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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…