With only two airlines in the world currently flying the Airbus A330-800NEO, it’s a rare sight and an even more unique opportunity to fly the widebody. Uganda Airlines acquired two of the type with a plan to service a long-haul network that will stretch a far as Guangzhou in China.
I was lucky to have them showcasing the aircraft on the Johannesburg – Entebbe route (Usually serviced by the Mitsubishi CRJ-900). Here is a breakdown of my experience:
On the ground
My flight was UR711 departing O.R Tambo International Airport at 21:40 and arriving at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda at 02:55.
O.R Tambo was buzzing with traffic and its clear to see the good days are back. It wasn’t too long ago that the Terminal looked like a ghost town.
Uganda Airlines offers a premium economy product on its A330 and I was initially heading to this section of the aircraft so I didn’t get a business class experience on ground. Check-in was quick and efficient except I somehow managed to exceed the very generous buggage allowance provided by the airline. I got creative here so not too much of headache.
It was noticeably much quieter at the waiting area for boarding and this obviously wasn’t going to be a full capacity flight. The optimum solution for the JNB-EBB route lies somewhere between Uganda’s CRJ-900 and the Airbus A330 so I can see why the airline is looking to add a mid-range aircraft to its fleet. I took the opportunity to meet some of the passengers, a mixed group of foreign and local travelers on different missions. Including a very friendly travel vlogger.
The Airline was perfectly on time even with the application of an arrival and quick turn-around for the A330.
I was the first passenger to board. And was greeted by happy and friendly faces. The lead cabin crew on the flight, Julian Nankya happily pointed me to the cockpit where I wanted to have a moment with the flight crew.
Captain Ivan Mecklenberg recognized me and while he was busy preparing for the flight, he kindly asked the cabin crew to push me up a class to business. I spent some time in the cockpit engaging first officer Joe Ameda and the second officer, Isaac Ogoyi as other passengers boarded.
Uganda Airlines has a total of 60 Pilots for its 6 aircraft fleet of CRJs and A330s.
The aircraft has a standard 1-2-1 configuration in the business class cabin. I took up the very first window seat.
My first impression: The seat colour is interesting and unique, a combination of tones of brown. The side console comes with various amenities and accessories for entertainment and storage. A small storage drawer was particularly cute. And a remote for the IFE sticking into the console.
I was also gifted with a toiletry bag in Uganda Airlines branding. In it was the usual toiletry items and including socks which i thought was nice.
The IFE screen obviously catches the eye first and more on that later.
Service and Meals
I had a choice between beef and Chicken, I chose the chicken meal which seemed quite heavy at first sight. It came accompanied by a glorious looking salmon and a choice of desert which I wasn’t particularly interested in coz I simply don’t have a sweet tooth. The chocolate layered over it looked good thou for those who are interested. The airline also has a choice of meal for vegetarians so everyone is covered.
I haven’t mentioned the bottle service that followed me from the moment I got comfortable. Champagne anyone?
Up to this point, the cabin crew did an amazing job, Julian Nankya, Cathy Nayiga, Zahara Hussein and Clare kirumira particularly made an impression. This was a special flight and I fully felt that warm Ugandan hospitality thanks to the aforementioned.
I got a tour of the rest of the cabin as I was interested in seeing the difference between Business, premium economy and economy. I got the sense that premium economy is more a step up from economy rather than a step down from business. The legroom and extra comfort in premium economy is worth the upgrade especially on long flights. The colour scheme was different but similarly coordinated.
Twice on the flight, soon after boarding and seating and closer to the top of descent, we got some hot towels which I felt was a nice touch. Not everyone is doing it, especially after the last 2 years of pandemic.
One of the first things you notice at the business class seat is the headsets sticking out of the side console and I was keen to checkout the entertainment offering.
The airline does offer in-flight Wi-Fi as well, nice to be able to scroll through twitter at 25,000 feet. If you intend to do some heavy surfing, you will have to pay a decent fee for that sort of internet access. But the flight offers some free data that will allow you communicate at the very least.
I didn’t think there was a lot of choice on offer for movies and series but I the range of choice included some of my all time favourites like the fresh prince of Bel Air. I wasn’t complaining.
It’s just a four hour flight but the time slot definitely means tired heads and legs on the flight. This flight had a tail wind and was a little light so the arrival time dropped by close to twenty minutes. I was tired and the amazing food set me up nicely for a comfortable sleep.
The seat converts into a lie-flat bed with an ottoman under the IFE screen to extend and provide comfortable legroom in the sleep configuration. The cabin crew provided a blanket to facilitate this as soon as we took our seats. I didn’t sleep for too long, but I felt right at home.
Uganda Airlines ticks a lot of boxes for international travel. The crew is super friendly and dedicated. The flight professionally executed. With meal service and entertainment to keep you happy.
The one improvement I took away from a discussion with a businessman in the cabin was the lack of a unique Ugandan experience in the meal choice.
The Airbus A330-800 provides a competitive product for the airline in the global aviation market.