Ticket bookings for inaugural non-stop flight to New York have been low since opening in January, Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ said on Wednesday, but remained optimistic sales will pick up from August.
Chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said the airline’s team in the US commercial hub city were busy chasing deals with travel agents amid stiff competition from other established airlines flying to Nairobi.
He said air passengers usually start booking tickets three months earlier, adding that the main booking window will open from August.
“We just have quite (a few) tickets sold, but still the biggest selling window is ahead of us. So we have no reason to be pessimistic, but it is still a challenge,” Mr Mikosz said.
“We have our team there… (and) every week I get a report. I feel okay, but it is still a very difficult market. Competition is enormous.”
The national carrier opened booking for the October 28, 15-hour inaugural flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York on January 11 subject to final approval by the US authorities.
KQ has dedicated two Dreamliner aircraft to the daily flights on the New York route — a night flight from Nairobi and a mid-day one from New York.
The two high-capacity aircraft include one of the B787-8 Dreamliners recalled from Oman Air which will arrive in September. The other recalled plane, expected in June 2019, will be redeployed on other routes, taking KQ’s Dreamliner fleet to nine.
Mr Mikosz spoke after the publicly-traded carrier hosted the visiting US Under Secretary of Commerce Gilbert Kaplan to a luncheon at its hangar at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport following his arrival for a three-day official visit to Nairobi.
“Launching this direct flight will indeed make it easier for business and tourism to flow, and increasing this flow between US and Kenya is precisely the goal of (US President Donald Trump’s) Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa),” Mr Kaplan said.
US is Kenya’s top tourism source market with arrivals growing 17 per cent to 114,507 in 2017, official statistics show.
Some of the US tourists come in for business deals, with 48 US multinationals operating offices in Nairobi.
Mr Kaplan, who is leading a 60-member delegation of US businesspersons and policy advisors scouting for trade deals in Nairobi, was received at the JKIA by Transport secretary James Macharia and his colleagues Najib Balala (Tourism) and Adan Mohamed (Industry).
“We are going to invest in making sure this facility (JKIA) is advanced so that when you come to Nairobi from New York, people will not be asking where to report to and where you’ve come. We are going, for example, to ensure when you land…, you can connect to other infrastructural investments,” Mr Macharia said, referring to proposed light railway service connecting the airport to Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway station at Syokimau.