I’ve only offered up this blog to guests post a couple of times in the past, always when the reader has something unique to contribute that outside my expertise, or outside of the experiences I’m able to share.
Attorney Eric M. Fraser on the Supreme Court’s Northwest vs. Ginsberg (the case of the Rabbi who complained too much and was kicked out of his frequent flyer program). His contributions here, here, and here.
My co-worker Pakistani Correspondent (or ‘P.C.’), a young woman using miles for the first time and flying business class for the first time — redeeming Amex points transferred to Delta to fly Saudi home to her family in Lahore, Pakistan over Christmas and New Years. Her contributions:
- New York JFK – Jeddah
- Saudia Lounge, Jeddah and Jeddah-Lahore
- CIP Lounge in Lahore, Pakistan
- Lahore – Riyadh
- Saudia Lounge, Riyadh
- Riyadh – Washington Dulles
Today Doug Hess offered to share his experience flying an African low cost carrier: Fly540. Since this is something I haven’t done, but struck me inherently interesting, I asked if he wouldn’t mind briefly writing up the experience so that I could pass it along. Here’s Doug with his concise Fly540 trip report:
This past week my job took me to Eldoret, Kenya. As I prepared to make my flight arrangements, I quickly discovered that no major air carrier (not even Kenyan Airways) flies to Eldoret. The airport is only served by two African discount carriers, JamboJet and Fly540. I was unfamiliar with either one, but initially tried to book JamboJet, as they fly 737-300 aircraft and are wholly owned by Kenyan Airways. Unfortunately, I found their website to be consistently unable to book tickets, and so I turned to Fly540. I really didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a pretty decent experience.
Most major online travel agency websites do not search Fly540, although their fares can be found on CheapOair. I booked directly on Fly540.com and found the website to be very easy to use. Fares are all displayed in Kenyan Shillings, and it was easy to see and pay for extras such as additional bags. Their aircraft are configured with all-economy seating, so they only difference with fares relates to their flexibility. I had no problem booking my flights, choosing my seat, and checking in online. Their website honestly worked better than several of the US carriers.
After flying into Nairobi the night before, I arrived at NBO terminal 1D about 90 minutes prior to departure. Fly540 had two check-in desks open, and I only waited about five minutes in line.
The agent tagged my bag, printed me a new boarding pass (although I had already printed one from the online check-in) and wished me on my way. After making my way through the short security line, I found myself in the small domestic departures area. There was a small café serving drinks, coffee and snacks. I grabbed a bottle of water and waited to board.
If traveling without checked bags it would have been very easy to arrive 45 minutes prior to departure.
Boarding began about 20 minutes prior to departure. We boarded through Gate 3 and simply walked to the aircraft, which was parked about 100 yards outside the door.
Our aircraft was a Dash8 twin turboprop. We boarded by stair, and were greeted by a friendly flight attendant. The aircraft is configured with 2-2 seating, and I was on the aisle in 2B.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9:00am. At 8:54 the flight attendant closed the door and the pilot started the engines. After a short taxi we were wheels up at exactly 9:00. Considering we were on a continent where nothing runs on time, I was very impressed at Fly540’s punctuality. After reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendant came through with a service featuring Coke, Fanta, tea, coffee or water, together with a small pack of biscuits. The flight time was only 40 minutes, and after a relatively smooth flight, we landed about ten minutes early. It was about a 50 yard walk into the tiny Eldoret International Airport, and bags showed up on the belt within minutes.
I was initially hesitant to fly an African discount carrier that I had never heard of, but ended up being pretty impressed. This is certainly no-frills travel, but despite using tiny aircraft between small airports, their service and punctuality far outweighed airlines such as Spirit. Given the need to travel to rural Kenya, Sudan or Tanzania, I would not hesitate to fly Fly540 again.
There’s quality, reliable air service in Africa. That won’t come as a surprise to many, of course, but it runs counter to what I usually hear from folks.
Fly540 has been operating for 8 years. It’s possible to start an airline in Africa with very little capital, and this one has grown in value better than thirty-fold.
They currently fly to 9 destinations in Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania — with 8 destinations operated by subsidiaries in Ghana and Angola discontinued earlier this year. They’ve had no incidents involving passengers since operations began.