East Africa is an exciting and fast growing aviation market. As far as national airlines go, the region is ripe with competition. While there is a school of thought against national airlines, Africa is begging for air connectivity and the recipe on show in the East African region will hopefully serve up a better connected Africa. We are still some way to go but this is a region of growth.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Aviation Africa Summit in Abuja and my airline of choice was Rwanda’s national carrier, Rwandair. Departing from Entebbe presents very few routing options and Rwandair is a suitable choice both from a price and time perspective.
Rwandair has deployed its two De Havilland Canada Q400s to connect both Entebbe and Nairobi and I had the pleasure of experiencing the type for the first time as we connected to Kigali via Nairobi. The Q400 is surprisingly not as common a fixture among airlines in the region as it should be given its ability to serve thin routes, connect underserved destinations and stimulate markets. I enjoyed the comfort of a Boeing 737-800 for the sectors between Kigali and Abuja where the return is supported by a stop in Accra.
I will focus on the return trip from Abuja here.
Departing from Abuja in Style
My journey began at a busy Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, where Rwandair operates its Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the Abuja to Kigali route. Being in business class, I was greeted with a warm welcome and efficiently checked in. The airline staff exuded professionalism and courtesy, setting the tone for the journey ahead. I spent some time in the executive lounge at Abuja’s main gateway but wasn’t overly impressed. The lounge is simple and limited in many areas if not its size alone but was thankfully not a busy space in the late morning pre-departure. I have to say all of my flights with the Rwanda carrier have been consistently on time and this one was no different.
Onboard the Boeing 737-800 – A pleasant surprise
Rwandair operates five Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 16 business class seats in a 2-2 configuration and 138 seats for economy. My first stop after being ushered into the aircraft was the cockpit. I had politely requested to meet the flight crew and was happy to be let in. A chat with the vastly experienced former Kenya airways pilot, Captain Fred Ochieng ensued and was great to see his passion for Boeing aircraft. “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going” is a popular phrase among Boeing enthusiasts and he was quick to remind me. What followed was a pleasant surprise as the first officer on the flight walked in to join us. Simon Matsiko is a long-time friend who I met while we were both in Flight school. Its great to see how far he has come and I was really excited to be flown by a dear friend.
The business class cabin on RwandAir’s Boeing 737-800 has certainly been well taken care of. I was greeted with a choice of drinks soon as I got comfortable and its almost customary for me to go for the champagne. I wasn’t going to step away from custom here. was spacious and elegantly designed. The seats were comfortable, offering ample legroom and recline for a restful journey. The attentive cabin crew ensured passengers were well taken care of throughout the flight. The in-flight entertainment system provided a variety of options, from movies to music, ensuring there was something for everyone.
The culinary experience was a highlight of the flight. RwandAir takes pride in its gastronomic offerings, and it showed. The menu wasn’t of a wide choice but my three course selection of chicken was prepared to perfection. The quality of the food was truly impressive, and the presentation was top-notch. It was a delightful to savor such exquisite meals at 30,000 feet.
The Stopover at Kigali
My layover at Kigali International Airport was smooth and uneventful. RwandAir’s Dream Lounge, which is operated in partnership with Kuwait’s National Aviation Services offered a haven of comfort and relaxation. From the moment I stepped in, I was greeted by a tranquil ambiance and attentive staff. The lounge boasted a wide array of refreshments, both local and international, as well as comfortable seating areas, making it the perfect place to relax. It was perhaps as quiet as it ever gets at the time of my layover between 21:30 and 01:00 hrs.
The Final Leg: Kigali to Entebbe on the De Havilland Q400
My journey continued from Kigali to Entebbe aboard RwandAir’s De Havilland Q400 aircraft. It’s a less than 1h hour flight so it happens really quickly. At this time I was really tired and must admit I slept through most of it.. The Q400 business class cabin offered a cozy and intimate setting. I was pleasantly surprised that the change of aircraft did not affect my comfort. The smaller aircraft still provided ample comfort, and the cabin crew continued to deliver excellent service.
RwandAir Stakeholders Cocktail
During my time in Abuja, RwandAir hosted a stakeholders cocktail event, which I had the privilege of attending. This event demonstrated the airline’s commitment to the Nigerian market and the aviation industry as a whole. It was an excellent opportunity to network with industry professionals and engage in insightful discussions. RwandAir’s hospitality and dedication to fostering meaningful connections left a lasting impression. And it speaks volumes.
A Journey to Remember
With a fleet of 14 aircraft. Rwandair is a relatively small airline, however the country’s ambitious progress in the past few years shines through the airline’s spirit. It’s clear that this is a part of the world that means business and is serious about growing a formidable and competitive airline. My roundtrip journey with RwandAir showcased the airline’s commitment to delivering an exceptional product to its passengers. From the dream lounge to the superb in-flight meals, every aspect of the passenger journey was not just well thought, it was executed flawlessly. If ever you have the opportunity to fly Rwandair, expect a great effort on the part of the staff, warm hospitality as well as an efficiently run process across your Journey. Now I must admit not everyone will fly business but that is only the measure of comfort. Rwandair wins on multiple levels no-matter your choice of cabin.