LONDON – According to Skift, employees at Kenya Airways are set to strike on October 28, coinciding with the day the carrier is to begin direct flights to the United States.

The Nairobi-New York inaugural flight could be in jeopardy if a pay deal isn’t agreed by then, which could see the inaugural route canceled.

The airline, which is 7.8% owned by the Air France-KLM Group, opened bookings for the direct flight to JFK back in January. By August, Kenya Airways claims that over 7,000 seats had been sold.

All flights to New York will be operated with the airline’s newest Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.

According to sources, the Kenya Aviation Workers Union organized a meeting earlier this month regarding pay proposals.

It is understood that a counter-proposal offered by the carrier results in no salary increases but more a pay cut. The union spoke out about the proposal to local media.

Imminent Strike Threats

Since the union placed its statement towards Kenya Airways, the airline has responded with pleas for withdrawal of strike action.

“This action is incomprehensible to management who will employ all legal and disciplinary means available to it in order to safeguard our national airline”.

The Nairobi-based airline also added that new agreements would be made following the launch of the new service to New York.

“Management is proposing a pay cut, in total disregard to immense sacrifices that our members made in the recent past when the airline was in extreme distress”, it said in a statement.

Kenya Airways Ventures Into America

This route is very important for Kenya Airways, with load factor forecasted to be around the 75%-80% mark in the first year of operations, and up to 95% by the second year.

It is expected to boost the revenue of the carrier in 2019 by around 10%

On top of the nonstop flight to New York, Kenya Airways struck a codesharing deal with Delta Air Lines on flights to and from Nairobi. The deal went into force on August 11.

The agreement states that Delta’s ‘DL’ code will be added on Kenya Airways’ flights from Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Accra to Nairobi, which will aim to provide customers flying to the United States with what Delta lists as a “one-stop seamless travel experience from the United States.”

The direct flights are set to be the fastest connection points between East Africa and New York, offering a flight time of between 14-15 hours depending on direction of flight.

The route is set to be operated by its Boeing 787 Dreamliners, offering 74 seats in Premier World in a 2-2-2 configuration followed by 204 seats in Economy in a 3-3-3 configuration.

The flight will depart Nairobi at 2325, arriving into JFK at 0625 the following day, both local times. The return will then depart at 1225, landing into Jomo Kenyatta at 1055 the following day.

It will be interesting to see whether Kenya Airways will offer a proposal before the route launch.

That being said, based on the statements released by the airline, it seems clear that there is risk of disruption at such an important time for the airline’s expansion into new markets.