The surprise announcement that Kenya Airways was cutting down the number of flights in the recently launched Nairobi-New York route has stirred mixed reaction from Kenyans living in the US.
Joseph Kimani, a Kenyan resident of Allentown, said blaming winter for the decision just a few weeks after launch did not make sense given the upcoming festive season.
“This is unbelievable! Do you mean to tell me that Kenya Airways cannot get at least 500 people to fly between Nairobi and New York every day even during this Christmas festivities?” he said.
Mary Amollo of Dover, Delaware, says she is saddened by KQ’s move to cut back on daily flights to Nairobi because she was planning to travel to Kenya mid next month to join friends and family in Alego for Christmas. “We celebrated the launch of the direct flights not just because it was a matter pride. We embraced it because in the long run, it’d be convenient and cheaper. Look at us now, is there anything apart from running that we can as a country and do it well?” she posed.
However, experts in the US believe the ordinary traveller may be misinformed about how the industry operates and that KQ was doing what was necessary to survive in the long run.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Kenya for acquiring landing permission and a parking slot at the JKF airport. JKF slots are rare to get because they are highly competitive even for America based carriers. Now KQ will have to fight for passengers and that’s the next hard thing. Passengers will come but not immediately. It’ll take years for Kenya Airways to fill half the seats on that Boeing 737 monster,” said Henry Smith, one the scheduling managers at American Airlines.
Mr Smith who among other managers, runs AA the world’s biggest airlines out of Philadelphia Hub, says most airlines experience challenges and loss of money on new routes.
“New Routes are always tricky even those that look very viable in the planning stages. But just like starting a new business, you have to cultivate the route and invest in the initial operations,” he said.
Johnson Keefe, operations manager at Delta Air Lines in Philadelphia said he was not surprised at all that KQ is cutting back on daily flights to US. “That’s a normal thing to do because you don’t want to fly an empty plane just for the sake maintaining the image. Here at Delta, we are always starting new routes then scale back the number of flights depending on viability and operational needs” He said.
Some Kenyans both at home and abroad have suggested KQ should change it ticket pricing model and target market.
“We were abused and trolled when we dampened the irrational exuberance over Nairobi -New York Flight. Kenya must first develop a big middle class that can fly daily. The middle Cass in Kenya is very small. It’s why we can’t sustain upscale malls”, tweeted lawyer Donald Kipkorir of Nairobi.
Lenny Kibe, a Kenyan resident of New Haven, Connecticut believes KQ should do more in targeting Kenyans living in the US. “There are thousands of Kenyans who vacation every year in Kenya. Sadly, KQ did not market to this large Kenyan market. KQ should have partnered with tour operators to bus/fly Kenyans from the Midwest to New York for direct flights to Nairobi” He said.
In an apparent response to this, Kenya Airways in fact announced a discount on flight tickets for Kenyans living in the US.
The airline said last week that Kenyans who fly on its newly launched direct flights between New York and Nairobi will enjoy a 10 per cent discount on tickets and luggage fees.