Kenya Airways Customer Service Counter "“
Nairobi Airport, 6:00 a.m.
"Good morning. I've just arrived on the delayed flight from Antananarivo in Madagascar and need to rebook …"
"Welcome to Kenya, sir. I hope you have a wonderful stay in our country."
"No, you don't understand. I'm not planning to stay. I need to get home to the U.S. Can you rebook me on a flight later this morning?"
"The lion park is near the airport. Only ten U.S. dollars by taxi. Many tourists visit it. Maybe you will have time too?"
"I don't think so. Can you rebook me? Other passengers got new itineraries in Antananarivo but the rest of us were told to get them here."
"I'm sorry, sir, you will need to wait."
"Isn't this the customer service counter?"
"Yes, it is."
"But you can't help me?"
"No, sir. We have to wait for the supervisor to unlock the computers."
"When will the supervisor be here?"
"Very soon, I hope. Please wait with the other passengers."
I joined a group of weary, disconsolate travelers, some of whom I recognized from the lines at the airport in Antananarivo. We had arrived there in mid-afternoon to be told that the Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi had been delayed. We were bused back into the city, returning at midnight. The flight eventually left at 4:00 a.m. Everyone missed their connections to Europe, Asia and North America. A few were given new itineraries and boarding passes but most of us were told we would receive ours on arrival in Nairobi.
"Where is the supervisor?"
"He is not here."
"Yes, I can see that. When will he be here?"
"Very soon, I hope. He rang to say he is finishing his breakfast."
"Any chance we can get some breakfast? You've got some angry, hungry passengers over there." For a moment, I imagined a group trip to the lion park and wondered who would eat who.
"I am sorry, sir. There is no food available in the transit area. Please wait."
"Sir, this is George, our customer service supervisor."
"Nice to meet you, George. Can you rebook me?"
"Please give me your passport and itinerary and I will enter the details into the system."
"You mean it's not already in the system? I thought that's what airline computer systems were designed to do"”store information."
"We will see. Your passport and itinerary, please."
"Sir, your details are now in the system."
"So can you rebook me?"
"You need another flight?"
"Yes. Don't you understand? Your flight from Antananarivo was delayed, and I missed the connection to Paris and then on to Atlanta."
"Please give me your credit card."
"Why do you need it?"
"So you can pay for the flight."
"I'm not paying for it. It's your airline's fault I'm stranded here. You need to find me another flight."
"I will have to talk to the sales office about it."
"Please do so."
George fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a tattered slip of paper with several phone numbers on it. He dialed the desk phone. After a few moments he replaced the receiver, pulled out another slip of paper and called on his mobile.
"They are not answering. Maybe it is too early and no one is there."
"What time does the sales office open?"
"In the morning."
"At what time in the morning?"
"Maybe by 10:00. It depends."
"I'll come back to the desk at 10:00, then?"
"Yes, sir, please do. And welcome to Kenya. May I recommend the lion park …"
"Is George here?"
"No, he has left for the day."
"He's left? Where did he go?"
"He went home. His shift is over."
"He told me to come back at 10:00 and he would call the sales office to rebook me."
"I will be happy to help you, sir. My name is Gladys. Let me welcome you to Kenya. Please give me your passport and itinerary so that I can enter the details into the system."
"But George already did that."
"We each have our own system for entering data. I will take care of it."
Gladys pounded the keyboard for a few minutes while I pondered the digital disaster that was the Kenya Airways reservation system. Gladys called the sales office. No answer.
"While we're waiting for the sales office, can you check available flights for me?"
Gladys pounded a few more keys, then frowned. "You could have taken the 8:00 a.m. flight to London and then connected to Atlanta on Delta."
"I was here at this desk at 8:00 a.m., and was told I could not be rebooked."
"I am sorry for the inconvenience. The next flight is not until tonight at 10:30 p.m.. The Paris flight you missed last night."
"I didn't miss it. Your airline did."
"Whatever you say sir."
Gladys has reached the sales office which issues a new itinerary.
"Can you print it for me?"
"We need to wait for the manager to approve it."
"You've got to be joking."
"No, sir. Only the manager can approve a rebooked itinerary."
"Where is the manager?"
Gladys conferred with her colleagues. "He is in a meeting."
"When will the meeting be over?"
"Soon, we hope."
"Is the manager out of the meeting?"
"Not yet, sir. Please wait."
"We've all been here for 5 Â½ hours. No food. No water. And no help. Please tell the manager he's going to have a riot on his hands if he doesn't deal with the situation. Can you call or text him?"
"We will try."
"The manager has approved your new itinerary, sir. Here it is with a voucher for a hotel for the day. You will need to be back by 8:00 p.m.”
“Perhaps you still have time for the lion park?"
Written by: David H. Mould
As a teacher, researcher and consultant, David Mould has visited more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, usually at someone else’s expense. His official title is professor emeritus of media arts and studies at Ohio University, but he describes himself as an “itinerant academic worker.” Born in the UK, he worked as a newspaper and TV journalist before moving to the US. His first book on travel, history and culture, Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia, was published in 2016 (Ohio University Press). His second, Monsoon Postcards: Indian Ocean Journeys, will be out in 2019.