At nearly only one step to the top of Africa as – the best regional carrier according to Skytrax, RwandAir has seen a spectacular expansion recently with the launch of new routes to the old continent, Asia and hopefully before fall 2019 to the US thanks to the brand new long haul A330 planes joining the fleet end of last year.
Every aviation nerd seeks for interesting experiences to add on his/her log book or to share at the end-of-year stats. It was solved quickly, by booking this routing on a whim, where only WB's WB journey will be recounted here:
- 03/10/17, MPL – LGW, Easyjet EZY8056 A319 – Y
03/10/17, LGW – KGL, RwandAir WB701 A333 – J
04/10/17, KGL – BJM, RwandAir WB455 DH4 – J (postponed to June 2018 )
05/10/17, KGL – NBO, Kenya Airways KQ444 E90 – J
05/10/17, NBO – CDG, Kenya Airways KQ112 B788 – J
06/10/17, CDG – MPL, Air France AF7688 – Y
If you want to grab awesome deals in business class from Europe with RwandAir, there are 2 options to choose from:
1/ Book any Brussels – Kigali – East African city trip:
For Star Alliance member, Brussels city to/from Entebbe does provide the cheapest fares combining, of your choice outbound or inbound, one flight with this African airline and the other with SN Brussels Airlines where you can accrue miles. For not more than eur80 you can also get Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar Es Salam, Kilimanjaro, Jubba, Lusaka – Zambia and Harare – Zimbabwe to name but a few.
2/ Book London Gatwick – Kigali – Bujumbura:
At the first sight, why anyone right in her/his mind would dare risking her/his precious life in a war torn country?
This valid question can be answered simply by the fact the situation in Burundi is not as tense and volatile as one can read every now and then. Western medias depict it as murky which is hurting every level of their economy.
Despite the current harsh relationship between the twin brother countries (Rwanda & Burundi), some citizens of the former are often eyed suspiciously when travelling in the latter. But after 2 long stays this year, I'm still alive as you read this report. In no way whatsoever, I'm better (nor more aware/cautious/adventurous/reckless) than you .
A misleading map during OLCI, what if a couple books A&C/F&H pair of seats ?
A 29 seat cabin...
POSITIONING LEG: MPL – LGW
The challenging key point of this trip was basically how to reach LGW, when one books three days prior travelling.
Easyjet did the job for a dire EUR 90 (just hand luggage and no other option bought), even if the gate agent scared me off with the annoucement that the cabin had reached its full capacity of hand luggage probably forcing the last dozen of pax like myself to put theirs in the hold. With a three hour window transfer and the plane that had yet to depart at 17.45 while boarding started at 17.30, I got worried obviously to have to wait the rucksack at the reclaim belt.
Cabin was not full and OLCI automatically attributed me a lousy 9B seat over the wing, but, following many annoucements of last minutes paying "upgrades", I could obtain with no surchage, a window plus an emergency exit seat with extra legroom (though the window was so scratched that one could barely see outside but I could not care less). The rucksack was also conveniently stored in the overhead compartments... and we landed at the North Terminal on time. For my third time with EasyJet, hard to complain so far inspite of the alarmist annoucement at the gate in Montpellier!!!!
The first and only trip till now from LGW dated back from December 2012, when BA was still operating from there. I flew BA2772 to JER on an outdated B734 to catch the toy like Aurigny Trislander...
Conveniently deplaned at the North Terminal, there are not yet any signpost that RwandAir operate here (route launched in May 2017) but a Polish staff confirmed that counters were opened and merely 30 secondes away from their info desk.
I did the OLCI the eve, but WB system could not add the frequent flyer number.
At 7.30 pm, a group of eight African people (English accent but Nigerian attitude... lol) queued in middle but had an issue as one of the leader kept questioning the station manager!
I snaped a picture of the check in area but one of them asked me to delete it, fair enough, so I complied to his injunction. Then I asked him to move away while I could take another clear picture. In the meantime, two Brits plus a couple of American showed interest in flying RwandAir, not sure if they were going non stop or connecting...
With the previous low cost airline restrictions from Montpellier, it was a good opportunity to hit the duty free shops much better priced than what RwandAir offers inflight. For instance, I bought 1L of Amarula liquor for 13 quid instead of 0,7 l for usd22 ... WB should seriously revise their prices and/or contract with their duty free provider if they want to remain appealling to savvy travellers...
The real downside is the absence of smoking room, unlike T4 at LHR. Plenty of space available could be arranged to please departing customers and the sales too... Same country but different rules?
Bang on time landside ! 7.20 pm
None of the counters busy 2.5h before the flight
Travel documents + lounge pass (did not use Gatwick Premium Security as regular lanes were deserted)
Airside low ceiling
The thrice weekly dark blue box !
N°1 LOUNGE - NORTH
As gate had yet to be displayed on the FIDS at 7.30, the logical option led me to the third party N0 1 Lounge. The British touch feels obvious and decoration quite cosy, the area I chose to relax allowed a limited view to the apron. Better than nothing though
Upon entering, the receptionist hands you over the hot food menu.That seems a great idea but choice is dull, check the pictures... Many sections of this lounge were closed due to cleaning! The self serve buffet offers light snacks (peanuts, crips, olives and the likes), fruits and bread, soups and juices.
For the so called hot meals, one must give back the menu to the bar attendant and place the order from there, where everything (incl. Some vintage scotch whiskies) except champagne is free of charge.
The Pino Grigio wine (other option: Sauvignon blanc) and the Moroccan chicken tasted not too bad and not hot/spicy. From what I can understand this lounge caters mostly pay-in guests of leisure airlines to bucket and spade resorts with a heavy majority of Britons willing to chill out before their Thomas Cook / TUI flights, so the lounge remained quiet during the evening. Can't complain!
Here is my ranking about RwandAir destination lounges visited:
4/ Kigali (a brand new one, dedicated to only RwandAir's permium pax should be inaugurated before Q2 2018)
2 of them – DXB & MBA – do offer a smoking section area airside.
Luckily at 9.10pm the lounge receptionist advised me the time to reach the correct gate would not exceed a 5 min walk, since FIDS inside the lounge were not strategically located (read near my comfy armchair... lol ) .
BA Galleries style entrance, classy !
Self serve buffet (snacks and juices only)
The only seating area welcoming people tonight – thank god quiet, I chose the table and armchairs located in the corner facing the traffic.
Something to nibble along with a glass of wine !
The menu given at the reception, which items can not be put on a hot/cold buffet ? Seriously ?
My choice for the sake of reporting
A real crowd pleaser !!! no spice, no flavour
Overhearing a discussion between the gate agent and the station manager at gate 54, while looking for my documents, revealed a disastrous load factor of eight pax in J, one in W and sixty three in Y for this 281 seater. Statistically standard to other RwandAir A330 flight boarded, on their A330s.
Whilst we were hold a few more minutes at the gate; a small step for man a giant step for this website showed a new aircraft through the window panes! The latest delivered A330, nicknamed Umurage, would transport us to the Heart of Africa... how cool!!
Gate 54, near the closing time ; including (BRU) Brussels passengers, too bad no 5th freedom rights on this European leg !
Unlike the moderate scrum you can live in its hub at Kigali airport, WB has learnt a lesson and now follows the usual order of disabled pax/families with infant/business-frequent flyers/random passengers – wish it could be like that for every WB flight in Africa too!
At door 2L, we were greeted in English by 2 smiling female attendants and the Massamba Intore song "Araje" (= I'm coming) aired in the background. Very pleased for once to turn left, I settled in to my seat 2A promptly in an immaculate cabin, no suggestion of cloakroom though!
This 3 class A330-300 is configured with 30 seats in business (29 while checking online, 1 for the crew maybe?), 21 in premium Economy and 223 in economy (C20,W21,Y203 for the -200 version). The green and beige coloured seat evokes a sense of wellbeing, with the imigongo design and the country's highest summits themed on the bulkheads it creates a good feng shui, not like some other African carriers.
Mwirirwe Umurage (9WR-WP) ! Meaning « heritage » ; Obviously first time with her, a 1 year old beauty !
One of the Thompson Vantage XL seat (like SAA ) close to the window – for more privacy
The flight originates from Brussels, due to severe regulations, all passengers are required to get off in London (and must have a valid transit visa to UK even though they fly BRU-KGL). This main issue has caused huge headaches at airline's HQ and forced them to fly almost empty during 2 weeks when they launched the service to Brussels back in July.
Since the inception of the RwandAir flights from Kigali (KGL) to Brussels (BRU), the return flights were operated via London Gatwick (LGW). Passengers from Brussels to Kigali thus needed a transit visa for the United Kingdom if they were not citizens of an EEA country.
This way of operating resulted in very poor load factors: at the moment the KGL-BRU leg has a load factor of around 5-10%. KGL-LGW is around 15% and from BRU to KGL it is between 0 and 3%.
RwandAir has taken a drastic measure to improve the load factor on its flights to Brussels and London Gatwick: from the beginning of the winter season, the return flight from London Gatwick will also stop in Brussels. Instead of a triangular flight KGL-BRU-LGW-KGL, the route will become KGL-BRU-LGW and LGW-BRU-KGL. Passengers to Kigali boarding at Brussels will no longer need a UK transit visa.
The new schedule is as follows:
WB700 KGL 08:40 – BRU 16:20-17:10 – LGW 17:30 A330 -2-45–
WB701 LGW 18:35 – BRU 21:00-21:40 – KGL 07:00+1 A330 -2-45–
http://www.aviation24.be/airlines/rwand ... oblems-uk/
According to caa.co.uk June saw 1680 pax and July 2930 meaning roughly, 40-50% load factors.
Soon after, crew followed with pipping hot towel, PDB and the newspaper trolley.
PDB (yeah after a 2h LCC flight, I was extremely dehydrated, LOL)
Pouch given once airborne, Newtimes paper before!
(Taken on a previous Kigali – Dubai flight)
First time under a bridge
Air Ukraine at LGW
Take off video :
At cruising altitude, bar was opened and crips was brought over on a nice cart instead of the usual aluminum drink/food trolley. In the past, if I liked the honey crumbs nuts (and biscuit), serving them at dinner time was not the right choice imho. Those crips, even basic, paired better with a pre dinner drink. Now, the rant goes on where are the delicious macadamia nuts offered on every East African sectors (prior the lunch/service)??? It clearly boggles my mind how at the head office, they make these decisions... but then so be it!
Do you fancy a drink, Mr EastAfSpot?
Well a « Moet & Chandon » glass would be perfect now !
Service wise, Claire and Sarah were an awesome bunch, well synchronized and always eager to assist. I inquired Sarah why, unlike to/from DXB, there are not any amenity kit provided on this night long haul sector? She replied that they got some and will bring me one. To be honest, only one for my partner was only needed, but with a sincere smile, she gave me one for each sex, Murakoze cyane (= thank you very much)!
About the dinner, quality is clearly nothing extraordinary – such as food in Rwanda, but served so much faster than any restaurant lol. Surely, no one can't expect from WB to reach the level provided by AF, SQ or SAA. The highlight was the gorgeous dessert ( though I don't have the sweet tooth), starter and main course were fine. KQ from CDG or LHR gives a choice of 2 starters + salad and, 3 mains + a veggie option !
To sleep soundly, an original Rwandan brewed coffee with an Amarula and then, while chating on Whatsapp, a too sweet for my liking - Cointreau on ice, did the job.
A typical British starter or a healthy green salad ?
Let's go for the chicken paté then ! Very original sweet and savoury starter combining coleslaw and orange quarters. Thumbs up !
To start with !
Salvador Dali's town in this picture.
The usual wine selection
The cart did not include this new South African white wine, thank you Claire for this great discovery ( « Chardonay Reserve ») !
Chicken or beef ?
Beef a tad fat, and standard mash potato and vegs
And the delicious dessert
Coffee and Cointreau time
Internet worked perfectly, well for the wee little minutes I could use it only, as (un)fortunately one of the lovely crew (Claire) met on a previous flight engaged a nice discussion. I'm pretty sure the pause button on the screen/remote were hit hard when her smile lightened up the darkness surrounding seat 2A, however when I tried to reconnect half an hour later of so, the bundle was all gone – and nobody could do anything as, if I understand correctly, crew have no power to control the free Internet ONAIR coupons. Oh well, the opportunity to prevent relatives from definitely flying ET and persuade them to give RwandAir a try to Europe will wait the morning or another WB flight. LOL!
Fast an reliable internet, you have to use all the bundle in one go ; no pause allowed
After perusing through the IFE menu, the weak selection forced me to settle for the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, thinking it would be the latest released in 2017 which was not the case unfortunately (War for the Planet of the Apes).
So I called it a night and went to bed with the SkyDream radio on that brought back good memories when listening the awesome unofficial anthem Flower Of Scotland!
With excellent noise cancelling headphones
Good night !
Following a great night's sleep, I toured the aircraft 2 hr before arrival when entering the DRC airspace. Interestingly, the crew performed the duty free run 1h prior landing when the cabin was well lit by the sun and then started the breakfast service, exactly 33 min prior touching down. I did not know what to expect, but it seemed hearty enough to start a long day. No hot option, like on KQ AMS/LHR – Africa flights.
No hand/body lotion or perfume
Don't ever book Premium Economy . With an average of 50% load factors on their A330s, you can make yourself comfortable for free with a 3 seat row without much problem ( starting from EUR 479/return to Uganda) in economy.
Traditional Rwandan design supposedly made from cow dungs... !
Funny fact, the tray contained butter and preserve although the crew had never offered any (hot?) bread roll or croissant! Admittedly, I did not do my homework professionnally as not sure if it was pork meat or not. WB's network taps in so many Muslim populated countries that beef and chicken cold cuts seem a much more cautious bet. For a French palate? ... Tray undoubtely lacked of any kind of bread (read the national baguette), thus impossible to finish the main plate on its own. The lukewarm pastry was decent.
DR of Congo
No hot option, cold cuts should have a nicer presentation ( underneath the black olive it really looks like 2 slices of Italian mortadella) !
Seat pocket contents
Completing the amusing survey
Picking up a seat on row H could have allow you hazy views of the fast developping Kigali city from above during this clear sky blue approach. Surely you will get them one day, probably during the next trip in Y or W....
Awesome landing video in 4K :
Mount Muhabura, also visible on one of the pics of the bulkhead above !
ARRIVAL AT KIGALI
Smooth landing and easy peasy lemon squeezy immigration since I'm enrolled in the excellent APCS - Automated Passenger Clearance System - , the ultra-modern electronic gates; so no kidding, only 4 minutes after door 2L got opened I exited the terminal – well only temporary because my LGW duty free plastic bags got confiscated. Officials obliged me to buy a more environment friendly bag for 1000 FRW/ 2 USD near the luggage reclaim. Lacking of Rwandan Francs/small USD bill, I left my duty free items (plus the bags of course) and went to change money at the common rip off airport rate then back again clearing the security controls at the arrival hall to finally collected my stuffs with my nice new reusable bag.
A330-200 christened Ubumwe (Unity)
Strengths: good schedule, confortable and private seat in business class, charming crew, light loads mean that when you book an Y seat, you are almost guaranteed a 3 seater couch direct to Africa for a bargain!
Weaknesses: limited IFE selection, no menu for a long flight, may I add... fares? Sadly for the new kid on the block, except a few city pairs, fares are often on par with major airlines, with extensive networks and attractive FFP.
Here are the catering pictures of Kenya Airways flights back to France.
Kigali – Nairobi hot light meal : Grilled Tilapia Fillet, Lemon and Dill Cream Sauce, Parisienne Potatoes, Kenya Beans and Carrots Batonnet
Nairobi – Paris late night meal (as my starter ) : Marinated Poached Fish and Mixed Grilled Vegetable Salad
Nairobi – Paris late night meal(as my main) : Grilled Chicken, Sweet Chilli Sauce, Chateau Potatoes and Assorted Vegetables
Thank you for reading, comments and corrections always valuable!
The next trip will feature the return of Air France in East Africa on board their latest toy...
Until then, safe flights and happy landings