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Kenya Airways & Flight Cancellations!

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Matunda Nyanchama

On November 19th, 2018 I rose up early to catch a flight to Accra, Ghana. The objective: to participate in the 3rd ECOWAS Regional Conference of the Africa Society for Blood Transfusion (AfSBT). Here, I would represent the Damu-Sasa team and present the Kenyan innovation dubbed Damu-Sasa, an ground-breaking, technology-based solution for blood services management. The team had tasked me, alongside Dr Elizabeth Wala of Amref Africa (Kenya office) to share the experience we have had with this solution, get interested parties and possibly strike some partnerships in adopting the solution.

Given our experience with the innovation in Kenya, I expected similar levels of excitement from those that would learn about Damu-Sasa and hear us speak of how the solution affects (it saves) lives. Indeed, we expected that such contacts and information sharing would lead to future business.

I checked through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport security and lined up to get my boarding pass before 6:00 am, more than two hours (as is recommended for international flights) ahead of the scheduled departure of the flight to Accra. I queued dutifully to check in, all excited.

In fact, I was looking forward to more than the presentation and interactions at the conference. I was hoping I would have the chance to see the land of Kwame Nkrumah the foremost African independence leader and proponent of the (stillborn) United States of Africa. And of course, the people of Ghana whose history (like the Ashanti Kingdom and the Golden Stool) I have read and heard of over many years, their cuisine and more. As well, a friend had asked that I bring back the famous Ghanaian leather sandals and some quality kitenge that the country is known for.

It was not to be, courtesy of KQ, the Pride of Africa! Kenya Airways.

At the counter, the young lady took my passport, keyed in my name and raised her face to look at me with pain written all over! She asked to confirm who else I had been booked with via the same agent/organisation.  I confirmed the names. Then she said, curtly, that the flight to Accra was full! … Full what! I was flabbergasted!  But you confirmed this as late as the last evening! I retorted angrily. She repeated that the flight was full, adding that the available flight was via Abidjan and could she check me in? That flight would be in Accra at around 6 pm rather than the 10 am arrival we were expecting!  …. No! I could not afford to be that late for the event. It would be as good as not attending! There was little value in arriving at the tail-end of the conference!

The lady at Counter One, where I was referred, invoked the law saying it allows airlines overbook as there are cases where passengers do not turn up! … Legal or otherwise, did this move take into consideration the business of those bumped from confirmed travel!

My colleague on the trip called around for friends to help, some of them that work for the airline. Airline staff tried to get a person or two, whose business not as urgent as ours to give up seats for us. Indeed, we learnt that, even with the offer of payment to volunteers, the efforts came a cropper! … it was an exercise in futility!

Only later did we learn that KQ had an overflow from the following day; and that, despite the confirmations, we were bumped off the flight. And for that, we “won” each a consolation “prize” of U$300! Yes, U$300 as if that can make for the potential lost business and value that would have come out of attending the conference!

On my way home, I kept wondering whether KQ cannot do better.

For example, does one have to be at the airport to find out that one has bene bumped off a flight? Just imagine the hassle of preparing to be at the airport at 6:00 am: wake up early, pack accordingly, get a taxi or drive to the airport, go through security checks galore, queue up, etc. …. Surely, in these technological times and 24×7 communications, would it not be possible to inform passengers when their flight status changes? For example, wouldn’t they have sent a simple text to indicate the change of plans with a number where one can get an explanation or alternative choice?

The action of overbooking may be sanctioned by the law. However, KQ isn’t a court or legal office. They are in business and customer satisfaction and retention are central to its success. Should KQ then simply rely on the legality of their action or use its business sense to underline what they do. I thought that they should care for repeat business and referrals due to customer satisfaction. Asked whether one can recommend the airline to family or friend, I doubt the answer would be in the affirmative for this type of experience!  Yet affirmative responses to such an inquiry is a known predictor of business growth.

In my 30+ years of international travel, I always got excited whenever I boarded KQ, inbound or outbound. There is something about patronizing the national that is fulfilling: the chit chat with the crew (when one encounters a friendly one), the familiar food, the relatable stories in the in-house magazine, the music selection that takes a person to one’s roots and more! For some, such excitement includes a taste of our world-famous Tusker.

In fact, despite the many challenges the airline has faced over that time, many of us saw it as part of growing pains. However, the airline that dubs itself the Pride of Africa, should by now have grown to full adulthood and do business as business. Its lethargy almost suggests being an overgrown child setting overblown expectations!

KQ claims to swim with the best in the world of the airline industry, let it demonstrate it can swim there by raising its standards.

NB: Dr Matunda Nyanchama consults in ICT, Information Security and Risk Management, in addition to publishing books. He can be reached at matunda@gmail.com.  

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