The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). PHOTO | FILEThe Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). PHOTO | FILE
By NAVIAN NKATHA

The first time I visited America, the huge aircraft, flying low, went round and round for about 20 minutes over the New York skyline. The only feature I could recognize was the Hudson River, of which we were overflying for the third time when the Captain came over the loudspeakers.

The tired passengers struggled to listen when he explained that there was a delay in clearing at the JFK Airport as there were many aeroplanes landing at that time.

The passenger seated next to me, a middle-aged Caucasian who cursed like a sailor went: “Urrg, these people must be jokers. How can they take us in circles when we have been flying for over 14 hours?”

14-HOUR FLIGHT

I could only nod my half-awake head in agreement. In the 14-hour flight from Doha International Airport in Qatar, I had watched five episodes of How to Get Away with Murder series on the small screen in the seat in front of me, eaten about three times served by the ever smiling crew, and served tots of whisky, Red Label I guess, by the patronizing only male cabin crew.

I slept, and took countless beeline walks to the washrooms to soothe the aching joints and nerves. I could not stop wondering why it is impossible to have direct flights to the US.

And the 14 hours it took from Doha to New York was just a small part of the gruelling journey that nobody tells you about when they come back from America armed with fake accents.

See, the journey had started in Nairobi with a lay-over in Doha after five hours. The lay-over is itself a nightmare. It was about nine hours, at night, sleeping on hard-backed seats.

The only respite is that the modern airport is an eye catcher, with its beckoning duty- free shops boasting of perfumes, books, jewellery.

SLEEP TAKES PRIORITY

But you need to have money to partake of this glory, otherwise you get bored quickly and anticipating the long flight ahead, sleep takes priority. But who sleeps soundly in an airport waiting lounge?

But this is now going to be a thing of the past, after the US Department of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Kenya a Category One status, paving way for direct flights to the US and vice versa.

Category One status means that Kenya Civil Aviation Authority complies with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations agency for aviation practices and standards.

There are eight elements critical to this level, among them security and safety.

Kenya will join the elite club of just five sub-Saharan African countries that meet the IASA requirements and can fly directly to the US: South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Well, since 2013, the Jubilee administration has appeared quite obsessed with infrastructure development at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

MODERNISE AIRPORTS

In July 2014, President Kenyatta made it clear that the government will stop at nothing to modernise Kenyan airports and make the country a regional air transport hub. Ultra-modern terminals that comply with the international safety standards are today a testament to this.

For instance, for the first time, the terminals have incoming and outgoing travellers separated, a major FAA requirement, which is safety conscious.

The benefits of this vision are now starting to show.

Apart from saving travellers the hustle of a long journey, and the baggage of transit visas, direct flights will help boost tourism, trade, and travel for the growing Kenyan diaspora in North America.

A fortnight ago, Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace manufacturer, opened two new offices in Nairobi and Johannesburg to take care of its Africa business, with its director for government affairs and market development to be based in the Nairobi office. This signals the beginning of a fairy tale.

Well, it has been a rather muted affair, but Uhuru Kenyatta is flying the Kenyan flag higher… and higher.