwandAir boarding card

I do find RwandAir’s ads plastered all over the terminal to be amusing “our greatest joy lies in serving you.” I’m sure. šŸ˜‰

RwandAir ad

Boarding ended up starting at 7:25AM, with business class passengers being invited to board first. We were pointed towards a bus…

Kigali Airport bus

Then a couple of minutes later we were told we should instead get on another bus…

Kigali Airport bus

And then they put us onto yet a different bus, which I guess was intended for premium passengers.

Kigali Airport bus

While I took the bus, I ended up regretting it, since we waited for over 20 minutes for other passengers, meaning that by the time we got to the plane, most other business class passengers were already onboard, as they took the “regular” bus. Oops.

RwandAir A330 Kigali Airport

Kigali Airport Lounge bottom line

Kigali Airport’s Pearl Lounge is pretty no frills, though it gets the job done. The terminal itself is small and easy to use, getting through immigration and security was a breeze, and at least the entire airport had wifi.

I’d do everything I could to avoid a long layover at Kigali Airport, but it’s a nice enough airport to transit. Soon this airport may even have a direct (but not nonstop) flight to the US.

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  1. One suggestion in interesting new countries and cities is to post the country along with the city name. I had to read back a few posts and google it to confirm that Kigali is in Rwanda and is actually the capital. I clicked over to the story because I’m not familiar with Kigali.

  2. Made the same ‘mistake’ in Shanghai on a CA priority boarding. Ended up sitting half an hour in the ‘priority’ bus till everyone else had boarded and the pre departure service was done with. A funny first to me.

  3. Quite a discrepancy on the exchange rates on the drink prices. The 5 dollar drinks get you 800RWF/dollar but the 15 dollar drink only gets you 667RWF/solar.

  4. Any airport staff telling you “later” rather than exactly when does not deserve to be in a customer facing job. The limited refreshments available and slow Wi-Fi should result in anyone paying a fee to enter that lounge should be refunded as it is way below the standards one expects.

  5. One of the worst lounges I’ve ever visited, by a mile. Very grumpy personnel at the entrance scrutinizing your boarding pass, no smile or welcome. Food is below sub-standard: tasteless, not frsh, not well presented. Thank God beer is free but any other alcoholic drink you have to pay for, except the first free glass of (very mediocre) wine. Seriously? Airlines pay NAS (company from Kuwait who runs this lounge) up to USD 30.00 per business class or high-tier FQTV passenger to allow then access to the lounge and then you still have to pay for you drinks? What a rip off! Last time I visited was September last year for a KQ flight to NBO: it was over-crowded with WB, SN & KL passengers, tables were scattered with empty plates & glasses, all in all an absolute disgrace if you consider the amount of money NAS is getting from the airlines.

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