Kenya's flag carrier launched its B787-8 Dreamliner on the London-Nairobi route in January, to replace its B777-200, but on this particular flight it was one of the airline's new-generation B777-300ERs.
The 400-seat aircraft features high-ceilings, mood lighting and the latest seating across business class (Premier World), which offers seats that recline to 176-degree flat beds, and economy.
The B777-300ER is temporarily being deployed on the Heathrow route over the summer until September 14 but there are still some Dreamliner services to be found as well (my return flight was on a B787-8). Kenya Airways flies daily between London and Nairobi.
However, due to poor passenger numbers, the airline is axing its B777-300ER aircraft in September.
I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 4 via the Tube at 1740, with over two hours until Kenya Airways flight KQ101 to Nairobi, departing at 2000.
After walking through various corridors, I took a lift up to departures and checked the information screens.
Kenya Airways' check-in area was in Zone F (desks F76-83), with six desks for bag-drop (there are self-service kiosks for those who haven't checked in online) and two for Sky Priority/business class passengers.
There were a couple of people ahead of me and the process was a little slow so it took about eight minutes for my suitcase to be priority tagged and sped away on the conveyor.
I already had a print-out of my boarding pass so they didn't need to issue me with another one. I then walked to security, entering the fast-track channel – there were a dozen people ahead of me so it took about ten minutes to get through (not as quick as one would hope). Laptops and iPads came out, along with liquids, and some people had to take shoes off.
Kenya Airways passengers have use of the two-floor Skyteam lounge, a few minutes' walk away to the right after coming out of security.
Inside, there is free wifi (no password), newspapers and magazines, and a good selection of free food and drink. When I was there, there were sandwiches, cheese and biscuits, salads, curry and rice, fried potatoes, two kinds of soup and cakes. There were also self-service bars for soft and alcoholic drinks (including spirits and wine).
On the main level is a spa with a couple of treatment rooms and half a dozen showers, but there was no one available to give massages on this Saturday night. That said, there were several massage chairs tucked away at the back.
At 1855, there was an announcement that my gate (24) was open so I packed up my things and headed down there. It was a bit of a walk and took 15 minutes.
The waiting area outside the gate was very busy – there was a huge party of school children and premium passengers were crowding around the desk so that they could get through as quickly as possible.
Boarding began via an airbridge downstairs at 1920, with young children and elderly people allowed through first.
I was in my seat (4D) at the back of the business class cabin at 1930. The welcoming crew offered me a choice of Elexim Brut champagne or juice, followed by a choice of magazines and newspapers.
A blanket, pillow, headphones and amenity kit (containing socks, toothbrush/paste, moisturiser, lip balm, an eyemask, shoehorn and earplugs) were provided.
At 1945, menus were passed around. Orders were taken as the plane started pushing back at 2000.
The touchscreen in-flight entertainment system (IFE) could be used before take-off so some people started watching films straight away.
The cabin is configured 2-3-2 across four rows on the B777-300ER, with subtle blue mood lighting before take-off, and pink illuminations once in the air.
Every seat in business class was full. I was impressed by the product – there was lots of legroom, with a padded bench at the end to rest your feet on if your legs are long, and two generous compartments underneath to store shores and other belongings.
Above, was a 15.4 inch screen and a coat hook, while seats (all forward-facing) have reading lights, universal power sockets, USB ports, IFE remotes in the lower section of the armrest, and a panel for controlling the recline and lumbar support. There is also onboard wifi but I didn't realise so missed my chance to try it.
The overall look of the seat is business-like, in a muted palette of beige and brown.
There is little in the way of privacy though. The seat reclines down more or less fully-flat – it's designed in three sections so isn't one single flat surface like on Virgin Atlantic, for example, which has seats that flip over to create a smooth mattress.
It was comfortable for both sitting and sleeping, with a good amount of length when reclined. However, if you are broad shouldered you may find it a bit narrow, with your arm pressing into the IFE remote.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Aisle seats in rows 1 and 4 are closest to the galleys so there could be some disturbance from crew preparing food, but this flight seemed very quiet.
Aisle seats in row 4 are also close to the washrooms, which may be less than desirable, but again it wasn't problematic for me.
Avoid middle seats E as they are furthest from the windows and don't have direct aisle access – as with seats A and G, you have to climb over the person next to you to get out. For this reason, aisle seats are probably best.
Those sitting in row 4 get served food and drink last, meaning you may have to wait 15 minutes longer than those in row 1 (something to bear in mind on a night flight when you need to get to sleep quickly).
At 2010, the captain made a welcome announcement to everyone on board and inform them of the flight time (eight hours, five minutes). At 2015, a safety video was played and, at 2030, the plane took off (30 minutes later than expected).
After cruising for about 20 minutes, a drinks service began from the front of the plane, with beverages served with a china bowl of macadamia and cashew nuts. Tables were laid with cloths, and trays brought around with starters, bread, salt, pepper and metal cutlery.
To begin, there was a choice of an appetiser: beef bresaola, cantaloupe melon, mixed vegetables and shaved cheese; or vegetable cutlets with raita dressing and mixed salad. (I had the latter, which was tasty.)
There were two red (although the menu listed four) and two white wines. I went for a glass of the 2011 Tokara Shiraz (the other option was the 2012 Rupert and Rothschild Classique). The whites were Tokara Chardonnay 2012 and the Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013.
Mains followed after about 15 minutes. There were five to choose from: a healthy option of poached salmon, marinated dill prawns and salad; or duck leg confit with basmati rice; pan-seared cod in a basil cream sauce; or eggplant curry with traditional Kenyan irio (mashed peas, potatoes and corn) and sukuma wiki (kale and tomato stew).
I went for the chickpea masala with paneer makhani, basmati rice and peas, which was delicious – really flavourful, well-spiced and rich.
Sadly, I was so full I couldn't manage the raspberry cream brulee for dessert, opting instead for some fresh sliced fruit. There was also a tempting cheese trolley.
The cabin lights were dimmed at about 2245, with most people settling down to sleep straight after dinner. (Note there are no sheets or pyjamas provided.) I took a mild sleeping pill at 2340 and slept well for about four hours until I was woken by the breakfast service taking place. (I declined anything to eat or drink.)
I continued to rest for a bit, and then got up when the captain announced that after 15 minutes in Kenyan airspace, we would be landing in Nairobi on time in about 20 minutes (0630 local time).
From my seat, I could see a beautiful orange sunrise over Mount Kenya as we crossed the Equator.
We landed as anticipated but then had to make a long, 15-minute taxi to the stand, after which there was a five-minute wait for disembarkation via an airbridge.
Those people not transferring onwards from Nairobi were directed downstairs to the tarmac where a shuttle bus was waiting – after all the business class passengers had boarded, it left immediately for the terminal, which was just a couple of minutes away.
The building itself was turned into a temporary arrivals facility after the main one burnt down in summer 2013 (it is actually a repurposed multi-storey car park). Upon entering the building, everyone had to stop in front of a camera to have their temperature read in case they had been infected with ebola.
Although I had been given a fast-track pass (and landing form) the queues for visas (there were four desks) were very short. Visas cost US$50 or £30 (make sure you have the exact cash) but from September 1, people from the UK will have to apply for them electronically (they could take up to seven days to process, so allow enough time).
Once in baggage reclaim on the other side, my suitcase appeared almost immediately. I was impressed by how quick and easy it was.
There was a big crowd of people waiting on the pavement outside of arrivals, and several armed guards. It took me about 15 minutes to spot my driver so make sure you have a contact number for the person meeting you as it might not be easy to rendezvous.
A very good end-to-end experience – the B777-300ER is a smart new plane with an improved business class product. At 176-degrees, it is just shy of being fully-flat but with your feet on the ottoman bench, it feels like it is.
The picture on the IFE screen was sharp and the system had a decent choice of new-release movies, the crew were polite and attentive, and the food was enjoyable. My expectations were exceeded.
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-3-2 (A-C, D-E-F, J-G)
- SEAT RECLINE 176 degrees
- SEAT PITCH 198cm/73.6in
- SEAT WIDTH 81cm/31.8in
- PRICE Internet rates for a return flexible business class flight from London to Nairobi started from Khs 580,541 (£3,750) in August.
- CONTACT kenya-airways.com