Kenya Airways (KQ) has confirmed that it will be cutting down its daily flights to the US to five per week effective 15th January 2018.
This announcement follows weeks of speculation that the airline was unable to sustain the daily flights following the high profile launch at the end of October 2018. Chief Executive Sebastian Mikosz has termed the move as a strategic business decision and in line with global practice that allow airlines to reduce or add frequencies based on seasonality.
The move has attracted mixed reactions from travel agents with some hailing it as a sound business decision while others casting doubts on its sustainability due to what they said was poor planning on the part of the national carrier.
“The reduction in daily flights, has not come as a great surprise to me, says Tracy Scott, Managing Director at Scott Travel Group Ltd. I always thought it was very ambitious of KQ to commence with daily flights; 3 or 4 days a week would have sufficed from the start and would not have diminished the weight of the message – that we now have a direct link between Nairobi and New York. The introduction of the direct flights to New York was a great achievement, and something that we as Kenya and Kenya Airways should be proud off. It enhances US-Kenya trade relations and the movement of people between the two countries for business and leisure purposes.”
“It is understandable that given the energy that the national carrier took to launch the daily direct flights to New York, some people may get disappointed with the reduction of flights. However, most of us would agree that starting a new route is never easy”, opines an agent who sought anonymity. “Making money for an airline is not a walk in the park, hence prudent and realistic decisions need to made, which may be exactly what KQ did”.
Some agents however feel that KQ will have to get their ducks in a row in order to survive on this competitive route. Patrick Kamaga of Deans Travel for instance observes that KQ fares to New York remains high in comparison with their competitors. “ I have personally tried selling KQ to the USA but fares are always cheaper for example on EK,EY,QR who mostly use cheaper carriers for their onward travel but in many cases have their several own flights touching down in several USA points. KQ fare therefore becomes more expensive to NYC and for a family of 3 or 4, they are willing to save the extra USD 300 per person and go the extra 5 hours or more to transit through the Middle East or even Europe where Lufthansa is giving crazy lower fares than KQ”.
Others like Fifi Rurangwa, Head of Africa Expansion and Airline’s Partnership at Wakanow, Kenya office choose to look the glass as half full. “As a new company in Kenya, we observe and give our clients options. Starting a new route is never easy; we need to keep supporting the Airline. Things will stabilize, the most important and most difficult is to start. The trade must support the airline. I do not believe KQ fares as a direct operator should be lower than competition.”
Loyalty, it seems, would be what will determine the future success of Kenya Airways flight to the US. “Passengers who are traditionally loyal to Kenya Airways will travel on KQ to New York on the given dates regardless of the reductions. There will however continue to be a large section of the travelling public who have allegiances to other carriers and who are thus willing to break their journey en route to the US, or who prefer to break their journey for business or leisure purposes.
According to the travel agents we spoke to, business class travellers may be more inclined to make the shift to the direct flight in order to cut down their travel time, and because the comfort levels in KQ business class are of a good standard and the flight times in both directions are good.
What is clear is that the travel trade in both countries, together with Kenya Airways, the US and Kenya Chambers of Commerce (for business travellers), and the ‘Destination Marketers’ in both countries (for leisure travellers) need to continue working together to support the success of this route, by ensuring there are sufficient ‘bums on seats’ in both directions to secure its long term viability. This will of course be an ongoing commitment we will all need to make, “concludes Ms. Scott.
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