Kenya Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2013 (Part 2)

After a few sporadic hours sleep I was up again at 0600 on 7 Jul 2013, wondering what the day would bring.

As it was a 24 hr service I called the HRG Emergency Desk for some reassurance.

HRG advised me that the airline had advised them that they were still awaiting confirmation that the spare part would be leaving Amsterdam today and wouldn’t know anything until later in the day. Bear in mind that my children were advised by the Captain of KQ117 that they’d be advised by 10:00 what would be happening.

I called Kenya Airways Operations (KQO from here on in as I’m getting lazy!) and they basically confirmed what HRG had told me, with their own little twist; they stated that nothing could be confirmed until after 12:05 as that was the time the KLM flight was to leave Amsterdam.

I had spent a few hours planning an alternative for getting my children home and needed to know before 11:00 if things were going to plan. Looked like I was going to have to wait.

08:00 Called the children at the hotel to see if they’d slept well regardless, and to ask if anyone had visited to check on them since the Captain spoke to them last night. Yes, they’d slept well. No, no-one had come to see them.

08:05 I called my support network at work and set the wheels in motion to put the rocket up someone’s arse in the aircrew.

08:10 I called Sofitel Athens and asked the receptionist to put me through to a member of the aircrew. She wouldn’t (and quite rightly so in hindsight). After a short volley of ever more heated retorts from both of us she advised that the only person who could allow this was the Duty Manager.

I asked to be put through and she acquiesced, obviously explaining the situation before patching me through. I cannot put in to words how much the next few minutes set my mind at ease.

Koromidos (I think?) was polite, courteous, professional and empathised with my situation hugely. He promised that he would personally take over supervision of my children and that were to feel free to contact him at any time, he would ensure they were fed and watered, had access to snacks etc .

In the next 25 minutes I had 3 calls from the Sofitel Duty Manager (I can only bring myself to get his name wrong once!) advising me that the children were safe, that he had gone up to see them, that they were on their way to breakfast etc. That’s more contact in 25 minutes from a man who was going out of his way to help than I had heard in 28 hours from KQO who had a legal obligation to keep me informed.

Oh! I forgot to mention that last night’s Concierge had located an Apple charger to allow my children to charge their iPhones. (More Brownie points for Sofitel!)

12:10 I received a call from HRG confirming that the aircraft had indeed taken off carrying the spare part required for the landing gear. There was still no mention of this further fault from KQO.

12:20 I called the children to ask if they’d had the update from the aircrew. No.

12:28 I received a call from my employer advising me that they had contacted the British High Commission in Athens and gave me a contact number should I need it.

12:35 I called my children and told them what I’d found out.

All we could do now was sit and wait…

14:10 I received a call from the Sofitel Duty Manager asking me if it was okay for the aircrew to take my children for a walk… Of course it was.

14:24 My children called to say they’d been bought ice cream by the aircrew and that they were going out for a walk. I sense something has changed, don’t you?

15:40 My children called to say that, while the aircrew had taken them out for a walk, apparently the crew had been mobbed by passengers from the flight who saw them leave the hotel and, for safety reasons, one of them had returned the children to the hotel. Anyone who has been in Africa and has seen a mob, riot, emotionally charged situation, will know just how sensible a decision this was.

At 15:10, having been advised by the hotel and HRG that everything was looking good for tonight I went down to some friends to watch the Wimbledon Men’s Final.

16:35 HRG called to advise that the part had arrived in Athens and that everything was on schedule.

18:30 HRG called to advise that the aircraft had been repaired and was currently undergoing safety checks, however there was a requirement for some additional paperwork to be sent from Kenya (KQO or KCAA, I’m not sure) and this was being worked on. Once this was received all would be good to go. HRG also advised that the children were to be collected from the hotel in a short time and taken directly to the aircraft, where they would be given VIP treatment and had been upgraded to Business Class.

19:40 HRG called to advise that the airline had stated children were on the aircraft, they’d be waiting about an hour, but would be departing on time.

20:30 HRG called again to advise that the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority were still waiting on the necessary paperwork for the flight to depart, but the flight had a departure slot at 22:30 and things should be ok.

21:00 My daughter called to see if I knew what was happening as they were still in the departure lounge. At this point I almost explode, as far as the airline had told my booking agent the children were on the aircraft almost 2 hours ago!

21:10 I call HRG and ask them to find out what they can. They’re as confused as I was and promise to call back in a short while.

21:20 HRG call back advising that the children are indeed in the lounge but the intention is that they will board soon, and the aircraft still has a departure window tonight (somewhere before 00:30), but the necessary paperwork still hasn’t been received.

You’ll notice at this point that I have received no phone calls from KQO all day. I’ve called them once or twice but they seem totally unable to provide any information.

23:40 HRG called to advise that the flight had been cancelled. The necessary clearance had not been received for the aircraft to fly over specific airspace (more on this in my notes later) and therefore it had missed it’s departure window. The handling agent had advised that the children would be returned to the hotel where they would receive a late dinner and then sleep and, after breakfast, be returned to departures to be ready should the aircraft be allowed to depart.

23:54 I called my daughter to advise her what was happening, they hadn’t been told anything. While I was on the phone a member of the aircrew made the announcement to the remaining passengers and I heard all hell break loose. My daughter advised that she had to go as it was getting rowdy in the lounge.

00:31 I called my daughter again to make sure that she was ok. A security guard in the lounge had decided that the lounge was too volatile and moved my children and other Unaccompanied Minors to an office upstairs. They were to wait there and a member of the aircrew would come to escort them to the hotel. Yet again, one of the few good decisions made during the whole mess.

01:02 I called HRG to find out what was going on. They had been told the children were in the hotel.

01:10 HRG called to confirm that the handling agent/airline had confirmed that the children were on their way to the hotel.

01:34 I called my daughter to confirm that they were safely in the hotel and find out what room they were in. They were still in the office above the lounge.

01:36 I called HRG to find out what was happening. They had no further information.

01:47 I called my daughter again who advised that a member of the airline had told them they were trying to get them on an alternative flight.

01:54 I called HRG, who had not been advised of any additional flight at all. This could not be done without contacting either myself or the booking agent. They advised they would call back shortly.

02:07 I called my daughter who advised that she was on a bus on the Tarmac heading to another plane with two other Unaccompanied Minors. I asked her to give the phone to the member of aircrew accompanying her. There wasn’t one. I asked her to tell the driver to stop the bus and put him on the phone. The driver explained that tonight’s KQ117 from Amsterdam had diverted to Athens to collect cargo and that the Captain had stated he had sufficient spare seats to carry the Unaccompanied Minors to their final destination. Seeing light at the end of the tunnel I told him to proceed.

02:10 I called HRG who were completely flabbergasted. They accepted my decision and stated they would confirm what was happening.

02:15 HRG called back to confirm that KQ117 had diverted that night’s aircraft from Amsterdam to collect cargo and the Captain offered to carry the Unaccompanied Minors.

02:34 HRG called back to confirm that the aircraft had departed Athens and that they would be landing in Nairobi between 08:30 and 09:00.

And rest… Until 05:38 later this morning at least.

With the exception of the burst of energy in the middle of the day from the aircrew, KQO had again been totally uncommunicative. I received more calls from the hotel’s duty manager in 25 minutes than I did from the airline in 36 hours.

The reason for this apparent recollection that they had a duty of care to my children became clear once I had spoken to my children this morning. The British High Commission had called the hotel and spoken to the staff and the aircrew. The aircrew apparently misconstrued this interest as indication that my children had diplomatic connections (they don’t by the way) and, on next meeting them after lunch, were bowing to them and shaking their hands and saying how nice it was to meet them ;o)

This bit of light humour and enjoyment for my children was the only good news from KQO for the day. There was a spate of incorrect information, misguidance and even, to my mind, more negligence than there was yesterday. What annoys me even more is the fact that they were willing to make changes to their plans without advising their parents or the booking agent, which I’m fairly sure is a breach of several IATA guidelines and any covenant or charter an airline has with it’s customers?

Having lived in Kenya for some time now this shouldn’t surprise me. There is an inherent desire in employees in all Kenyan companies to tell you what they think you want to hear. When they don’t know what that is then they simply don’t tell you anything. That still doesn’t make their behaviour any more acceptable.

The next part of this blog will fill out some of the gaps in info on these first two parts, and detail some more the KQO responses via Twitter and Facebook during this dėbacle, and also what happened when I collected my children from KQO at JKIA later in the morning.

I will also highlight the heroes and villains throughout this whole experience. There are several of each, and the heroes are solely responsible from keeping my wife and I sane throughout this whole time and, with the exception of a 2 minute wobble around 09:00 – 09:30, managed to keep us from descending into blubbering wrecks at the thought of our children alone and unsupported in Athens.

More to follow…

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7 thoughts on “Kenya Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2013 (Part 2)

  1. Horrendous experience you and your kids went through, hope all is well now, however just one thing to point out, about Kenyan employees, I don’t think its a Kenyan employee thing, I worked at a major company in Kenya, Customer Care Dept. we had scripts to follow when faced with crisis, so we would tell customers what we were told to say and nothing more… Maybe Customer Care thing or Kenyan Company thing…

    • Fair point. However, what happens if the script doesn’t cover the situation? There is a reluctance to actually think beyond the guidelines, or to escalate matters. And over the weekend there were several occasions where they said “Yes, sir” to appease me, and then totally ignored the request or didn’t follow up on their promises. It was, quite simply, incompetence.

  2. Anyone who has been in Africa and has seen a mob, riot, emotionally charged situation, will know just how sensible a decision this was.

    Here again you link mobs to africanism! Come on! Riots can happen and will be violent anywhere in the world.

    You are one racist man.

    Once again I am sorry for the tribulations of your children it was not necessary

    • Sue. No. I’m not. I did not link mobs to Africa, I specified seeing one in Africa, there’s a difference.

      The point is made as most people who have not been to an African Nation, or a Middle Eastern one for that matter, are unlikely to be aware how these Nations wear their emotions on their sleeves and are far more emotive and vocal than most European Nations. It has nothing to do with race, it is to do with culture. What is culturally acceptable in some places is culturally alien in another.

      You never hear of a public linching in the UK nowadays, yet it’s a common report on the radio in Nairobi. This has nothing to with race, it is purely to do with culture. Do you see the difference?

      That’s 3 times from over 500 views that I’ve been accused of being racist (at least you had the courage to post with your name!) and all 3 times have been a result of someone being overly sensitive. I live in Africa, I love Kenya and have friends from all Nations and walks of life.

      Is my view different due to my cultural upbringing? Perhaps. Did I say my view was the correct one? No.

  3. Pingback: Kenya Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2013 (Part 3) | Grae's Descent

  4. I was on this flight too – I am a teacher, and another teacher who was with me were speaking to 2 UMs. We were horrified that they were being treated like this and we really wanted to look after them. Were they your kids? If so I’m so pleased they got back ok. Tell them Matt and Alison say Hi!

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