Monday, July 25, 2016

A pox on both of them.

Yesterday, in a fit of sheer madness, I spent eight hours waiting for Kenya Airways, the Pride of Africa, to shift my unhealthy mass from one of the East African Community to another, the lovely Dar es Salaam. It is with great feeling that I say this: if the management of the national flag carrier were ever to be infested with fleas, lice or ticks, I would not feel bad. Not for eight hours, any way. And I would hope, fervently so, that the ticks, lice and fleas would infest them for eight hours in creatively violent ways that years later these men and women would jerk awake in their slumber having experienced nightmares of that terror in the dead of night.

In the twenty first century, when the world is devising new and exciting ways to communicate, it is astounding that an airline that aspires to greatness is run like an office in Nyayo House, where secrecy, obfuscation, cant and sloth define how it communicates pertinent information to its paying passengers.

We are not gargoyles, incapable of accepting bad news and forever stuck in rictus grins over bad news. So it pisses me off that when KQ discovered that, for operational reasons, its flight KQ484 would be delayed to Dar es Salaam, it waited until the penultimate minute before it informed us that the flight would be delayed and that "further information would be provided after thirty minutes." Thirty minutes turned out to be more like an hour and a half. The apology was perfunctory and impersonal: the flight would be delayed for a further three hours. (May those fleas, lice and ticks feast with great vigour on their flesh.)

Terminal 1A at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a fine place but only if you aren't going to miss your flight or there are no delays. For the two hours after you check in, it is just fine. Any longer and its deficiencies are glaring. T-1A is KQ's base of operations for all intents and purposes, but it is quite clear that the KQ partnership with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority is in name only and some of the decrepit facilities at T-1A are only the most obvious.

First, the PA system is shit. The echoes and the hubbub in the terminal ensure that many announcements by KQ staff are garbled and inaudible. When we were first informed of the thirty minute delay, few heard the message clearly and the confusion was writ large especially on this group of elderly travellers who struggled to keep up with the Swahili and English announcements.

Second, the whoever updates the touch-screen terminal's data took his sweet time. (I especially hope he gets a visit from fire ants too in addition to the lice, fleas and ticks.) Some of us are usually quite sanguine about things; what will be will be and information paucity is not a big deal. But unless you are used to the Kenyan Way, a common effect of it is panic which is usually magnified by many orders of magnitude when you try, alternatively, to seek clarification from a service provider, like KQ, or a government official, like KCAA's yellow-jacketted drones. Neither encounter will leave you with joy-joy feelings. They probably leave you enraged.

Third, power points are falling apart. I saw exposed sockets that seemed to have been that way for months. I saw non-functioning sockets where no matter how much you wiggled your plugs, your device remained stubbornly without juice.

Fourth, and most egregious, is the price-gouging that is the airport WiFi. I can just about accept the Sarova Stanley charging me swingeing fees for use of their WiFi whenever I accidentally find myself detouring through the Exchange Bar, but when I am being held hostage by both the airport's operator and the national flag carrier, free WiFi doesn't seem like too much to ask. But as KQ and KCAA blithely squeeze the last cent out of me while keenly ignoring the things that make air travel bearable, they shouldn't be surprised that when they do screw up, there will be little understanding for their indolence and malafide incompetence.

Kama kawaida, the only people who think that KQ is a fine, fine airline and T-1A is wonderfu, just wonderful airport terminal are people whose experiences do not involve queues or personal service. They have a bevy of flunkies to schlep for them. That is not ninety percent of the flying public. Say it with me, good people: I hope, fervently so, that ticks, lice and fleas would infest KQ's and KCAA's managements in creatively violent ways.

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