Kenya Airways is supposed to be the Pride of Africa. A veritable African brand that radiates the warmth, vivaciousness and generosity that only Africa can offer.
But of late it has all been about the lost Pride of Africa.
There is no doubt that KQ, as we call it, has been on a tailspin over the past few years. But as a Kenyan, and frequent KQ flier, I always hoped – and prayed – that it would not get to a stage where I would be tempted to turn my back on my beloved national carrier.
For now it seems like KQ is a close relative or friend who is withering right before your eyes. You hang onto hope that soon – tomorrow – they will turn the corner. But every new day presents some sobering evidence that you could be hanging onto false hope. Prepare for the final rituals!
I write this as an ordinary Kenyan, not an expert on aviation matters. I know zilch on that.
You see, as Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic often says, airlines are all about passenger experience. That experience has got to be wow, or at least good! If the experience sucks, the airline sucks. At the moment KQ sucks. Period.
It matters little if an airline charges you a premium – like KQ does – if you get commensurate service. I have anecdotal evidence that many passengers feel cheated for the price the pay and the service they get on KQ. Ask around, we compare notes.
Simple things do matter. When my flight is delayed please explain to me, I will understand. Don’t keep me in suspense for hours and expect me to remain loyal. It shows you neither respect me nor my time. Communication is inextricably weaved in the good service package.
And oh please, don’t use the “operational reasons” jargon on me! If my flight can’t take off because your staff are on strike, admit it. If it is because of a shortage of aircraft, say it. After all who doesn’t know you are going through a rough patch at the moment?
The brand equity that KQ has accumulated over the years can dissipate in a matter of days if passengers doubt that their flights will take off on schedule. It doesn’t help matters when KQ CEO Mbuvi Nguze claims that over 90 per cent of takeoffs are on schedule. That may be so, but the customer customer experience says otherwise. It is like the Inspector General of Kenya Police Joseph Boinnet claiming that only 4 percent of traffic cops in Kenya take bribes. Are you kidding me? Wacha za ovyo!
On a recent flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam on KQ, I got a sense that the cabin crew were trying too hard to disguise the fact that they were carrying the burden of an airline on a free fall.
When members of the cabin crew start smiling with their teeth, and not their eyes, there is a problem. It is so plastic.
When scores of passengers pick up a quarrel with the cabin crew over basic things like food rations in the plane, that is when my Nigerian friends exclaim, tufiakwa!
You see, when they started serving the in-flight meal about four hours into the 8-hour flight, passengers were told they would have the option of chicken, beef or vegetarian. But a few minutes into it, the option narrowed down to beef only. As some of the passengers snapped and hissed, all the poor cabin crew staff could say was, “sorry, this is what is left”.
Then another passenger asked for whiskey and he was told there was none. Wine? Only white, no red! Beer? Only Tusker. Are you broke? An agitated man, seemingly from West Africa, asked loudly. A few passengers chuckled. The cabin crew lady wheeled the near empty trolley down the aisle nonchalantly, like she was so used to this kind of conversation it didn’t matter.
I felt a mix of anger, pity and sympathy well up in me.
That is the point I felt like apologising on behalf of Kenyans and making it clear that we are not that mean or miserly. But I swallowed my embarrassment and said a silent prayer for the befuddled KQ employees who were clearly caught between a rock and a hard place in the skies!
Yet this is not Kenya Airways as we have known it. KQ was once warm, happy, welcoming. KQ was once our pride, Kenyans and Africans. I may be in denial, but I want my KQ back. Someone please bring back our Pride of Africa!
(The writer is an Editor Consultant with Royal Media Services Limited – Twitter: @PeterOpondo