Kigali International Airport (KGL).
When flying out of Kigali, Rwanda, it is best if you have a lot of patience — there is a lot of waiting in lines. I got to the airport about five hours early, so I was prepared to wait. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, since I read there was free WiFi in the front lobby, which consists of only a coffee stand and a few seats. Unfortunately, the WiFi was not working, so I got myself a cold drink and started going through all my photos from my trip to Rwanda.
Passengers are not allowed to leave the lobby area to go to the ticket counters until it is two hours or less before your flight departs. Once I reached the two hour mark, I was able to go outside and wait in-line to go through the first set of security. Since three flights were leaving about the same time, a large group gathered outside waiting to get back inside. Before getting back inside we all had to have our documents reviewed and since I did not have access to a computer, I had to show my passport and my confirmation on my smart phone. I was given some looks, but they still let me through where I had to wait in another line to be screened. The first security screening was much like in the US, where I had to take off my shoes and take out my laptop.
After I went through security, I headed to the ticket counter, but was stopped by a security agent and told I had to go back and wait in a second line to have my passport scanned and my documents reviewed again. Sigh…okay.
After waiting about 15 minutes in that line, my documents were checked and I was finally allowed to wait in the ticket counter line. I was previously given a center seat, not something I wanted to have for a 10 hour flight. Luckily, I was able to get a window seat, so I thought I was set and headed towards the gate.
It is awesome to board a wide-bodied A330 on the tarmac of a small airport.
I followed signs telling me to head upstairs to get to the gate waiting area. On top of the stairs there was another, yet short, line for customs. They checked my forms, asked me a few questions and off I went to another waiting area, but this was still not the gate.
I was now in another waiting area with only 32 seats and a small bar area. Although outside it was cool, the upstairs waiting area was hot. There was a very small, maybe 19″, TV playing something not in English in front of the seats, but there weren’t enough for me to sit down. After a while we were allowed to move through another security check point to wait in a larger waiting area, which would be our departure gate.
Yes! After a six hour wait at the airport, our KLM Airbus A330 had arrived and we were told to start lining up. I knew there were no jet-ways, but I wasn’t sure if we would be bussed out to the plane or able to walk from the door to the plane; I was hoping for the walk. At the terminal door, we had our documents checked again and out onto the tarmac we went — sweet, no bus.
Kigali Airport is small and it was neat walking along the tarmac seeing a Brussels A330 and KLM A330 both in the middle of Rwanda sitting next to RwandAir’s two 737s and two CRJ200s. After having my documents checked one more time at the bottom of the stairs, I was on board the A330 and ready to find my seat.
Normally, I am aware where my flight came from and where it is going. However, I just received my itinerary for my flight home the day prior and with limited internet access, I had no idea. It didn’t seem like there were many folks in the waiting area to fill up an Airbus A330, so I did not know what to expect when getting on to the aircraft or even if we would have a few stops between KGL and AMS. When boarding, it became clear the aircraft had come from somewhere and I was guessing it was a long flight since the plane was full and people looked tired and grumpy.
Map of my flight from KGL to EBB then AMS on a KLM Airbus A330.
Turns out the flight had some passengers from Amsterdam, but was heading to Entebbe, Uganda (EBB) from KGL. It was pretty lame, since the person who had had my seat obviously had just gotten off. It was still warm and there was trash everywhere. However, I was told it would be a quick 35 minute flight to EBB where the aircraft would be fully cleaned.
I did not have far to go to find my seat. I was sitting in seat 15A which was in the KLM Economy Comfort section located near the front. This gave me priority boarding, a few inches of additional leg room and more recline. It was nice, but there was an in-flight entertainment computer under the seat in front of me, eliminating half of my leg room. I thought with the big box in the way, I would at least have an outlet, but there was no in-seat power which was very disappointing. Kigali Airport is not known for the abundance of power outlets and by the time I boarded my electronics were needing some juice.
KLM definitely has their official color of blue down. Not only is the outside of the airplane blue, but the carpet is blue, the seats are blue, the bulkheads are blue and the flight attendants are all wearing a bright blue. When the flight attendants have their dress jackets on, the blue seems almost a bit overpowering and almost feels like I am on the official airline of the Smurfs. Good thing I like blue.
Blue is an obvious theme on KLM aircraft.
The aircraft loaded up quickly and we were ready to head to EBB. That was the shortest wide-bodied flight I have taken. It was just enough time for the flight attendants to run up and down the aisle to give us orange juice boxes and sit back down.
By the time we landed in EBB, it was obvious that the flight attendants were done with their shift. Along with the passengers, they came across as very tired and grumpy. This was okay, since they got off in Uganda and a new, fresh crew got on board.
During the layover, there were not too many of us left on the plane and a cleaning crew came on and worked around the passengers. It was interesting to see them in action, but it was obvious they were annoyed that so many passengers were in the way… I do not blame them. We had only been on the plane for about 40 minutes and passengers were out of their seats and walking around, getting in their way like we had just completed a marathon flight.
The seat-back in flight entertainment isn't the best, but surely better than nothing.
During the down time, it got amazingly hot inside the aircraft. The information screen showed it was only 73F outside, but it had to be over 85F inside the aircraft. The unfortunate part was the gentleman in front of me, apparently had made a life decision not to wear deodorant.
I am not quite sure why they weren’t able to run the APU and A/C while we waited and I heard multiple passengers complain, but the cabin did not seem to cool down until we started boarding again. Maybe it was an oversight with the changing of the crew, but after working up a nice sweat, I wasn’t able to cool down until almost landing in AMS.
Every economy seat has its own in-flight entertainment which is nice. The system seems a bit old and takes a little more time to navigate, but it is all free, which makes it worth the trouble. There is a decent selection of movies and TV shows in a number of different languages. It was entertaining enough for a one-way ten hour flight, but if you had more than that, the entertainment would get stale pretty quickly.
Talking about stale, we were served some hot food during the trip and a choice between beef and pasta — I chose the beef. I guess “stale” might be an unfair way to describe the food, it was not that bad, but not that great either. It is what one would expect from economy food from an airline.
My KLM Airbus A330 (PH-AOL) at Amsterdam after my flight.
I was actually quite surprised how quickly the flight went. I watched some movies, got some sleep, ate some food and BAM we were heading into Amsterdam. I think even though part of my legroom was taken by the in-flight entertainment system, the extra room and recline really helped. It was a little frustrating when the person in front of me decided to recline their seat all the way (remember Economy Comfort has the ability to recline more), but being by the window with only another seat next to me, with a few inches of extra room made the flight enjoyable.
After landing, I had a four hour layover in Amsterdam before flying on a Delta Airbus A330 back home to Seattle. I will be reviewing that flight in the near future.
A FEW OTHER PHOTOS OF THE TRIP
We had taken off from Seattle a day before and had mini-adventures while in Iceland and Turkey. Now RwandAir’s first Boeing 737-800 was on her final leg to Kigali, Rwanda with only about 5.5 hours to go. In Part 1 I talked about pre-departure, then covered what it was like flying from Seattle to Iceland to Turkey in Part 2. In Part 3 I talk about what it was like finally arriving in Kigali to an amazing welcome.
Heading into African airspace on our way to Kigali, Rwanda.
Before the 20hr flight I was concerned about the comfort level of a domestic Boeing 737. I was also afraid of having too much free time on my hands, so I brought a book, downloaded a lot of airline articles and even got some additional games for my iPhone. However, with sleep, socializing and watching 30 minutes of Big Mama 3 (I can’t believe I lasted that long), I did not get bored. It was comfortable having an entire row to myself, but I am sure my tone would have been different if I had shared my row with seat-mates. The back of the plane seemed the place to go if you were looking to get some sleep. Quite a few folks sitting up front made their way to their own rows in economy to stretch and rest.
9,200 miles of adventure. Our route to Kigali.
I had used my electronics quite a bit from Seattle to Iceland to Istanbul. By the time we were on our final leg, they were badly in need of some power. I had forgotten my international power adapter and did not get to charge while in Turkey (luckily someone let me borrow theirs while in Rwanda — thanks Adam). Unfortunately the seats in the back of the plane did not have power outlets, but those in Business class did. I had three different devices plugged into three different seats up front. It was important I was all ready to go when touching down in Rwanda.
While my electronic distractions were charging,I had no problem gazing out the window. The sky was clear, so it was easy to witness crossing over to African airspace. It was interesting seeing desert forever, then civilization and green around water. We followed the Nile for a while and it really became clear how a river or water source really creates growth.
Hanging out in the cockpit of RwandAir's Boeing 737-800 while over Africa.
Although socializing and watching movies can be entertaining, the best form of entertainment is being in the cockpit. Even though my devices weren’t fully charged, I didn’t want to turn down an opportunity to visit the front of the plane while cruising at 39,000 feet to take photos, video and talk to the pilots.
Both pilots at the time had come from the now defunct Olympic Airlines and were very excited about flying the 737-800 — almost to the point of being giddy. They said it was an obvious improvement in performance, ease of use and efficiency. It sounded like there would be a formidable (and friendly) competition to see which pilots would get to fly the new 737-800 vs the older 737-500s in the fleet.
Every time I got up into the cockpit during flight, the calm always surprised me. I don’t know what I really expeced. Maybe the pilots constantly at the controls, talking on the radio, messing with knobs. But during cruise with a modern airliner, they are able to easily take time to enjoy flight. Looking straight out the front windscreen into the limitless blue makes the aircraft feel like it is not even moving. It is a cool experience and it is unfortunate that it is rare for even media to get into the cockpit during flight (and this is only the second airline to allow me to share photos).
RwandAir's Boeing 737-500 looks on.
Before we knew it, the plane was starting its descent and we were almost done with our flying adventure. From the hotel to boarding the plane, most of us dressed up. But once on board, we changed into something more comfortable. Now realizing we were getting close to Kigali, it was time to get back into professional wardrobe. You would have thought with only 30 people on board, there wouldn’t be any lavatory issues, but when so many are trying to change and brush teeth at the same time, it really caused some issues. Ichanged my shirt in the aisle and brushed my teeth in a lavatory being used to store drinks. A guy has gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. Luckily everyone was ready to go and seated by the time we were flying low over Kigali.
We were told we would do a low fly over the airport before circling around to land. As we kept getting lower and lower, some of us became certain that the fly-by was cancelled and we were going to land. Kudos to the pilot since we buzzed the tarmac just a few feet off the ground before pulling up, circling around and landing.
Our flight buzzed the airport before coming in for a landing. That is one nice fly-by. Photo from RwandAir.
People on board the airplane cheered as we landed and taxied to the tarmac. Two fire trucks gave us an official water salute as we pulled into the airport and before getting off the plane we could see a group of dancers starting to make their way out towards the plane.
It is hard to describe what it is like to be jet-lagged and stepping off a plane that just flew from Seattle to Rwanda with people dancing, music playing and people wanting to shake your hand. This was an amazing moment for almost everyone there and the most impressive welcome I have ever experienced.
Upon landing we were greeted by dancers, local media and VIP guests.
After things calmed down, we headed through customs and over to a special tent where additional guests were seating. All the important dignitaries and the airline CEO spoke and talked about the importance of this proud achievement.
The plane was not just carrying people over to Africa. Boeing has a program called Humanitarian Delivery Flights that, “humanitarian items; such as, medical supplies, clothing, and educational materials, are loaded into the empty cargo space of new airplanes being delivered and transported to a customer’s home destination.” On this flight, there were 1500 educational books that were being delivered to the Rotary Club of Kigali to be distributed to high schools, universities and libraries around the country. Boeing partnered with RwandAir and Operation USA to help deliver the books and there were a group of children at the celebration to accept them.
Some RwandAir pilots and me hanging during the post delivery reception.
We all had some food, drinks and great conversations, but after our long journey, it was time to head to the Kigali Serena Hotel. I was not quite sure what to expect of my accommodations when staying in Rwanda. For some reason I kept picturing a bed with a bug net and a generator providing electricity. It is my own fault for not being informed, but it was a nice surprise to find that the hotel was way beyond my expectations. They even offered free Wi-Fi internet which can be hard to find in many American hotels.
The hotel was one of many interesting experiences during my four day stay in Kigali. Stay tuned for my Destination Rwanda story coming soon, followed by a video documenting the delivery flight. Until then…
VIEW ALL 90 PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP TO KIGALI
RWANDAIR BOEING 737-700 DELIVERY FLIGHT
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Video | 737 Photos | Rwanda Photos | Destination Story | All
At RwandAir's headquarters at Kigali Airport, they have mutliple images of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in their livery around the office. This mock up shows a hopeful operation date of 2015.
I have been learning a lot about Rwanda and RwandAir over the past few days and will be sharing everything over the next week or so. I wanted to give a quick update on RwandAir’s aircraft and route planning, since it is quite surprising and involves a few Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
The airline has just taken delivery of their first new aircraft ever, a Boeing 737-800 with Sky Interior. According to RwandAir CEO John Mirenge this is just the beginning. He stated that they hope to increase their current fleet of six aircraft to 12 over the next five years and up to 18 by 2020. Currently they operate a fleet of two Boeing 737-500s, one Boeing 737-800 (a second one coming in October), two CRJ-200s and one Dash 8. By 2020, they hope to take delivery of additional Boeing 737s, ATR-72, Embraer regional jets and Boeing 787 Dreamliners — new.
Mirenge told AirlineReporter.com that he hopes to fly the Dreamliners to China, Europe and possibly the eastcoast of the United States. The airline hopes to create a hub of air transportation in Kigali, providing the demand for the larger aircraft.
It seems that flying the Dreamliner by 2015 might be a bit optimistic. It might be difficult to get a delivery slot by then and Kigali is in the process of building a new airport to better handle the expected increase of traffic, but is not set to be completed until 2018.
It is unusual for an airline to be so candid about their future plans of aircraft purchases and future routes. However, RwandAir is a different sort of airline and definitely have created a positive momentum.