Kenya Airways’ inaugural nonstop flight to the United States was greeted in New York on Monday morning with a ceremonial water-cannon salute and a red-carpet reception featuring champagne and red and white roses.
“It has been 14 hours and 50 minutes of excitement,” Foreign Secretary Monica Juma said in regard to the flight from Nairobi, which arrived at John F Kennedy International Airport at 7:11 am, local time.
“Flying into New York this morning, we were welcomed by water cannons – and that was quite nice.”
Kenya’s ambassador to the United States, Robinson Njeru Githae, said at the welcoming ceremony that the opening of a direct link between Kenya and the US should provide a big boost for the tourism industry.
“And now with the direct flights, let’s double that number. Let’s get 200,000 Americans to visit Kenya,” Mr Githae said.
He termed 2018 as “really a blessed year” in relations between Kenya and the US with the direct flight coming after President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosted at the White House by Donald Trump in August and First Lady Melania Trump visited Kenya earlier this month.
“I think now, the only thing that I have to work on, Godec, is to make sure President Trump visits Kenya,” Mr Githae added to laughter and applause from those attending the welcoming at JFK’s Terminal 4.
Robert Godec, the US ambassador to Kenya, was a passenger on the maiden flight.
“This is a historic moment for both Kenya and the United States,” Mr Godec said.
“I know this flight is going to make new things possible — new business deals, new trade, new investment, more opportunities for students to come from the United States to Kenya, and Kenya to the United States.”
KQ chief executive officer Sebastian Mikosz and the chairman Michael Joseph, who also travelled on the inaugural flight, were presented upon landing with a glass apple — a symbol of New York City, which is often referred to as the Big Apple.
Roel Huinink, the CEO of JFK International Air Terminal LLC, made the presentation.
Foreign Minister Ms Juma noted in her address that the nonstop KQ service to New York gives the national carrier “a vantage point to serve more than 60 million travellers through JFK.”
“But this also demonstrates another opportunity for creating synergies from the North to the South Hemisphere,” the minister added. “This KQ flight offers New York, the UN headquarters, and a zenith of multilateral agencies that are dealing with various development aspects into Nairobi, the only UN capital in the global South, a unique opportunity and benefit of seamless connection.”
She noted that with the reduced time of flying between Kenya and the US, “the cost of doing business will definitely be reduced, with a corresponding increase in return of investment.”
It would take Kenyans up to 22 hours to get to the US by connecting flights.