Thursday, April 14, 2011

African airlines experiences

I have a feeling that if I go over my various emails and notes from the last 10 years I will find that I have spent altogether between 1 and 2 unplanned and unwanted weeks at airports or hotels due to the sometimes glaring incompetence of various African airlines.

I mean like arriving at the airport to be told the plane has already left "we rescheduled but called everyone". No you obviously did not.

Or arriving at the airport to be told that the flight has been cancelled. I like a recent one that did not happen to me: "that flight was removed from the schedule months ago". So why in the name of any God have they then issued tickets less than 2 weeks ago to the flight? And to a number of passengers, not just 1 or 2?

And of course the most common one: the flight is delayed. And here is when the chaos normally really kicks in. For whatever reason noone present at the airport never seems to know why. SHOULD someone know why or for how long this is almost never announced over the sometimes working speaker system. Why this is so - I have never understood.

It feels like "don't give out information in case it is wrong better just pretend all is normal". The problem is that after a couple of hours or so it is obvious to everyone that it is NOT "business as expected" any longer.

A point in case is my own experience from a few weeks ago: Arrive at the airport for a flight that has already been rescheduled/delayed. Checked in and all seems "normal". Except there is no plane in sight. Or information. Or staff from the airline.

I finally find a "business lounge" where a terrified young lady has ran out of snacks and drinks to keep the crowd calm, some of which I found out had been trying to get home since the day before... she knew nothing (can not blame HER for that) and noone else did. After hours of waiting the plane finally arrived and we did actually get on our way.

I can understand and tolerate delays, I can understand problems. Believe me we were very patient with Air Zimbabwe during the "gonomics" hyperinflation era -but that was because we knew what was going on (meaning the challenges they were dealing with, not what was happening at the airport - they are masters in the "non-information game").

What I do not understand is the total lack of professionalism in dealing with the situation. If it regularly happens to your company - try and figure out and correct why. If you can not for "reasons beyond your control" then at least make sure that staff is on site that can inform the passengers and deal with problems like connecting flights etc.

A more comical attitude to the passengers is displayed by at least 2 national airlines: demand that the passengers are checking in well before you open for check-in. In other words ask them to be at the airport in the morning some 30 minutes or so before you arrive and open for check-in yourself.

I suspect the main causes for this sad state of affairs are a mixture of overregulated airspace and "national" government-controlled airlines. Not giving the buyer/passenger much of a choice is of course a safe way to be able to treat them as described above.

Finally let me mention 2 exceptions: South African Airways and Ethiopian Airways.

And last of all thank all the staff I met over the years who actually try to do their best - there are more of you than this description might make you think!

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