Nairobi airport after the fire

By Gary Furlong
This item appears on page 11 of the December 2013 issue.

Much of the Arrivals terminal of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was destroyed by fire on Aug. 7, 2013. My spouse, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and I passed through the airport twice while visiting Kenya in late August and early September. I thought I would share our experience plus some tips.

As you’re heading into Kenya, be sure you have already gotten your visa application and filled it out. This will save you time. (We got ours from our travel agent, but you can print one out by going online. [Visit and click on “Plan Your Trip,” then “Visa and Immigration.”]) Have your vaccination record and passport out and ready to show. Have your cash ready. Have a pen ready, too, to fill out another form upon arrival.

When we arrived at the airport, on Aug. 27, a shuttle bus met our plane and we were transported to a tent. Just inside was a table where visa forms were available as well as a blue form; both had to be filled out. Also, a person inspected everyone’s vaccination records. (Friends of ours who arrived the next day said that theirs was not checked.)

We grabbed the blue form to fill out while waiting in line. Since we already had our visa application forms completed, we were able to get in line almost before anyone else. After a short wait, our visa forms were processed and we were told to go to the next tent. Since we had only our carry-on luggage and by now had our visas, we were out of there in less than 10 minutes. We had expected the process to take up to an hour or more, so we were thrilled.

We returned to the Nairobi airport on Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. to catch a 2 a.m. flight to Brussels. Our departure “gate” was a huge tent. A TV was playing some type of soap opera, but no sound was coming from it; instead, music was blaring from the speakers.

There were no monitors to advise passengers of updated departure times. Periodically, someone would come in and announce a departing flight over the din of the music, and then everyone would try to figure out what was said and what they were supposed to do. 

Other than a dispenser of water, there was no food or drink available once we were taken to the tent. Bathroom facilities were porta-potties located just a short distance away.

We were flying out on Brussels Airlines. Their printer wasn’t working, so checking in for flights was agonizingly slow. After check-in, we had to go to another area to wait for them to print boarding passes and distribute them, then we were taken to the Departures tent.

I will say that the Brussels Airlines staff worked very hard to get all issues resolved in this situation. One staff member went above and beyond to help us take care of a problem with our luggage long after we had given up hope of anyone doing so.


Pacifica, CA