Kenya Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2013 (Part 3)

Are you sitting comfortably? (I would if I was you, this may be a long one!)

OK, it’s been almost a week since my children departed Schipol airport, 60 hours less since they finally landed and 78 hours less since the other 297 (Remember that number) passengers of flight KQ117 finally arrived in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, 66 hours later than planned. Despite having been promised otherwise I have yet to hear from Kenya Airways Customer Relations team. It’s time to name and shame I think?

Those of you who saw my twitter feed during, or read the first two parts of this blog (Pt 1 is here and 2 is here) will already know what happened, or so you think. A quick search of twitter using the hashtag #KQ117 will expose a far worse picture than Kenya Airways would want you to see, and apparently the saga is still ongoing.

From my point of view there were many players in the weekend; the airline, Kenya Airways* (KQ), the booking agent, Hogg Robinson Group (HRG, and the wonderful staff on their 24 Hr Emergency Desk), the ground handling agent, GoldAir**, the British Embassy in Athens (which I mistakenly referred to as a High Commission in my earlier blogs), the Sofitel at Athens Airport and its staff, the support staff at my work and, of course, my children.

* I include KLM and the overarching partnership Sky Team here.
** I’m unsure if GoldAir are part of the Sky Team partnership or merely the handling agent at the airport who ended up responsible for the aircraft once it had carried out its emergency landing.

I’m going to start with the good here…

HRG. In all truth, a corporate version of Thomas Cook or some other travel agent. My children’s flights were booked through HRG with KLM (and KQ operated the second leg of the flight as part of Sky Team). Can you imagine calling Thomas Cook at 0200hrs and asking for their help with the airline they booked your flight on? Remember, I’m not talking about a holiday rep, I’m talking about an office in the UK. I called them at all times of day and night and never once had to wait to be put through, I was never placed on hold and I was always greeted with a cheery voice. The ladies I dealt with over the 48 hour ordeal were quite wonderful, ever helpful, they always called me back when they said they would, were always forthcoming with as much information as they could discern and, I believe, became personally involved in the unfolding drama. Debby, Tracey and Jenny were texting each other and emailing each other even when off duty to see how the ‘two children’ were getting on. It was through HRG that I heard the information that KQ didn’t want the media or, more importantly, their passengers to hear. They all deserve medals!

Sofitel. A luxury hotel less than 50m from Athens airport (apparently?). The staff in this establishment showed themselves to be truly professional, willing to go the extra mile for their guests and, thankfully, willing to act in loco parentis when KQ, who had a duty of care, decided to neglect their obligations. From the Concierge who sought out an Apple charger for my children’s iPhones to the member of staff who arranged for my children’s clothes to be laundered and returned to them within two hours, their conduct was exemplary. And then there was the Duty Manager. No one person put my mind at ease throughout this whole experience more than he. Frequent calls from him to my children, the odd visit and even more calls to me allowed me to relax on the Sunday more than any other player in this saga. Having never set foot in the Sofitel Athens, or to my recollection, any hotel in their chain, I would wholeheartedly recommend considering this hotel as a base for a visit to their capital.

The not so good…

GoldAir. Now, before I get stuck in here, I need to explain… GoldAir don’t usually deal with KQ. In fact I’m not sure if they usually deal with any Sky Team partners. Nevertheless they were the ground handling agents responsible for flight KQ117 during the whole time they were on the ground. Whether intentional or not they misinformed HRG on more than one occasion and made one or more decisions which I don’t believe they should have. As a redeeming factor, their final decision managed to allow my children to arrive home more than 18 hours before the remaining 297 passengers. (Remember that number.)

The British Embassy, Athens. I have no idea what they did, or what they didn’t do in Greece. I do know that the Defence Attaché called back from his own holiday and arranged for something to happen. I also know that his deputy (I don’t know her real title) provided me with her private mobile number should I need further assistance. I also know that someone from the Embassy contacted either the airline or the hotel and that the performance of all involved made my children’s Sunday afternoon in Athens all the more bearable. And that’s all I could ask.

And the bad…

Kenya Airways. Where do I begin? The 49 passengers who only had single entry visas and were abandoned by KQ in the holding room at Athens airport? The faulty landing gear which was never reported? The paperwork required to fly on the Sunday evening which wasn’t submitted? No. I’ll start with what I consider to be their greatest failing. At least 4 children we flying on KQ117 as Unaccompanied Minors (UNMNR) and were, by all accounts, unceremoniously abandoned by the airline which had agreed to carry these children. Two of them had flown from Edinburgh, the other two had flown even further, from Los Angeles!

An airline agrees to be responsible for a child or children travelling as UNMNR from the point of departure where someone (in our case the Grandparent) ‘signs’ the children over to the airline and is meant to remain in the airport until the aircraft departs, and they are then responsible for the child or children, accompanying them at all times, until such time as they arrive at their destination and are ‘signed’ back to the parents (in our case at least). Sky Team (KLM and Kenya Airways) failed in this obligation, and worse, on several occasions:

1. At the point of departure, flying with KLM, the flight was delayed just over 30 minutes. My Father was not informed of this delay and had, in fact, left the airport well before the aircraft actually departed. Not a good start, and it went downhill from there.

2. An hour before the time they were supposed to land in Nairobi the airline contacted me to advise that the flight had been delayed and would land at 22:55hrs instead of 06:35hrs. The fact that, at this time, the airline knew that the aircraft had executed an emergency landing as a result of a fire alarm in the cargo hold and yet didn’t inform me is, to my mind, a matter of gross misinformation at best and negligence at worst.

3. The crew of KQ117 left my children for periods of up to 7.5 hours at a time on several occasions during their stay at the Sofitel (that’s a whole day at school without a teacher) and provided them with no information as to how to contact the crew if something happened. This is wholely unacceptable and can only be described as negligence, or in my terms dereliction of duty.

4. On several occasions the airline advised either HRG or myself that someone would visit my children, and they didn’t, or that my children were somewhere in particular (on the aircraft, in the departure lounge, in the hotel) when they weren’t. That isn’t negligence, it’s deceit. Lying, plain and simple.***

5. With the exception of the phone call on the Saturday morning to say the aircraft wasn’t landing on time, and the Monday morning when they called to advise me the flight would arrive at 08:35hrs, I received only one call from Kenya Airways in the entire 51 hours I was aware of the situation. That call was from a rude, ungracious and completely inept member of their Customer Service team called Grace. For some reason this woman, apparently a mother herself, couldn’t understand why my wife would be concerned that her children were, to all extents, abandoned in a foreign country with no means of contacting those, supposedly responsible, adults charged with their care.

So far I’ve detailed what happened directly related to me. With children travelling as UNMNR I took it personally. There was so much more that went on during the weekend. Here are some more of Kenya Airways deceits:

6. The aircrew left the 49 passengers without visas in the airport with no way of contacting them. I fully understand why they were held, and I understand that the aircrew had to rest before resuming the flight. The fact they went hours without food or water, some were ill and were offered no assistance, it took hours for them to receive blankets to sleep on/with, and so it went on.

7. The aircrew were accommodated in a separate hotel to the guests (except my children) and, other than the time they took my children for a work, saw little or nothing of the other passengers.

8. The aircraft, despite the fire alarm being identified as a fault and then repaired, was deemed unfit to fly due to a fault with the landing gear. This fact, as far as I am aware, was not made clear. (Thank you GoldAir and HRG.)

9. Despite statements to the contrary, Kenya Airways (and/or the KCAA) did not provide the necessary paperwork for the plane to fly on the Sunday as they state. It may have been submitted, but definitely not in time for the departure window the aircraft was allotted that night.

10. 17 people were not flown on the Sunday’s KQ117 to Nairobi as stated by the airline. There were only 7 seats available on that aircraft and only 4 of those were used. By the four UNMNR passengers mentioned earlier. Remember that number? 297? That’s how many people were left to fly on the Monday (unless some passengers paid for their own onward passage to Nairobi, which I don’t know).

And then there’s the arrival. When I collected my children from Gate 9 in JKIA there was not one word of apology. That shouldn’t have surprised me, no-one had apologised throughout the whole weekend. (Except the staff at HRG and Sofitel who had nothing to apologise for). When I asked the member of the aircrew who finally delivered my children to me to see someone from Customer Services he asked me why? He then asked if I would go to their office rather than them come to me. When the young lady did finally deem it necessary to see me she, at first, refused to provide me with a complaints form. She also advised me that under no circumstances would any compensation be paid:

We don’t pay compensation under these circumstances.

And still she refused to provide me with the necessary forms. I’ll admit here to having raised my voice slightly. Eventually she relented and went to the office to get a complaints form. On her return she advised me that there were none in the office and that she’d have to go up to the main office to get some. (Hoping I’d give in and walk away?) Needless to say, I left JKIA with my children in tow and complaints form in hand.

Since all this I’ve heard nothing from Kenya Airways. I’ve still to hear one word of apology.

I have, however, been contacted by Katie from Sky Team who took my email address and advised me that Kenya Airways would be in touch.

They haven’t.

And I’m not surprised.

I am now beginning what will undoubtedly be a long, drawn out, complaints process. And I am a tenacious, patient and determined little bugger at times. (Just ask my Mum!)

*** I may be wrong here. This may only be a result of the compunction to tell you what you want to hear that I mentioned in Part 1, but then again…

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2 thoughts on “Kenya Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2013 (Part 3)

  1. Obviously a terrible ordeal for all concerned. But why does the embassy get listed under “not so good”? Sounds like they did what you needed them to.

  2. My son was on that flight thank goodness he is 20 but I was so thankful for technology at least I knew what was happening or not happening with him in Athens. The whole situation has been disgusting. I also kept ringing the 24 hour line in nairobi……spoke twice to them but sunday evening there was no answer. i left many messages on KLM facebook site complaining as he was on a KLM ticket!!!!! He eventually arrived here in Ndola, Zamba on Tuesday 9th July @1200hrs

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