I had not visited the island of Lamu in over 15 years, so when Jambojet, a subsidiary of Kenya Airways, recently relaunched flights there after a four-year hiatus I took advantage of the reasonable fare of Ksh7,100 ($64) one way. This was my third local flight this year, after avoiding aeroplanes all through 2020. Flying in the new normal has come with changes.
We departed from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with a stopover in Mombasa. The trip of one hour and 40 minutes was smooth and uneventful, which is how I like my air travel. No refreshments were served on board, in keeping with the new Ministry of Health Covid-19 guidelines for flights. Thankfully there is a restaurant in the departures lounge of JKIA so I had coffee and a snack before boarding. I noticed that there was hand sanitisers in several places and I appreciated that the lounge has lots of sockets and USB ports for charging devices.
As we boarded, the flight attendants sprayed sanitiser on our hands. The flight was full, with holidaymakers, families and individuals. No seats were kept empty for purposes of social distancing. Wearing masks was mandatory for everyone during the entire flight “and ensure it covers the mouth and nose”, announced the flight attendant. I noticed that all passengers complied, and the only exception made was for infants and children.
The flight attendant let us know that the cabin air is disinfected every three minutes through the High Efficiency Particulate Air, a filtration system used by airlines to create a germ-free environment.
I was happy to find a toilet on the aircraft. I understand that part of the Covid health protocols is to try and minimise surface contact, but it can be tough if there are no washroom facilities on board and you have children or there are delays, like happened on our return trip.
Disembarking was controlled with just a few rows at a time allowed to exit, starting with the front seats. Only the cabin crew was allowed to open the overhead bins.
On the return flight we had to fill out the Jitenge QRcode, which is the digital passenger locator form, to facilitate contact tracing in case there has been exposure to Covid-19.
Every passenger had to show the health officials their filled-out health surveillance form before exiting the airport.
Some weeks before my flight to Lamu, I flew to Lodwar in Turkana County from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, by Skyward Express. I arrived at the airport around 6am for the 7.30am flight, but found the small check-in area already crowded and disorderly, but check-in proceeded faster that I had expected. Just like at JKIA, the seats at the Wilson departure lounge are marked to ensure social distancing.
On the aircraft there was no mention of air filtration, so I decided to double mask. The plane had a stopover, with passengers disembarking and others boarding in Eldoret. There were no refreshments nor a toilet on board.
On another trip to Vipingo at Kenya's Coast, I flew on Safarilink, with one stopover in Diani. The alternative would have been to take a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Mombasa, and then a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Vipingo instead of the one hour-and-forty-minute flight on Safarilink.
Domestic flights in Kenya have recovered from Covid-19 restrictions, although there are not as many options as before.
As we navigate our way through the pandemic, travel by air will depend on inflight air quality and convenience.