DALLAS — Rwanda is a country nestled in eastern Africa, mostly known for its green hills, tea and coffee plantations, and national parks hosting the majestic mountain gorillas. But it is also home to flag carrier RwandAir (WB), which excels among African airlines for its Business Class product, dubbed ‘Dream Class’.
Airways had the privilege to test it on a night flight from RwandAir’s hub, Kigali (KGL), to Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG). And, indeed, the premium cabin lived up to its name, as this author enjoyed the best sleep ever on a plane.
RwandAir flies the route three times a week as the first leg of a connection from Kigali to Brussels (BRU), and the route is operated by a mix of A330-200 and A330-300. Once landed in Brussels in the early morning, the aircraft rests in the Belgian capital city for most of the day before starting its journey back to Africa (via Paris CDG) in the early evening.
On the day of my flight from KGL to CDG, the larger A330-300 was scheduled. The aircraft (one of three A330s in RwandAir’s fleet, with the other two being the smaller -200 series) was delivered new to the African airline in November 2016, featuring a three-class interior including Business Class, Premium Economy, and Economy cabins. Upfront, between doors 1 and 2, the ‘Dream Class’ cabin accommodates 30 Thompson Vantage XL seats in a 1+2+1 cross-section layout on eight rows.
When introduced seven years ago, this layout was by far the most luxurious for a long-haul business class in Africa. Only South African Airways (SA) could cope with it in terms of seats per row, but the interiors of its aircraft were of a preceding generation. That’s how the rather small airline of a rather small country gained the worldwide attention of commercial aviation-related media. For weeks, the photos of the ‘Dream Class’ were on websites, blogs, and magazines. And RwandAir became the ‘gem’ of African aviation.
Fast forward to 2023, and the ‘Dream Class’ is still on top, although other African operators, including Egyptair and Royal Air Maroc on their Boeing 787-9s and Air Senegal on its A330-900s, introduced the 1+2+1 layout, which guarantees more privacy and unobstructed access to the aisle for all Business Class passengers.
Kigali International Airport
My journey began on a late evening in mid-November at Kigali International Airport’s tiny terminal. A larger airport and a larger terminal are under construction some 25 kilometers to the south of the Rwandan capital, but they won’t open their doors to travelers until at least 2026.
Access to the departure lounge was limited to those entitled to a boarding card or reservation. Security measures at Kigali airport are very strict, to the point that, before accessing the ‘curb’ area in front of the terminal, each car is inspected inside and outside, luggage is sniffed by dogs, and each of the occupants undergoes X-rays.
With a time of departure for flight WB700 scheduled for five minutes past midnight, I reached the check-in area at around 22.00. Out of sixteen desks, eight were open, with one dedicated to Business Class passengers and Gold or Diamond status DreamMiles (RwandAir’s frequent flyer program) holders. The agent had no problem finding me the seat that I requested, 4H.
A couple of minutes later, I was in an elevator taking me to the upper floor, where departures were located. My Business Class boarding card gave me access to a fast lane at passport controls, but not at security.
Past that, I found myself in the main departure hall. On the left-hand side corner, a sign indicated the entrance to the ‘Dream Lounge’, dedicated exclusively to RwandAir’s premium passengers and DreamMiles Gold and Diamond holders. Inside, the lounge was divided into two spaces: one dedicated to food and beverage and the other to relaxation.
The food offering was okay, with a buffet of cold and hot courses including beef and chicken samosas, meatballs, stewed beef, fried fish, raw and cooked vegetables, and rice. On the drinking side, water, juice, soft drinks, and a good variety of beers were available, but there was no trace of wine, let alone champagne. A barista was at hand to prepare espressos, cappuccinos, tea and infusions.
The space dedicated to relaxation featured colored armchairs and low tables with power and USB-A ports, a small children’s area, and toilets with shower facilities. While seating was abundant, this part of the room was not cozy at all because of the white lights, which made it look cold and uninviting. Even the beautiful and colorful paintings on the walls (including one depicting a couple of gorillas in front of a panorama of green hills) could do little to add warmth to the place.
I spent about an hour there, drinking beer and eating a bag of chips, as I did not want to eat ‘proper food’ before boarding to fully enjoy the onboard cuisine. Half an hour before the time of departure, I left the lounge and headed to gate 5, which was one additional floor up. That area hosted the larger gates 4 and 5, dedicated to widebodies boarding, and in terms of lighting and ambiance, at that time of the night without natural light coming in, it was the gloomiest of the whole terminal.
To my surprise, boarding was well underway, and I did not have to spend any time in that anguishing area of the terminal. The A330-300 (9XR-WP, msn 1759) Umurage (which can be translated from Rwandese as ‘inheritance’ or ‘legacy’) was a couple of hundred yards away, and passengers reached it walking across the apron. Boarding was operated through door 2, and, once on the plane, I was greeted by the cabin crew and directed to the left and right sides of the cabin.
Boarding, Cabin First Impressions
As I settled in 4H, I noticed that the cushions of the seat were a bit flabby. So, I waited for the ‘boarding completed’ call and asked one of the flight attendants if I could move to another seat, as about half of the seats were empty. I crossed the cabin and settled into 4A, another window seat, where I found a pillow and a large duvet while noise-insulating headphones and an amenity kit were distributed after take-off.
The Thompson Vantage XL is a seat that, even without doors, offers maximum privacy to the passenger because of the huge console and the high ‘shoulder’ separating it from the aisle. The sitting area is 21 inches wide, and, as customized by RwandAir, it features a 44-inch pitch and a 15-inch wide IFE screen.
The console on my left-hand side was where the dining table was stowed and an individual reading light, remote controls of the IFE screen, and electric controls of the seat settings were positioned. The latter included a lumbar massage function, the possibility to increase or reduce lumbar support, and the ability to increase or decrease the firmness of the cushions.
An illuminated shelf was where I positioned my phone, a book, and my glasses. But, apart from this small, cozy area, the seat did not offer any other space to store personal effects and objects, including shoes.
Departure, Cabin Service
Cabin service started immediately after doors were closed, some fifteen minutes past midnight, with the distribution of (very) hot towels and a welcome drink consisting of water, juice, or champagne. I went with the latter, which was perfectly chilled. I noticed that no napkin was positioned under the glass, making it quite unstable on the smooth surface of the console. Notably, RwandAir has two labels of champagne onboard most of its flights: a classic Piper Heidsieck and a Mallard rosè.
Pushback, engine start and taxi were very quick, and at half past midnight, we left the ground. Some 20 minutes after take-off, dinner service began. I had previously noted that there were no menus on the seat or in the pocket of the seat in front. As a result, the FAs had to present the options to passengers by asking them if they preferred “beef with potatoes” or “chicken with rice.”
Notwithstanding the goodwill of the FAs, I found it a very poor (Economy Class-style) way of introducing passengers to their dining experience. Also, the cabin crew could not illustrate any single ingredient in the food options.
So, when a non-described appetizer arrived, I found out it was full of peppers, which I did not like at all. I asked about this glitch to one of the flight attendants, and he replied that they generally have menus onboard, but on that particular night, they did not describe what was available on the plane, and that was why they were not using them.
On the drink side, a menu was available, presenting two whites (a French Sauvignon Blanc and a French white Bourgogne) and two reds (a French red Bourgogne and a South African Cabernet Sauvignon). As I had chosen the ‘beef with potatoes’ option as the main course, I opted to accompany it with the 2016 vintage red Bourgogne, only to discover that it was not onboard that night.
A few minutes later, my dining table was extracted from the seat console and covered with white linen. A plastic, blue tray covered with paper (not linen) arrived with cutlery, a glass of red wine, a glass of water, pretty salt and pepper cellars, and an appetizer with tender veal bites and peppers.
The ‘beef with potatoes’ was a fillet of beef with roasted potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower. After that, the unspecified ‘dessert’ was a choice of two varieties of mousse. The one I chose, a cream and coffee mousse on a dark chocolate cookie, was one of the best desserts I ever had on a plane. An offer of coffee or tea rounded up the meal.
Overall, the quality and taste of the food were good, but the presentation was not at the same level. The absence of menus is not acceptable in business class. The service was excellent: executed professionally, timely, and cheerfully.
After dinner, I explored the Safran Rave Inflight entertainment system, where I found 144 movies, 133 TV shows, a dozen cartoons for kids, some 60 music compilations, and the so-called moving maps to follow the progress of the flight. While the system allowed the choice of six different languages on its opening page, all the movies were in their original language only, without subtitles.
As it was already 2.30 in the morning, I decided to skip films or music and opt for some sleep. In less than 30 seconds, the Vantage XL turned into a fully flat bed. I lowered the left armrest to bed level, gaining a couple of additional inches of space, and found that I could easily change position, with abundant space to move the legs and the feet, too. I took my book, but a few minutes later, I put the eye mask (which I found in the amenity kit) over my eyes and fell asleep in the extremely quiet cabin.
Not the FA with breakfast, but the captain announcing we had begun our descent towards Charles De Gaulle, woke me up. The cabin was softly illuminated by mood lighting in the tones of orange and pink, resembling dawn. The FA came by, saying ‘good morning’ and asking if I had slept well. Also, he told me it was too late for breakfast, but that, if I wished, he could bring me a cup of coffee. A touch of personalized service that I appreciated.
I checked the time remaining on the flight, less than 30 minutes, and calculated I had slept almost five hours and a half, with the highest flight time/sleep time ratio I ever experienced on an airplane. This is a testament to the comfort of the seat, the quietness of the cabin, and the breakfast service performed earlier by the cabin crew.
Arrival in Paris
After a cup of delicious coffee, I just had the time to collect my items and make a quick trip to the toilet before the ’fasten seat belts’ sign was turned on by the pilots.
At 7.40, fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of arrival, we touched down on Charles De Gaulle’s runway 24L at the end of what I could describe as a dream flight, with just a few minor glitches in the dining service to be addressed for a perfect onboard experience.
A full review of RwandAir will appear in the February issue of Airways Magazine.
Written by, and all photos: Matteo Legnani/Airways