December 18th 2017

Top Stories / National

PR disaster: Kenya Airways implicates self in press statement

Yesterday's problems were too obvious to deny. Hundreds of passengers traveling to and from Mombasa were stranded for hours after their flights were delayed. The delays affected flights from JKIA (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport in Mombasa.

By Lydia Tokesilydiatokesi95@gmail.comMonday, 03 Oct 2016 18:57 EAT

A Kenya Airways airliner at the hanger.

Once one of the largest and most respected companies in Kenya, Kenya Airways was reputed for its high service standards. 'The Pride of Africa' it was - in the skies, in inflight entertainment, the grooming of its staff and even in its public relations.

Judging by a statement the airline sent out today, standards are falling pretty fast at KQ. An airline that has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons is expected to guard what it communicates to the public. But KQ is seemingly too casual about its public image these days.

After social media was awash with stories yesterday indicating that the airline had cancelled many flights (most reports said 24), KQ waited for 20 hours to release a statement that raised more questions than answers. The poorly worded statement contained not only grammatical errors but also contradicted itself on the most important message for its release, without explaining reasons for the undue delays.

“Jambojet was experiencing non-availability of two aircraft, which lead to significant delays,” said the airline, obviously missing the past tense of 'lead'. It went ahead to add, “These flights were fully recovered albeit inconvenience to our flying guests.”

Did Kenya Airways book customers only to realise that it had no aircraft? Ironically, while not forthcoming enough on the Jambojet delays and cancellations, the statement was too detailed and confessed to other problems at the airline about which the Kenyan public had not been aware.

"Kenya Airways operates over 150 flights per day and the On Time Performance (OTP) for week ending October 2, stood at 73 per cent for the entire network and 81 per cent for the domestic network," said the statement, gloating over a bottom of the pyramid success.

While Kenya Airways was categorically denying that it had cancelled flights (admitting to only one local flight), its statement went ahead to inform the media of a recent cancellation of a flight from Hanoi, which in the circumstances only lent credence to fears that the airline was struggling.

Even worse, the statement revealed that the Hanoi flight was cancelled due to a technical problem with one of KQ's Dreamliner jets which had never occurred in any of the over 450 Dreamliners that fly the world's skies. “On the long-haul network, one of our B787 Dreamliners last week experienced a technical problem in Hanoi, Vietnam. "This was the first time this particular event had occurred on the worldwide 787 fleet and we had to seek the assistance of Boeing to solve it.”

Such a confession could raise questions about whether the problem was caused by KQ's poor maintenance of the aircraft. In any event, that old cancellation, about which the Kenyan public had been kept in the dark when it happened, was not relevant to the immediate problem KQ was addressing today, unless the goal was to show that the airline had had many cancellations in the recent past.

The last sentence of the statement read: “On behalf of the Kenya Airways group, we apologise most sincerely to all our guests whose journeys were disrupted and assure you of our continuing focus on schedule integrity.” The airline definitely needs to work on both integrity and schedule.

On the issue of integrity, yesterday's problems were too obvious to deny. Hundreds of passengers traveling to and from Mombasa were stranded for hours after their flights were delayed. The delays affected flights from JKIA (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport in Mombasa.

Among those who were delayed were the former politician Kenneth Matiba and his family and journalist Lilian Muli, the latter who tweeted “I am at Moi International Airport Mombasa. Passengers have been stranded here since 1pm. Jambojet and Kenya Airways passengers affected.”

A passenger on flight KQ8604 that was due to leave Nairobi at 1430 said he had received a short statement that read: "We regret to inform you that your flight KQA8604 2nd Oct is facing an imminent delay due to technical reasons. Next update on departure timings will be in 40 minutes. Inconvenience caused are highly regretted.”

Even at the airport, the airline's staff were not very helpful. The angry passengers were consoled with snacks by the KQ flight attendants after they ambushed one of the flight attendant demanding to know what is happening.

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and the Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale were also among those who were stranded in Mombasa. Duale spoke to journalists in Moi international airport, “Thousands of Kenyans have been stranded today since 11am, this is unacceptable."

He urged the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Infrastructure to summon the airline's management to respond to the matter. If this happens, Kenya Airways may finally get to tell the world what really happened yesterday.

Additional reporting by John Onyando

The writer is a student of Communication and Public Relations at Moi University and intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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