Every aviation nerd seeks for interesting experiences to add on his/her log book or to share at the end-of-year stats. Having 3 spare day, it was solved quickly, by booking a long haul routing on a whim, with WB's flagships.
***Hint for the many Star Alliance member fans here***, Brussels city to/from Entebbe does suggest 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, thanks to their codeshare with this European sister. For not more than eur 80 you can also get to/from Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar Es Salam, Kilimanjaro, Jubba, Lusaka – Zambia and Harare – Zimbabwe to name but a few.
The final decision selected a basic one way ticket LGW to Bujumbura (2nd sector regional, not flown obviously…) even though it was only 100€ less expensive than the return ticket. Having being thrice this year in the now quiet and peaceful Burundi, I could not figure out whether or not my holidays will entitle for a trip at a random date within the next 6 month.
A misleading cabin map for couple, during OLCI.
Only 29 seats to pax
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 I flew BA2772 to JER on an outdated B734 to catch the toy like Aurigny Trislander… (FRs in French here)
Conveniently deplaned at the North Terminal after a problem free positioning flight with the orange LCC, 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 LCC restrictions, it was a good opportunity to hit the duty free shops much better priced than what RwandAir sell 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 the gate had yet to be displayed on the FIDS at 7.30, the logical option led me to the third party N°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, 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 tempting 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 get hammered 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:
1/ Dubai 2/ Gatwick 3/ Mombasa 4/ Kigali (a brand new one, dedicated to only RwandAir's permium pax should be inaugurated before Q2 2018)
Two 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.
- June 17: (1680 passengers) translating into 27% LF - July 17: (2930) 47% - August 17: (3457) 56% - September 17: not available
Soon after, crew followed with pipping hot towel, PDB and the newspaper trolley.
PDB (yeah a 2h LCC flight makes you extremely dehydrated, LOL)
Pouches (male version here) 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 snack 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 E A?
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 needed, but then with a sincere smile, she gave me one for both 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 outhere lol. Surely, no one expect the fledging carrier to reach the Michelin star 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 give 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 !
Warm bread rolls
To start with !
Salvador Dali's town in this picture.
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 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 :D . 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/Kenya) 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) to the lady and went to change money at the commonly 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)
No.1 Traveller No.1 Gatwick
London - LGW
Kigali - KGL
***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 network and more attractive FFP.
Thank you for reading, comments and corrections always valuable!
The next trip (FR) will feature Air France, finally, resuming East Africa, on board their latest toy... Until then, safe flights and happy landings :-)
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