Kenya opts to extend UK flights suspension


A Kenya Airways aircraft at JKIA. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A ban on passenger flights between Nairobi and London has been extended by a month, dealing a blow to Kenya Airways that had reopened bookings for the key route ahead of the peak summer travel season.

The national carrier had planned to resume flights to London this week after more than a month of business loss due to the ban after the Kenya banned flights from the UK, effective April 9 in retaliation to a move by the UK to add the country on its travel ‘red list’.

The previous freeze on flights on the route were to expire on May 5.

In a text message to its customers on Saturday, KQ announced that the London flights were back and urged them to book.

“Our flights to London are back, book your flights ticket and travel safely to reconnect with family and friends you have been missing,” the airline said in the message.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), however, said the ban on passenger flights on the Nairobi-London route would remain in force until June 5.

“The suspension on flights between Kenya and UK is still on. We have extended the Notice to the Airmen by another one month,” said KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe.

Besides the passenger flight ban, Kenya has also directed all non-citizens coming from the UK to self-isolate for 14 days before they can be admitted to the country, in what will significantly cut the number of tourists ahead of the summer holidays.

The UK has opened up its country for tourists and also allowed its citizens to travel out for summer holidays in countries that have been considered to be safe.

Kenya and 42 other nations, however, remain on the list of countries whose citizens are prohibited from entering the UK following high levels of Covid-19 cases.

Britons returning from the red-list nations are required to observe 10 days of mandatory quarantine in government-approved hotels at their cost.

The UK has traditionally been a top tourism source market for Kenya. In 2019, the UK emerged fourth on ranking, tourists who visited having hit 181,484.

The tourism industry had started its gradual return to activities in August with the resumption of international and domestic flights.

The country recorded a gradual growth in arrivals, since the resumption of international flights last year, registering 14,049 visitors in August, 26,018 in September, and 39,894, in October.

The Ministry of Tourism announced that Kenya would lose up to Sh80 billion from tourism last year after an impressive performance in 2019 where the sector earned Sh163.6 billion, a 3.9 percent rise from Sh157.4 billion in 2018.

The two countries were set to hold talks after a spat over Covid-19 risk levels triggered a tit-for-tat travel blockade.

The UK claimed it based its decision on scientific evidence showing that Kenya had strains of the deadlier South African variant of coronavirus – an assertion Nairobi has rejected.

In April, the Foreign Affairs Secretaries for Kenya and UK said a joint committee would review the travel restrictions, which threatened bilateral trade, economic and security relations.

The announcement followed a telephone discussion between Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and her UK counterpart Dominic Raab.