Like hundreds of other loyal Kenya Airways (KQ) fliers, I have always been proud of the national carrier.
You see, there were times I would look forward to my trips, but now I am filled with dread whenever my travel agent tells me that only KQ tickets are available for a particular flight.
It is not the schedule discrepancy or the frustrating online check in system that made me believe things were turbulent at the airline. Something else made me believe that it has really sunk low.
It all started on my flight to Nairobi from Dar es Salaam in December last year. The flight delayed but we finally boarded and waited for long on the runway for the take off. And not surprisingly, noise soon erupted in the cabin with disgruntled people complaining about the delay.
It was at that particular point when a voice was heard through the intercom informing passengers that many children had been booked on the plane and there were only a few safety equipment for them.
The seat belt
All this time, my infant was soundly asleep on my lap as I had buckled him using the seat belt that I had been given.
Though I got a good seat with impressive legroom, my comfort did not last long since my infant was later to be mistreated and discriminated on board.
Suddenly, three airline officials came to my seat and told me to wake up the baby, surrender my infant's safety belt and life jacket to an older kid who they said was already two but looked smaller in size.
I told them my infant's safety should not be compromised.
I even showed them the child’s passport and the ticket details as they had demanded. I held onto my child’s seat belt so they threatened to throw me out of the plane.
I asked why they would rather have me out of the plane while my infant was already issued with safety equipment and not the other customer who missed one.
I am not playing the racial card here, but it was at this point I was forced to look behind to see the person who had missed the safety equipment. It was when I realised it was a mzungu (white) child whose safety was more important than my African one as far as the airline officials were concerned!
The safety officer then intervened though my infant's safety jacket had already been taken. I held my tongue until I returned and wrote an official complaint to them.
It was just the usual apology without any satisfactory explanation or taking any responsibility for their actions.
“Dear Janet, We thank you for your response. We regret that this incident led to inconvenience and disgruntlement during your travel. We note that this could have been handled better and assure you that we have taken this up with our in-flight team, so that you and your child as our esteemed guests may be assisted in a better way.
"It was definitely not fair to be informed of the option of being offloaded from the flight. However, given the circumstances, our team would have had to offload one of the guests with an infant.
"Please accept our sincere apologies for this. We do hope to welcome you on board soon, and to be of better service then.”
Unfortunately, their apology did not last long. Later last month, we got an emergency so I had to fly to Nairobi in the morning then head back to Dar es Salaam in the evening.
I had a planning meeting and an editorial session the following morning, besides attending to my breastfeeding infant. Only Kenya Airways was available so I booked a return ticket and made sure I reconfirmed my flight in Dar es Salaam before jetting to Nairobi.
My business in Nairobi ended and was dropped at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) armed with my ticket. I then made arrangements to be picked up at the Julius Nyerere International Airport.
When I got to the counter to get the boarding pass, the lady did not look at me but walked to another desk before later coming to tell me that my seat was gone and typed a boarding pass for the next day! I got really angry.
How could they sell my seat or double-book yet I had reconfirmed this flight upon booking the ticket and before leaving Dar es Salaam that morning?
A nursing mother
“Madam, we will take you to an hotel then give you $75. We are sorry there is nothing we can do. You will travel tomorrow.”
To them, that was a reasonable compensation irrespective of what you stood to lose. What of a nursing mother whose milk supply might dry up because they could not travel as per the schedule?
What about an infant who had run out of the milk the mother left in the morning hoping to return that night? Other customers were also yelling after they were told they could not get their boarding passes.
You see, to the officials at the desk, they had seen many like us whose flights were cancelled before.
To them, an unhappy customer’s option was to go and complain on their website. I wondered why they were treating us with so much contempt that evening.
The service desk at Kenya Airways that particular evening made customer service at any flea market in any African nation look much better and sophisticated.
I am not saying everybody working at Kenya Airways lacks customer care; there are some who do their jobs well.
I finally got my seat and the airline officials were like “our engineer has volunteered his seat for you”.
Well, I am not an expert on airline safety, but I believe no commercial aircraft flies without an engineer on board, so that sounded like a well-crafted line.