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.

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