UNICEF Norwegian Air Delivery Flight: A 787 Dreamliner Full Of Humanitarian Aid

This is part of my 18,000 Miles For Good series.  I hope you’ll stay tuned for the rest of the posts:

After touring the UNICEF facility we returned to Copenhagen Airport.  We had a special check-in area for our flight.  Since the group was so small we zoomed through the check-in process while goofing around a bit.

The majority of aid had been loaded by the time we arrived. However, we were able to jump down on the tarmac and help finish filling up the belly of the plane.

Watching them fit the last few boxes in behind cargo nets right up to the edge of the cargo doors, it was clear we were full with cargo.

This was an unbelievable experience for multiple reasons. Getting to accompany a load of humanitarian aid to Africa isn’t something I ever thought I would be doing in my life.

And, ANY time I get to walk around a 787 on the tarmac is a good day. On this occasion, I was getting my first chance to snap some close-up shots of a 787-9. I’ve flown on the 787-9 before, but this was the first time getting an up-close look.

Lastly, Norwegian was unveiling their first 787 UNICEF livery.  The livery was pretty simple, but got the message across. I really do love the slogan on the side of the plane. Simple, but nails the point home on what UNICEF is trying to accomplish.

The CEO of Norwegian, Bjorn Kjos is such a down-to-earth guy. I’ve met him a handful of times. Most recently, I witnessed him catching a few winks lying down in a row of coach seats on our 14-hour 737 MAX delivery flight from Seattle to Oslo. I’d venture a guess to say he’s the only airline CEO I’m going to meet who’s willing to do something like that.

Norwegian Air has a long relationship with UNICEF.  They’ve contributed $2.5 million in the past 10 years.  They’ve also conducted 3 other humanitarian aid delivery flights.  Those flights, conducted on a 737 filled to the brim, went to the Central African Republic, to Jordan to aid Syrian refugees and to Mali.  We’d be boarding the first 787 aid delivery flight and carrying 28 tons of relief for folks who desperately need it.  Everyone donned the bright red “Fill a Plane” t-shirts Norwegian had prepared for the occasion.

The aid on our plane was bound for Yemen.  It would be making a stop in Djibouti to be repackaged and shipped into Yemen.  The Cholera outbreak there is undeniably horrible.  Without a consistent supply of clean drinking water, the outbreak gets worse.  Cholera and similar infections lead to dehydration.  It’s a never-ending cycle revolving around water.  That’s why a large part of our cargo consisted of medicine to aid in the recovery of maladies like Cholera as well as water purification kits.

Once all the festivities concluded we all hopped back on the plane.  The mood on the flight was happy.  And, why not? We were bound for Djibouti with a plane full of humanitarian aid. We got off the ground a bit later than expected but nobody minded.  Everyone was in a celebratory mood, excited to deliver our cargo.

This was my second time riding in Norwegian’s premium cabin.  It was just a couple of months ago, as part of my first ride on a delivery flight of the brand new 737 Max from Seattle to Oslo.  Since it was only a couple of months ago, I won’t bother going into all the details again.  However, you can read my detailed post about the premium cabin.  The short summary?  I don’t think you’ll find a better offering at their price point heading over the Atlantic.  You can absolutely find better premium cabins.  Good luck finding cheaper flights.  You surely won’t find a better combination.

Alas, A Ticket I Wouldn’t Be Using

There were only about 40 of us on the plane. Some of them were auction winners who donated money to UNICEF.  Over $25,000 was raised by MegaDO through this fundraiser, all funds that go directly to UNICEF.  Since the cabin wasn’t completely filled with passengers, I asked why UNICEF didn’t try to pack more supplies into the passenger cabin (something that happened on the Norwegian 737 aid flights).  The answer?  The facility in Djibouti just couldn’t handle more than a full belly of a 787 at one time.  Makes sense.

There were also a handful of key UNICEF employees who were part of the effort. And, Norwegian had brought along some of their employees who volunteered to help deliver the aid to Djibouti.

I got to meet UNICEF folks from all over the world. Employees from Norway, Copenhagen and New York shared stories of how they became involved with UNICEF. I learned what each of them did on a daily basis to help support UNICEF’s mission. All of them are very dedicated to the task at hand.

Not Everything Goes As Planned

As the festivities died down and lunch came and went, I settled in to do some work on my laptop.  After that, I figured I would take a quick nap.  We were due to arrive later in the evening, probably after 9pm based on our delay getting out of Copenhagen.  With all the cargo to offload, it had the potential to be a late night.  It was, in fact, a late night.  It just turns out the reason was different.

We had received flyover rights from Eritrea, a country in Northern Africa in advance of our trip.  However, on our day of travel, there was a snafu.  As we approached Egypt, our captain announced that we’d be turning around and landing in Athens.  We had tried to secure a flight path through Ethiopia.  Alas, our temporary destination would be Athens.  This wasn’t a normally scheduled flight, which adds some complexity.  There’s quite a bit of coordination that needs to go into making a flight like this happen.  We came up just a bit short on our first attempt.

We weren’t the only ones in the humanitarian spirit.  Because we couldn’t reach Djibouti that night UNICEF was responsible for over $8,000 in cancellation fees at the Sheraton Djibouti.  The hotel General Manager heard about our troubles with our flight and waived the entire cancellation fee.  Awesome!

The next morning, we were on our way.  Our delay actually lead to a pretty cool experience for me.  More on that in a later post.  All buttoned up by early afternoon, we took off for Djibouti.

This time, there would be no further delays.  We had some great views on the way in to Djibouti and ultimately landed just before sunset.

Arriving In Djibouti

On the ground in Djibouti, the mood was festive and the air was hot.  Just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit at sunset, it had “cooled off” from the high of almost 110. There were a handful of planes on the ground.  Unsurprisingly, there were a few I hadn’t seen a livery in person before.

We trotted down a flight of stairs and celebrated as the cargo was unloaded.  Everyone pitched in with the loose boxes, while the heavy equipment was brought in to offload the heavier pallets.

Not long after, we were wrapping up and clearing immigration.  Due to some previous commitments in the US, I had already planned that I would be taking a separate flight back home from the rest of the group.  I was a bit bummed not to be joining the return flight home to Oslo.  Due to our delay, I had a whopping 3 hours in Djibouti.  As it turned out, 3 of my fellow travelers also had scheduling concerns.  They all ended up booking the same flight I did, a Qatar flight to Doha.  Angelina, Charlie, Kelly and I would all head off to different destinations from there (New York, Chicago (and on to Seattle), Dallas and further into Africa).

Angelina posted about her experience recently as well.  It’s fun reading someone else’s perspective of the exact same trip.

But, before that, we had one last adventure.  There was great fish, a bit of shopping, a hasty marriage, some “private time”, a bribe (not ours) and a rather irate fellow with a rifle.  More on that soon….

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