Brussels Airlines joins hands with RwandAir, Serena and Thousand Hills to showcase their new cabin product


Last weekend saw Brussels Airlines, and code share partners RwandAir, team up with Serena Hotels and Thousand Hills Expeditions to host a team of journalists from Kenya’s leading TV stations and print media to showcase the new cabin layout and let them sample the on board hospitality on a flight from Kigali to Nairobi.

Their day started at the Nairobi Serena Hotel where the group met before flying on RwandAir to Kigali for a media briefing by RwandAir’s CEO John Mirenge. This made a great start to the day, as referred to in a previous article here and was followed by a brief tour of the city of Kigali which gave the group an insight into the much talked about traffic discipline for which Rwanda is known, as well as showcased a city at its Sunday best on a Friday, clean and sparkling new. The experience, underscored by the absence of potholes, told the story better than any words could have, considering the traffic messes we are faced with day in and day out in Nairobi and Kampala.

The Kigali Serena Hotel then hosted the group for lunch, followed by a red carpet tour conducted by General Manager Charles Muia and his team members Evelyn and Denise. Then came a detailed briefing on the tourism attractions of the country by Thousand Hills Expeditions where CEO Manzi Kayihura, who is also the Vice Chairman of the East Africa Tourism Platform, was a keen ambassador for the Land of a Thousand Hills as Rwanda is fondly known among friends.

Brussels Airlines’ Suzette Paes from the Nairobi office of the airline then used the opportunity to explain what the group was to expect in terms of service and cabin layout on the aircraft during the evening flight to Nairobi, for which the Civil Aviation Authorities of Rwanda and Kenya had given special permission as otherwise SN does not have traffic rights between Kigali and Nairobi.

A more somber mood engulfed the media team then when they reached the Kigali Memorial Centre, a national memorial site for the 1994 genocide, which for every visitor to Rwanda should be a must to see and pay the respects to over 250.000 innocents who found their final resting place here, a stark reminder of the country’s troubled past and a reminder too that the New Rwanda, like Israel after the holocaust, has justifiably taken a ‘Never Again’ stand, ready to defend the new found freedoms and liberties at all times and at all cost.

And then it was a quick trip to the Kanombe International Airport, presently undergoing a 15 million US Dollar expansion programme to bridge the time before a completely new airport is being built in Bugesera, adding much needed check in spaces, lounges, gates, offices and aircraft parking. A red carpet check in awaited, the Pearl Lounge was once again at the centre of things while waiting for the boarding announcement – the flight was right on time – and then it was a fond Kwaheri Ya Kuonana to Kigali and Rwanda, which impressed all day long.

When stepping on board we were greeted cheerfully by the crew, who had already brought the aircraft from Brussels and would alight with us in Nairobi, and the welcome was enhanced by champagne, crisp same day newspapers and smiles aplenty of course.

The business class cabin now offers a new 2 – 1 – 2 configuration, alternating with 1 – 2 – 1 rows while the economy class also features a brand new ergonomic seat incorporating a new entertainment system for passengers. The new business class seat product immediately convinced with added comfort, more space and most important, a full 2 metre flat bed, which the seat turns into at the push of a button. Pneumatic adjustments, again at the push of a button, offer individual preference of how hard or soft the seat turned mattress should be for the greatest sleep comfort and a massage function is an added bonus. A super sized touch screen, based on the functionality of tablets or iPads offers up to 100 hours of the latest films and TV series and caters for all tastes in music.

But it was the crew and the catering, even if only for the short 1 hour sector to Nairobi, which convinced the most. Professional, friendly, anticipating the need for a refill of the champagne flute and willing to answer all questions from the media team about flying today and before. It truly did the airline no justice to just fly an hour with them and only one or two long haul flights will really reveal all the innovations brought on board with the new seat products. It is no surprise that the wine selection has already won awards in the short time since it was introduced with the inaugural flight of SN to New York in June last year and perhaps one day a media team will be able to fly to the Big Apple with Brussels Airlines to have a fuller experience.

If there was one issue which I noted, though apparently no one else, it was the map of the Sudan on the touch screen’s flight routing and data display. The new South Sudan is not yet shown and this omission should be corrected unless Southern Sudanese travelers keep being reminded of their erstwhile enslavement by the despots from Khartoum.

Overall a full day’s work of the kind most enjoyed, when flying and travelling is involved, especially with partners committed to the type of quality I personally endorse and subscribe to. Thanks to Brussels Airlines, RwandAir, Serena – where I spent a night at the Nairobi Serena Hotel before returning the next day to Kigali – and Thousand Hills Expeditions and Chantal, who drove us across Kigali – equal opportunities clearly for the ladies in the New Rwanda – who all made this a very memorable experience. Asante Sana or as we say here in Uganda, Webare Nyo and until we meet again.

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