Can I Get A Hand? Kenya Airways: “No”

January 3, 2018

So this one time I was late to the airport and they threatened to compound all my climbing gear at security 30 seconds after they gave a last call for my gate… I almost re-missed my next connection because an airport doctor examination on a barley conscious companion completed 30 minutes before that flight outside security… Followed by almost being kicked off the plane since my medical wavered friend looked feverish and had just left plague-ridden Madagascar…

I guess this story is worth sharing.

Kenya Airways I Think You Don’t Love Me

After three weeks in Madagascar I was excited to head to the great land of spice: India! Only 24 hours of flying from Antananarivo 🇲🇬 > Nairobi 🇰🇪 > Mumbai 🇮🇳 > Delhi 🇮🇳 all on Kenyan Airways flights. Just 22 hrs before my flight I had checked in when I received a love message from Kenya Airways: “Flight Canceled, new itinerary leaves two hours later”.

How nice I thought, they put me on a new flight just two hours later. They have so much respect for my physical fitness that they think 15 minutes is all that I need for an international layover between my Nairobi and Mumbai flights. They must be reading my blog.

However, I am a humble person. I don’t want to show off my 15 minute layover over others so I found a Kenyan Airways office in Antananarivo to try to reduce Kenyan Airways expectations.

Here, at the office, I learned there were no other Kenyan Airways flights that could get me to Delhi at the time we agreed (afternoon) so that Sadie could both prepare for and make her international work phone calls and I could visit with my friends getting married.

Unfortunately, the staff here too was unrelenting in their confidence in me. Both her and her caring manager refused to book me on another airline’s flight, provide a WiFi code so I could look up flights or hold the connection. Unfortunately I had slacked in my daily memorization chants of each of the major airline’s cancelation policies so I could not enlighten both her and her manager that booking another airline was an acceptable action for Kenya Airways. I was also too ashamed to admit it wasn’t possible for me to travel back in time once I arrived to Delhi so we could meet all the difficult to reschedule appointments made according to Kenya Airline’s promised schedule in exchange for only my happiness and 20 grams of gold.

After continuing to ask the representative to uphold the most profound knowledge present in the original timetable to transport me to Delhi for our such important commitments she had an epiphany! The first suggestion I had an hour ago, that’s it! “We will hold the plan for you!” she told me. Relief washed over me as I felt to alignment of the international airline connection universe come back into place. In shock of this achievement I repeated,

“You will hold the plane?”. She returned by embracing me with the same unmeasurable caring for my person, Kenyan Airline’s pristine knowledge of proper arrival times and absolute understanding of all the difficulties this process and any changes to the flight schedule would have created. “Yes, Go!” her words sang in across the room as she pointed towards the door.

Where is Everyone Going?

Later that day in an effort to restore my honor to my family for not being able to make the 15 minute connection; Sadie and I stopped at the National craft market for gifts on the way to the airport for 30 minutes.

It is only six miles to the airport from my hotel to the airport so we allowed one hour for the mysterious Antananarivo traffic that Madagascar can produce with such determination on one lane highways. Luckily we were given a gift ourselves to practice patience when this journey took an extra 30-45 minutes. Approaching baggage check we pronounced free of a fever that could indicate we had contracted plague from the current epidemic inside of two types plague in Madagascar that had one airline cancel all their flights to the country. But not my trusted friend and colleague Kenya Airlines!

Finally reaching baggage check a couple minutes after “last bag” we found the Kenyan Airways kiosk aesthetically empty. A neighboring airline said, “I will help you” even though she indicated it was a difficult situation for everyone. Clearly she didn’t respect me enough to handle the situation through my airline policy chants know to magically transport my bags to the plane like Kenya Airways.

Uncomfortably, she told me, “Your bag has gained some weight I see. You know a balanced diet and regularly exercise is a secret to maintaining a healthy weight.” Such ashamed I felt for my bag! I threw all my climbing carabiners and slings into my carry on and continued through exit customs and through security.

You Look Like a Bad Man

As is custom, my carry on bag was stopped here for further inspection. “Oh, all that metal is my climbing gear or the weird electronics is my Holy water purification UV pen I explain.” The security people understood completely, “you will use these pieces of rope to strangle the pilot they told me”. In shock, I quoted the most respected authority in the United States. “The TSA who invented the fun game called ‘does this country require me to take off shoes’ and considers pieces of cloth with upset faces as a security risk allowed me to bring not only this but all my large metal climb cams onboard flights. I ensure you, Madagascar nor Kenyan Airlines does not have more enemies than the United States.” They were too enlightened however for my lowly pleading.

In absolute righteousness they told me, “You can recheck this in your luggage”. “No”, I told them, “my flight leaves I thirty minutes no one is there, can I check it at the gate?” Language as a barrier like a border wall between shared concepts and understanding, I was told to sit down.

Sitting while asking what I was waiting for and reiterating the minutes passing before my flight departed must have been the secret to solving this issue. Without the airport security fetching or calling anyone, a Kenyan Airlines personnel was hailed as they unknowingly walked across the terminal. “Ah yes, Kenya Airlines! They care for me so!” I thought.

The two conversed and I read her body language as saying, “He has come late to the airport for a challenge. I will not help him because it would demean his journey.” Yes, Kenya Airlines is wise.

After sitting for 30 minutes a new face finally appeared like a ruler descending reluctantly from their palace to inspect the poor fief’s condition after sufficient suffering. All the airport security agreed, just like with Kenya Airlines honoring the first suggestion regarding my 15 minute layer. The first solution was the right one. As the terminal speakers rang out the first call for final boarding on my flight they told me to go to the baggage check and check the bag separately.

What honor they have for my abilities to progress through security again after reaching baggage claim and materialize a Kenyan Airline’s employee to check my bag when my plane is preparing to close their cabin door. Honor is definitely the feeling most present after repeated attempts to humanly admit their task was impossible before sprinting back the same baggage check to the same neighboring airline employee who with such calm and sure voice agreed that this was not a task accomplishable by such a mortal as me.

With swiftness and a look of terror on my face I returned through customs to security with my illicit bag for another personal screening. “This is the last call for final boarding” rang the loudspeaker in authoritative absoutivity. Through whichever gestures and English words indicate ‘confiscate’ I reached final negotiated solution with the security as I turned to run to my plane.

WAIT!! Another man has appeared! The half an hour sitting meditation with the last minute run to baggage check to deposit all hope had finally completed the summoning ritual. After a short discussion with others I was told, “this is not fair to make us do this” from the summoned man who can only appear to pass judgment in the time of greatest need. With a sweep of a pen, the illicit bag crossed the magical line of security and my martial weapons returned to their benevolent forms of climbing equipment as I ran to the gate, onto the tarmac, up the stairs and into my seat.

Predicting that I might need to be in silent meditation away from supporting friends on this next plane the Kenya Airline’s employee who helped me in Antananarivo thoughtfully placed Sadie and I in separate seats after changing my flights around a couple times at her office. “Ah, yes. A middle seat where I can press knees into the seat in front of me and feel calming pain when the person in front of me reclines. This is much better than the isle seat next to my partner I had before I walked into the Kenyan Airline’s office”.

Oh, We Will Hold the Plane

To my dismay, I had no further need to exercise patience, persuasion or compassion on my Kenyan Airline’s flight full of helpful and attentive crew. Nearing landing I asked if Sadie and I could deboard first since we had a plane waiting for use on this 15 minute connection. “Oh, to Mumbai? The last Kenyan Airlines flight leaving tonight? Don’t worry, many people are on the flight. They won’t leave without you.” I relaxed back into my seat as the plane came in a couple minutes early.

Without expedience all passengers were deboarded, bussed through the terminal and pushed through customs with such endearing equality. No actions to inform staff of the waiting plane could break Kenyan Airlines’ steely commitment to such egalitarianism. Reaching the other end of customs I searched for the gate of my flight and found exactly what I was looking for:

FlIght 9W333 for Mumbai scheduled 20:55, DEPARTED 21:00

Clearly the flight attendants on my flight and the office woman in Antananarivo had informed the pilot of this departing plane to wait five extra minutes. Any passenger who clearly wanted to board that flight had more than enough time now that the layover was 20 minutes. No additional steps were needed to funnel us from one plane to another under such circumstances. Over the terminal speaks I almost heard the triumphant shouts and back slaps between the Kenyan Airlines employees who had kept their promise to keep me from missing the connection after their airline canceled my flight and created a 15 minute layover. I could almost see in my mind the embraces between colleague like you see when disasters are averted in NASA movies. I was reassured that my hour reaching a solution to the contract breach instigated by Kenyan Airlines on my flights was respected and as a customer Kenyan Airlines honors both their word on such resolutions but also doing the right thing.

This must have been the first thought of the Kenyan Airlines employee at the flight reschedule desk. He swiftly issued our tickets placing us in the air or on layover through Sadie’s prep time and in the air or in transit during her work calls. I would lose a day to see my friends getting married. Finally in this case there was nothing he could do. All the options available to choose a different airline before booking our ticket or change airlines at the Kenyan Airline office had been taken away from us and given to the all knowing Kenyan Airline company which simply knew we wanted to arrive a day later.

Johni Kimam Will You Be My Friend?

After three hours of being shuffled between KA desks and immigration I met my friend Johni Kiman. He was one of smoothest cats I know. He would interrupt our conversation to help other people, he wouldn’t pay for a hotel close to the airport, he wouldn’t pay for a taxi, he wouldn’t get his supervisor and he wouldn’t provide his employee information. I said, “man you are the most cool person I’ve met. You just don’t give a fuck. After this one hour connection we have together I gotta get your name”. This was Johni.

He would give us a room to a hotel 30 minutes from the airport by a bus that leaves every three hours. Now four hours after our plane landed. My partners stomach was waging some battle with the Airline meal and losing. Their headache and stomach pain increasing as if inflicted by KA’s desire for us to submit to their will.

Good Morning My Bed

Waking up to lovely Nairobi after four hours of sleep my colleague was celebrating our experience by moaning due to intense stomach pain, a small fever and an intense headache. She was in such celebration she could not be bothered to get out of bed!

I was alarmed though so I called a doctor in the USA, looked for 24 hour hospitals and pharmacy. It was 4am after all and our flight was at 8am. Finally I asked Kenya Airways it I could bump our flight so we could get some drugs to stabilize her (our medication was in our checked bags). I figured with how intent they were to delay us that this would suite their desires.

“Come! Come! Take the hour minimum bus to the airport for an airline doctor they coo’d at me”. After two hours of consultations and looking at other options taking a 20 EU taxi to the airport was the best we could do.

My companion was so enjoyed by this that she lay across a few seats crying in continued celebration in the bright light airport near the baggage check. Obviously they were expecting us because the doctor appeared after 40 minutes.

The doctor administered some medication after an exam to stabilize her to fly. I was considering this celebratory behavior was brought on by a mosquito born illness that might rhyme with row-laria. There were none of the other symptoms of travelers sickness to write it off as such.

A medical waver was produced by this doctor that my companion required extra “leg room” so she could lay down. Handing this to the active shift manager she stoutly suggested we go to hell. “The flight is booked and because you are economy we will not upgrade you to first class.” Clearly you should not respect a medical waiver from a doctor employee by your own company. What was I thinking? Keep that economy trash out of First class, as the saying goes.

Using the last of my wit I suggested that not respecting a medical waiver might cause the plane to land for medical emergency. Again a warm reply of “if you think that will happen I will deny her boarding and bump you onto another flight”.

Of course this was all happening in a very relaxed atmosphere of my companion sitting in a wheel chair 15 minutes before our flight leaves and before security. I was relaxed. That is how I would describe it.

Man how that wheelchair flew though through security as I broke off to visit a pharmacy for a couple of prescribed things and meet my withering companion melted in their chair with a face oh so white it makes me think of snow tonight.

You Got That Madagascar Funk

By now it’s clear how much a well oiled machine KA is. Boarding the plane everyone know what was going on when my crying, pale, wheelchaired companion boarded with assistance by me. The flight attendants asked, “Is she in pain? Where is she coming from? What is wrong?”

Remember that plague epidemic in Madagascar everyone is afraid of? I’m sure a passenger with a fever and folded in pain looks something like a plagued traveler from there and the attendants were worried about that and emergency landings. The attendants found an extra seat on the “booked” plane so my companion could lay down and asked her to hold on after 15 minutes with my medical form deciding whether to kick us off. “Can she hold on?” they asked and all I could say was “yes” with hope in my eyes.

Once in the air I told the whole story and the attendant asked, “didn’t they suggest seeing a doctor when you were at the airport the first time?” Ahhhh, the desire I have to even know that was an option. Clearly no other KA employee did…

My companion stabilized throughout the flight with the medicine and was able to walk on their own to catch a connection. To finally get to Delhi where a friend’s father was able to get her to a hospital for examination after 14 hours of sleep. The diagnosis was traveler’s sickness, which had now more clearly started, which was intensified by lack of sleep and stress from the missed connection woes.

Reaching Conclusion

I immediately chatted with KA reps and filed a complaint with KA in the only way possible, online. My email said typical response was 48 hours. Over the next few weeks on Facebook messenger and twitter I explained that 1, 2, 3 weeks is much longer than 48 hours. In 26 short days KA did respond in their knowledgeable and all knowing way. “We are sorry, but you got to Delhi didn’t you?”

Their response:

Dear Mr. Pollock,

Happy New Year!

Thank you choosing to fly Kenya Airways and we appreciate the time you have taken to share your feedback. We regret the time that has elapsed since its receipt. Please be assured that the delay in replying in no way implied a lack of concern over its content. Due to an unusually high volume of incoming requests we are unable to respond within the usual timeframe.

Kenya Airways remains committed to flight schedule integrity, nonetheless the nature of the airline operations is such that disruptions within and outside our control may occur for various reasons. In this case, the flight was cancelled due to operational issue and our guests were advised of the changes to plan accordingly. We deeply regret the overall effect that this had on your travel plans and have noted that the ensuing confusion due to the disruptions could have been handled in a better way.

In regards to re-booking on other airlines, this is done on airlines we have interline agreements with. Our staff do all possible to minimise the length of the delay should options be available.

We regret your travel partner feel ill and we hope she is doing better. However, our team are not able to offer a complimentary business class in this instances.

We recommend you follow up with your individual travel insurer should you have one for compensation. We regret that we are unable to reimburse the tickets as the service was provided.

We value you as our esteemed Guest and hope that this experience will not deter your future choice of travel with Kenya Airways. Please accept this as a formal apology for the disappointment and inconvenience suffered.


Ahlaam Ganzel