Exactly a year ago, if a New Yorker wanted to get to Nairobi, they were looking at around 24 hours of flight time and at least one plane change under the best of circumstances. But last October, Kenya Airways’ new direct changed all that, shaving 10 hours off that flight time and eliminating the transfer. For those of us (and in the U.S., it’s a lot of us) who want to travel far but don’t have the luxury of time, it was a big deal. It’s one example of how these days, the rising number of African airlines with conveniently U.S.-friendly routes is becoming the smartest way for us to explore the continent—and help us bop around from safari to jungle to beach once there.
It’s worthwhile familiarizing yourself with, say Egyptair, perhaps, or Royal Air Maroc, two of the continent’s top-tier carriers who are aggressively expanding their service, both to Africa and intercontinentally. This rise in homegrown airlines more easily unlocks some destinations which were hard to reach for long-haul visitors as well as offering a ton of new direct flights from North America which make a quick trip more feasible (Casablanca is absolutely doable for a long weekend). That’s not to say some of our own carriers are not doing their part to get us to the savanna sooner—United will launch a direct Newark to Cape Town flight this December. But these African airlines are not just upping the ante in terms of comfort and access, they also help start the experience of being there before touching down. Below, a quick primer to the top six to get you into north, south, and east Africa right now.