Kenyan Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2012 (Part 1)

Last Friday, 5 July 2013, my two children finished the Summer term at school in the UK. We’d arranged for them to finish a day early so they could catch the Sky Team (Kenya Airways/KLM) flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam and on to Nairobi on KL4141/KQ117 arriving at 0635 on the Saturday morning.

Well, that was the plan at least. They finally arrived, along with 2 others from their flight, in Nairobi at 0830 this morning (8 July 2013) with over 290 other passengers still stranded in Athens, Greece, awaiting further information as to when they will eventually get home, or to their holiday destination.

The events of the weekend have highlighted to me the failings of ‘partner’ airlines and the utter incompetence, bordering on complete negligence, of Kenya Airways whose slogan, rather ironically, is “The Pride of Africa”.

Here is what happened, to the best of my knowledge. (Items with ‘~’ include information I became aware of after the fact, either from my children (who were flying as Unaccompanied Minors on the flight), other passengers, my booking agents (whose staff all deserve medals!) or the handling agent at the airport.)

5 Jul 2013

Flight KQ117 departed Schipol Airport (AMS) en route to JKIA (NBO), due to arrive at 0635 on 6 July 2013.

6 July 2013

~ 01:08 – KQ117 landed at Athens Airport, Greece, after a fire warning alarmed in the cargo hold and the flight was diverted for safety reasons. On landing the pax were advised this was due to a fault and that there had been no fire.This part of the saga I’m happy with. Kenya Airways followed protocol and dealt with the matter swiftly and professionally.

~ 02:20 – Pax were disembarked and led to a waiting area within the airport while safety checks were carried out.

~ 05:00 – Pax were advised the flight would not be resuming and that they would be taken to local hotels while the situation was resolved.

~ 05:10 – My children arrive at the Sofitel just outside Athens Airport.

05:18 – Kenya Airways Operations call me to advise that flight KQ117 has been delayed and that it will now be landing at 2255 on 6 Jul 2103.

08:00 – I receive a call from a friend asking if I have seen my daughter’s Facebook update.

08:01 – I check Facebook and find the following update:

“We left your luggage in Amsterdam by mistake”
“The plane is smoking but we don’t know why” I’m worried
“Emergency landing in Athens, get off the plane”
“Free food and wifi” I’ll live. ;)

08:01 and a bit… Now I’m worried. Delay? An emergency landing is NOT a delay!

08:05 iMessage my daughter to confirm she wasn’t joking. No joke.

08:06 Called Kenya Airways Operations to ask about the emergency landing, they confirmed the event, without an apology, and advised that the fault had been repaired and that the flight would still be arriving at 22:55.

At this point my children’s phones were running out of battery so I told them to turn them off and contact me when they heard more or if there was an emergency. The airline couldn’t tell me what hotel they were in, but I was content that they’d be home the same day…

Or so I thought.

12:38 Received a call from the children advising they had not eaten since the last night, they had been told they were not allowed to watch the TV in the hotel room and that they had seen no-one from the aircrew since being ‘dumped’ in their hotel room. I advised my children to call 0 and ask the hotel reception for assistance.

~ 14:15 – Children collected by a member of the crew and taken for lunch. This is the first they seen any crew member since 0510 and the first they have eaten since before midnight on 5 July.

~ 16:30 Children due to leave hotel and board KQ117 for onward flight to Nairobi.

18:45 Received iMessage from children advising that they were still in the hotel despite being told they would board at 16:30. No-one from the airline had been to see the children since 14:15. Advised children to go to the hotel reception and get me the hotel details including phone number, name, website etc.

19:15 – Called Kenya Airways Operations to ask why the aircraft wasn’t departing as planned. I was advised that aircraft had developed further fault and the aircraft would leave no earlier than the night of 7/7/13. Asked why neither the children or myself had been advised of the further delay, they had no explanation.

19:25 – Children called from hotel reception providing all the info I requested. At least now I can call them any time.

20:06 Received call from Grace at Kenya Airways Corporate Customer Relations asking what the problem was? Advised that no-one was accompanying the children, who were flying as Unaccompanied Minors. Advised that Ishmael, from the air crew, would be with the children shortly.

20:15 – Called the Sofitel at Athens Airport and asked some questions as to what the children could/couldn’t do. The receptionist was excellent and very helpful. Was then put through to the hotel room and managed to calm the children down. At least they can while away the hours with TV now!

20:20 Called my booking agent, HRG, to gather further information and request assistance.

20:25 HRG called to advise that they were in contact with the handling agent in Athens and that the further fault was related to the landing gear and that the aircraft was unfit to fly, and Kenya Airways were planning to fly the spare part from AMS tomorrow and this would not arrive prior to 1630 hours on 7 July 2013. Note that this information has not been made public to the best of my knowledge. HRG had been advised that Ishmael or Monica were with the children and that they were being looked after.

20:36 Called the children to confirm they had been seen. Again, no-one had been to see them.

20:37 Called Grace at Kenya Airways Customer Relations to demand someone saw the children, was told someone would be with them shortly. This was after Grace stated that we should be relieved the aircraft landed safely, and that she couldn’t understand why we were concerned.

~ 2040 Children were taken to the hotel restaurant for their evening meal.

21:13 HRG called to advise they were unable to offer an earlier flight and advised waiting for KQ117 to be rescheduled. HRG confirmed children were flying as Unaccompanied Minors and that aircrew, hotel and handling agent would, from now on, look after the children.

21:33 Called children to confirm that they had been seen by any staff and that they were now being properly cared for. They advised that, after dinner, they were taken to see the flight’s Captain and were told they would know more by 1000hrs on 7/7/13.

21:45 I called Kenya Airways Operations to confirm when the spare part would be in Athens. They were unable to confirm this as the part was still to be located and KLM were still to confirm it would be on a flight.

22:00 – 01:00 Various phone calls and FaceTime calls to the children to make sure they were ok and to reassure them as much as possible.

This is only the beginning of the saga but already it shows some total failings in the policies and procedures of Kenya Airways Operations and Customer Services staff.

I called KLM at some point during the above timeline to ask what their policy was regarding Unaccompanied Minors in these situations. They advised that, as with airlines such as BA etc., their policy is to make sure that the children are accompanied 24 hours a day. When I asked if their partner airlines (Kenya Airways in particular) had the same policy I was advised that they couldn’t confirm this, Delta Airlines and Air France do, but they couldn’t couldn’t confirm regarding Kenya Airways.

Between 05:00 and 20:40 on 6 July 2013 my children were left alone for at least 13.5 of 15 hours. This is not acceptable.

My employer has an excellent support and welfare network and I spent much of the time between the calls detailed above trying to arrange an alternative onward flight, or a return to Amsterdam or the UK. With the best of intentions we couldn’t have achieved this as, even with the shortest connections, it would have taken them 25.5 hours to reach Nairobi. And they were due to arrive 24 hours later.

This wouldn’t have worked anyway as my children were flying as Unaccompanied Minors which meant the airline ‘owned’ them until such time as they signed them back over to me. While this may be annoying it is also reassuring as it means someone is legally responsible for my children and no Tom, Dick or Harry can take them. Well, not in the case of Kenya Airways, who apparently took absolutely no responsibility for them.

Kenya Airways provided me with no information directly other then the call at 05:18 advising the flight had been delayed. They did not advise my children what room the aircrew were in at the hotel or how to contact a member of the crew if something was wrong. This is negligence, pure and simple. The airline had a duty of care to those children and they failed at every turn.

At around midnight on 6 July I looked up Kenya Airways on Facebook and Twitter (I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier, I’m an IT professional!). Their Facebook page only allows comments on their own posts and does not allow users to post their own status updates. Twitter, however, is another story.

The Kenya Airways twitter feed (@KenyaAirways) was awash with irate tweets from abandoned passengers, uninformed parents, family and friends and a number of bland, uninformative, posts from JM and MH of Kenya Airways. The passengers tweets painted a bleak picture, at least 49 passengers were stuck in a waiting room due to visa issues and were receiving no support from the aircrew or handling agent, some were ill and were refused medical attention, and no-one was kept abreast of the situation at all.

There was a link to a press release on the twitter feed, however it was not posted on Kenya Airways public page but an employee’s private page so it was not viewable by anyone other than the employees friends. I asked Kenya Airways why on their Twitter page and received this by way of response:

@KenyaAirways: @grae2x5 This was necessitated due various inevitable circumstances and agreed internal communications, we note your concern though.^jm

I don’t even know what this means!!

As if this is not bad enough, the next 24 hours would prove even worse.

More to follow…


3 thoughts on “Kenyan Airways Flight 117, 5 July 2012 (Part 1)

    • Tim, it’s not all bad, in hindsight it could possibly be called a comedy of errors, at the time it was quite a frustrating and upsetting experience. Having your 13 yr old in tears on the end of a phone asking to come home isn’t something I’d recommend to any parent!

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

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