So…what do you do when the only internationally recognized airline servicing your location suspends operations for 5 months without notice and without offer of compensation?
This afternoon, a colleague here received a phone call from a friend working at the Kenya Airways (KQ) offices in Kisangani, informing him that KQ was canceling all flights in and out of Kisangani (FKI) until November. The last flight out of FKI is scheduled to depart tomorrow afternoon. Of course my colleague, who had planned a 3 week vacation in the US starting next Tuesday on the KQ regularly scheduled flight immediately went down to the KQ offices to get to the bottom of the ordeal.
KQ began flights to FKI airport in 2009, taking a common “loop” approach to the flight path. Flights depart from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, make a 45 minute refueling stop in Entebbe, Uganda where passengers are allowed to disembark as their final destination. The flight continues on to FKI with the remaining passengers. On the way back, passengers are not allowed to disembark in EBB.
Perhaps FKI is not as lucrative a destination as the company might have originally thought. Kisangani is an isolated city in central D.R. Congo, but was once the economic hub for this region of the country. Since 2006, the city has hosted a variety of expat organizations from mining companies to NGOs to a US military training mission and a large UN peacekeeping base.
On the couple of flights I have taken on this route, around 75 to 80% of the passengers get off in EBB, with only a handful remaining for Kisangani as their final destination. This doesn’t look good for company executives. But for an airline that is trying to rapidly expand its reach across the continent, stops like FKI give it a relative monopoly in some areas.
The recent cancellation of all flights to FKI without so much as a press release from KQ demonstrates that Kenya Airways is by far not acting like the world class airline it pretends to be, or the “Pride of Africa” for that matter. Not only does this mismanagement and serious customer service mishap demonstrate the airline’s immaturity, but should also attract the attention of would-be flyers to other small destinations that KQ currently offers routes to. At any moment, the airline could suddenly cancel flights, leaving passengers stranded.
In addition, this event should also attract the attention of its partners in the Sky Team Alliance. It might be time to review Kenya Airways standing as a partner. While smaller airlines in Africa are known to make last minute decisions (as a colleague experienced with Congo’s Hewa Bora last summer when the plane decided to leave 3 hours earlier than scheduled), Kenya Airways is considered to be one of the top airlines worldwide offering routes within Africa. The airline was named “African Airline of the Year” five times between 1999 and 2006. Not so much anymore it seems.