THE BUSINESS CLASS
My scream startled Eddah Akumu who was engrossed in her work. Eddah manages advertisement traffic (some media jargon) for the radio station I work for. She is one of those people who is always too serious with their work. She is also single, but since recently she only wears dresses and makes her hair like she is about to meet ‘someone’s mother.’
“What is it?” She asked as she turned around to look in the direction of my desk.
This was earlier in the year when our office was still on the cool side of town. When we had acres of office space and where I owned a tiny bit of that space – the corner where my desk sat. Today, I hotdesk like everyone else. Changes, they are inevitable. One day I will write a story about this transition – when I am confident enough that I cannot be fired over it.
“They booked me business class tickets!” I shouted back.
Eddah doesn’t know who “they” are. She, however, understands my excitement about business class. Eddah has been here with us for a while. It’s me who hired her as an intern, she did such an amazing job my boss hired her to stay. Today she has added “manager” to her office title. Eddah was also Employee of the year in 2017 and 2018.
You see, I love traveling. Eddah knows. She has witnessed my screams before when I got that e-mail inviting me to a workshop somewhere outside the country. She tells me she envies me at times. The good kind of envy that hard-working people like Edda have. You know there is good envy and bad envy. Bad envy is what you have of your neighbor who has a cute wife (or rich husband). Then good envy is reserved for people who work their way from interns to managers and win employee of the year awards.
I consider myself widely traveled (after my trip to Baidoa, Somalia in August I will add wildly traveled. I mean, you gotta be such a risk taker to be planning a trip to Baidoa ), but I still get those mad excitements with butterflies-and-all whenever I am going to be on an international flight. The night before I depart I usually have trouble sleeping. Usually, I spend most of my time studying the conference package or reading about the city I am visiting or stalking some of the people I know I will meet there online. I do that until I become extremely sleepy. The good thing is I never have morning flights. With the exception of this time I was flyingng to Entebbe when I tried pulling that off and ended up missing my flight. I literally saw the Kenya Airways (KQ) guys closing the counter and I had not checked-in online. A story for another day, today I am happy with KQ so I will not spoil it.
It was a business class ticket from Kisumu to Nairobi, to Paris and finally to Berlin then back to Amsterdam, Nairobi, and Kisumu. The extra excitement was because I had never flown business anywhere before. I pretty much started regular flying about five years ago and to this date, nobody had seen me to be important enough to deserve business class tickets.
In fact, my idea of business class travelers were people who got to board the plane before mere mortals like us. Also that we sat in different compartments. You know when you fly the Embraer 190 that KQ flies across Africa you really can’t tell much difference. The other times I have been to Europe I flew KLM’s Boeing 747s and I think their business class is on the upper deck, so forgive my ignorance. A lot of them carried diplomatic passports. I would look at them and silently tell myself “now you are walking here with a swagger like you breathe high-grade oxygen while your tickets are paid for by our taxes, ghasia.” Sort of what I say when the 4 x 4 GKs or County Vehicles zoom past me in traffic.
I love KQ planes. Doesn’t matter where I am going or whether it’s the Embraer 190, Boeing 737 or the 787. KQ is always comfortable. I have flown Ethiopian Airlines to Addis, I think they could do with better cleaning. I however hate the KLM ‘City Hoppa’ that connects Europe’s cities. Not even their business class is worth it. Feels like a Githurai matatu on wings.
The first time I felt like I really needed to experience what makes this business class special other than boarding ahead of other mortals was when I was on a trip to Harare. I had linked up with my Ugandan friends Masake Anthony who is a human rights lawyer and Aine Ruth who is a communications consultant at JKIA. I hope that is what she does by the way. I know she used to be a radio journalist in Kampala but now I know she just lives in a suitcase traveling the world and attending important conferences. She is also one of my editors in some side-project I have with a bunch of African loudmouths. In fact, we were going to Harare for one of our annual meetings and Takura Zhangazha was our host. Remind me to one day tell you why you should never visit Zimbabwe in June.
Ruth, like you probably already figured out is more than a frequent flyer. I think she spends more time living in hotels abroad than in her house in Kampala. You know those people who pay rent for their furniture? If Fredrick WhiteCap Nyambare did not have a family he would be one of those people. Ruth is the single version of Fred. So, Ruth was already well acquainted with this Flying-Blue thing. I wasn’t, though she had mentioned it to me during a previous visit to Berlin because I was wondering why she had extra luggage and I was only allowed to check-in two bags. On this day we were going to Mugabe -land, (though Mugabe had long been toppled in what 263Chatfounder Nigel Mugamu likes to call “coup not coup”) Ruth had checked in using her Flying-Blue card and was upgraded to business class while Masake and I rode at the back of the plane – literally. You know how you feel when you are with your buddy at a party and they get called to join the high table but they can’t go with you? I felt like that. That was not all, when we got off the plane at Robert Mugabe International Airport were all famished because of the lousy meal we had on board while Ruth had had a proper meal. This was important because our first official meal in Harare was at 8.00 PM. We had arrived shortly after 3 PM and Cresta Lodge, Harare is not one of those hotels you would just want to leisurely walk into their restaurant and order food unless you have Kenyatta as your last name or your company provides you with a limitless credit card.
Weh, interesting stuff happens on our journeys. One day I will write a whole story about the travel experiences I have had abroad that don’t feature anywhere on my Instagram like looking for an ugali kiosk in Johannesburg or having tea with bread for dinner in Berlin in 2016 because we were saving up on the allowances. Oh and the week Matunda Mwashighadi negotiated for us to get allowances instead of dinner from DW Akademie.
So, you can understand my excitement about this business class deal when those tickets arrived.
I actually should have been a Sky Priority traveler long ago because I actually registered for Flying-Blue after Zimbabwe and I have enough air miles. The problem is the guys at Flying-Blue insist on sending my card via the post office and I don’t have a working postal address. For real, who still uses postal addresses?
On this Wednesday evening though, I was on Sky Priority. Business Class like a boss. I felt what it feels like to be on a plane before everyone else. It was only two of us flying business from Kisumu that evening. Captain Samuel Mbeki was cruising us to Nairobi at 25,000 feet. Before our flight even took off Victoria – our flight purser had already served us with very cold tamarind juice. Mere mortals were just finding their seats.
Immediately the seatbelt signs were off, Victoria was back with a light meal. I had a chicken sandwich and apple juice. For once I was glad someone was not serving me nuts. I swear I hate nuts so much that I think one day I will slap someone if they gave me nuts on a plane (okay, that’s an exaggeration. I hate nuts but I will always take and stuff them in my pockets. violence is bad, especially on a plane). Then she asked me if I would care for a beer. I was feeling fancy so I asked what they have.
“Tusker,” she said with a smile.
Actually, this is how the conversation went:
“Do you have any light beer?”
“No, we have Tusker,” she said with a smile.
“Tusker Lite?” I asked returning the smile.
“No, ile Tusker ya mtaa.”
My heart broke when she said, “ile Tusker ya mtaa” to mean Tusker Lager. Yaani, not even flying business would remove the “mtaaness from me.” For once I was important but she could not let me have that. She looked through me and my hood, t-shirt, and jeans and just saw this one must have grown up in Dunga, lived in Nyalenda and now resides in some village. Not even working in Milimani or flying business can wash that deep mtaaness from me. I told her it’s okay, I would have more apple juice.
I did not respond to her “see you soon Daniel” when I disembarked. Where would she be seeing me soon? I am mtaa, mtaa people don’t fly business and meet beautiful flight pursers called Victoria, remember?
By the way, if you know a Victoria who is a flight purser with Kenya Airways, tag her. (She was very nice, ignore the drama in my head but please tell her not to use mtaa in business class).
My most awesome experience was at the JKIA Pride Lounge on the second floor of Terminal 1A. It’s served by an elevator that’s near Gate 14 if I am not wrong. You see I usually struggle at the airport when I have long layovers. My plane arrived in Nairobi shortly before 7 PM. My next flight was at midnight, what was I going to do with that time?
There was bottomless food at the lounge. Bottomless alcohol and very fast internet. The seats are very comfortable whether you want to work or just want to rest as you wine and dine. Usually I would go to the Java on terminal 1A but you know you can only spend so much time there, after a while the seat becomes uncomfortable not to mention the cost of a decent meal if you have to wait for long to catch your flight. Good thing is you don’t have to be flying business to access this lounge, you can buy access.
The flight to CDG International Airport in Paris was enjoyable. For the first time I slept on the plane. I usually have trouble falling asleep when flying but the fact that you can completely recline the Premier World seats on the KQ dreamliner made my journey comfortable. There was a lot of food on board, each time I stretched a flight attendant came to ask if I wanted anything. Have you watched the video where Kadenyi Anubi talks about her experience flying British Airways with her kids and there was not enough milk for the babies? Maybe she should have been on KQ’s Premier World. (Subscribe to “moments with Myra” on YouTube if you are a young mum, nice things to learn from that Vlog)
On my way back I sat next to National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale between Tegel, Berlin and Amsterdam. We spoke like peers. It’s another thing business class does to you – makes you equals like that old Tusker slogan from the 90s “makes us equals, has no equal.”
That said, next time anyone is sending me anywhere, kindly buy me a KQ business class ticket.