Things fall apart

As we continue to endure the challenges and restrictions of this long pandemic, it’s clear that many businesses have adjusted the way they work. Many have made improvements to customer experience and staff engagement. The progress of digital transformation has been accelerated. Huge enterprises and side-hustles alike have transformed their fortunes by embracing e-commerce.

In Kenya it’s an economic truism that we must restore our travel and tourism industry, and it’s clear that both Government and private sector are striving towards this. An encouraging trickle of overseas tourists reminds us that now is not the time to give up, but instead to review our offerings to make sure they are in top condition.

Against this background I was disappointed by one of our internal airlines this week. While our national carrier and its low-cost brand have both done an admirable job of adapting the way they serve and protect passengers, this company seems to have lost the plot. Both outbound and return flights were late. The former because a member of the cabin crew has been delayed in traffic. These minor operational glitches happen, but a one-hour delay with aircraft and pilots waiting on the tarmac and passengers in the terminal suggest no contingency planning.

Communication was poor, and gave passengers no confidence. Staff were trying to do their best in their own way but there was no sign of any management presence. No suggestion of a culture that says ‘we’ve got this’. The atmosphere in the airline’s own terminal was reminiscent of a country bus station wherein passengers and staff coexist in silent limbo, resigned to the prospect of interminable delay.

Many of us drifted back (through security) to avail ourselves of the cafeteria. Staff were pleasant but the coffee machine was broken. Those who ordered sandwiches were served them in what looked like smart branded paper packs but turned out to be airsickness bags.

The only light relief was afforded by a smart poster display, showing one of the company’s aircraft with the slogan ‘Ideal for weddings’. Hinting that the business understood even less about Marketing than it did about Operations.

Eventually we boarded a tired looking aeroplane and put our faith in the Almighty. The errant cabin crewman could easily have been left behind: he contributed nothing beyond closing the entry door.

Kenya has a tradition of effective local airline services, but this company (whose name suggests regional aspirations) is letting the side down. Seeming to lack a credible brand, a visible management team and a professional culture just at the time scrutiny from international travellers is returning.