Travel travail

When a flight is delayed by seven hours, no-one is pleased. How the airline treats its clients can save the day, or make them vow never to use the carrier again.

In a country where tourism reached 21.4% of export earnings before the violence marred elections in 2007, Kenya’s national carrier has a special obligation to keep travelers happy, now that tourism is suffering again as the the harsh effects of El Shebab’s revenge attacks start to bite.

The experience with flight KQ221 on July 14 showed little evidence that the Kenya Airways ground staff in New Delhi know that. With one desk clerk handling all the complaints, and no special treatment for premier class passengers, it was time for the supervisor to take charge. Instead he sought refuge on his cell phone, while frustrated customers stalked his retreat.

Kenya airways 02

Without acknowledging their needs, he kept talking. When one of the clients ended the call for him by seizing the phone, he defended his lack of attention, saying that he was trying to arrange hotels. The passengers explained that they had other needs, like resolving the conflicting information from the different sources about when the flight was expected to leave.┬áThe boards showing that the flight was delayed until 7AM. The check-in clerk was saying the flight would leave at 8AM, and the airline’s website displaying a 2:55AM departure.

And then there is the fact that the Indira Gandhi airport is a prison for passengers whose flight is delayed. Military officers armed with semi-automatic weapons physically bar exit. Release requires official confirmation that the flight has been delayed from the same airline ground staff, who being otherwise engaged, clearly do not care about the plight of their passengers.

The absence of any signage that exit through departures is also not allowed, as is normal in any other country exacerbates the frustration. Yet another armed officer blocks that way out.

When the offending supervisor was eventually confronted about helping stranded passengers to get out of the airport, his response: “you should have waited!”

The passengers were clearly at fault. Perhaps not so much for the impatience, as for having elected to fly with Kenya Airways. Never again.

More at:
Flags of inconvenience
Let Africans fly
Departure delayed

Tourism in India

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is India’s premiere tourist destination. As one would hope, there are rigorous security checks at the entrances. But, if the officials responsible for the security don’t understand that they are manhandling one of India’s most vital assets, they are doing their country a disservice.

It was disconcerting to watch their handling of an American teacher. The teacher was carrying a paper cut-out doll, a well known children’s character, often photographed with the world’s leading landmarks, and shown to young students in foreign countries, who are then tasked with identifying the landmark, and writing about it.


This cut-out, according to the over-zealous official, was disallowed according to statute determined by the national assembly. The teacher’s efforts to appeal to logic were in met with disdain. So, she gave up on diplomacy, and explained to the senior officer that the official list of disallowed items at the gate did not include anything that could, even in the broadest terms, include the paper doll. The doll got in, but no-one won.

That experience was not unique among the tourists.

In contrast, a local youth carrying a hockey stick, apparently the weapon of choice among the young men in Agra, was allowed in without question.

India really needs its tourists.

Looking at the national statistics makes that clear. The country has a population of 1.22 billion people. More than 150 times as many as tiny Switzerland. Both countries earn the same amount from tourism – $16.6 billion. But India needs its tourist a lot more. Switzerland is running an international trade surplus of $66.5 billion, while fighting against an appreciating Swiss Franc. India runs a deficit of $80.15 billion and the Rupee is in decline.

The tourist in India soon realizes that the government is heavily reliant on visitors for its revenue. Every bill at hotels and restaurants contains a plethora of taxes, usually adding more than a third to the cost of the meal.

Government expenditures at 14.4% of GDP vastly overshadow the revenue (8.8%). It desperately needs the money because its not anywhere close to balancing the books.

Taxing tourists also acts as a disincentive, but with so few alternatives, one would expect an effort to treat guests well. Apparently not.

More at:
India tourism statistics at a glance
India tourism statistics
CIA World Factbook – Switzerland
CIA World Factbook – India