JamboJet, the low-cost arm of Kenya Airways recently announced three new coastal destinations: Lamu, Malindi and Ukunda. Given poor foreign tourist numbers recently in the Kenyan coast, I wonder how these routes will do.
Ukunda Airport, located right next to Diani Beach, is a small airport, not far away from Mombasa Airport, but since the South Coast has always been a bit isolated due to the ferry crossing, Ukunda as a flight destination should be welcomed by any visitors to South Coast. Ukunda has been to date served by other airlines like AirKenya and Fly 540, but only at steep prices. JamboJet flights to Ukunda start from around 5000 Ksh one way. Any checked luggage will add to the cost, but at 500 Ksh per 15 Kg bag a way, the price is not bad at all.
Ukunda airport is way too small to handle Boeing 737, hence JamboJet opted to wet-lease a Bombardier DASH Q400 plane from DAC Aviation to serve this and other new destinations (a move not taken lightly by Kenya Airlines Pilots Association). The new aircraft is also said to serve some existing destinations (Kisumu, Eldoret) when booking are too low for B737, likely compromising services to new coastal destinations.
I recently took the flight from Nairobi JKIA to Ukunda. The plane was half-full, mostly locals with just few mzungu and Indians. The lack of whites was one more reflection of slump in foreign tourism, even though this would always had been low season anyway. Obviously, it is local passengers who are needed to keep these routes operating.
Before landing, the cabin crew mentioned the short runway at Ukunda, warning about an intensive braking to be expected. The plane did a ¾ circle around Ukunda/Diani, providing a great aerial view of the beach for those sitting on the other side of the aircraft.
This was my second experience with JamboJet, the previous one being a flight from Mombasa to Nairobi earlier this year. Both times the flight was slightly late, but still acceptably. On the contrary, other passengers have mentioned significant flight delays by JamboJet being a commonplace.
Other destinations served by Jambojet include Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret. No plans to serve destinations outside Kenya are known. KQ has a near-monopoly on some of the more lucrative regional routes (Nairobi to Dar and Entebbe for example), so they will keep cashing on these routes, and have no reason to put JamboJet there.