Taken for Granted (Not any more)

I was flicking through the channels on the TV…

Something I usually avoid like the plague is awards programmes and those sycophantic documentaries about Royals or stars. Imagine my surprise then, when I plumped for ‘Prince William‘s Passion: New Father, New Hope’ the other night.

I was interested in this for a couple of reasons; firstly he had just announced he was leaving the military to concentrate on his personal interests which I wanted to hear about, and secondly it was about Africa, where I live (albeit with a short time left).

There were several aspects of the programme I liked, not least the fact that William himself seemed so ‘human’. There was more than that, however. I recognised both people and places in the programme having lived here in Kenya for over two years now.

And that’s what struck me the most. I was sitting there, dumbstruck at the views being shown on the screen in front of me without once thinking that I drive through that very countryside every day.

View from Kilaguni Lodge

View from Kilaguni Lodge, to the South

Over the last few weeks I have driven from Nairobi North up the Rift Valley and back at least twice a week, coming to rest in the shadow of Mt Kenya. And I haven’t even given it a second glance.

How can you drive along the Southern edge of the Aberdares and not feel you’re somewhere special? Drifting past the banana and maize plantations with Kenyans working away, or through the garishly primary and secondary coloured villages with their breize block equivalents of Western Frontiers towns and villages, balconies draped with laundry over the shopfronts proudly proclaiming the wares inside in handwritten Crown paint signs is an experience in itself, even without considering the backdrop to those usually mundane sights.

Then you head onto the plains up to Ol Pejeta and Laikipia with a landscape and sky so vast you realise, finally, just how small a part of everything you are.

Yes, there was a deeper message to the programme, that of the Tusk Conservation Awards awarded by the Tusk Trust of which Prince William is the Patron. I was humbled by those featured in the programme, and hold those whom I’ve met in a new light. I’d love to have the money to devote my time to a conservation project (and believe me you need it) but I’ve resigned myself to being an onlooker to the fantastic work the likes of Mount Kenya Trust, Ol Pejeta and Lewa Conservancy do. Some of the best experiences I’ve had in Kenya have been those where I was touching distance from one of the ‘Big Five’, especially the rhino and elephant. (Not so much the buffalo, they smell awful!)

Walking with Rhino

Wallking with Rhino in Kenya

When I have guests over and we go on safari, I always self drive. I’m often asked if I get bored? How could I! Every day, even in the same area, it’s different. Four days in the Maasai Mara and you’d see four completely different landscapes and have four completely different experiences… Bored? Never. Complacent? I didn’t think so.

I drove up to Mt Kenya this morning with new eyes. The Sun was rising as I headed North from Nairobi through Thika, past Nyeri and up towards the mountain. The colours seemed fresher, the sunlight brighter and even when the clouds came in they couldn’t diminish my newly re-discovered wonder at this land before me.

I’m going to take my camera with me everywhere I go in these last few weeks of my time here. Especially on my safaris each of the next two weekends… I need to capture some more of these memories before I go.

Oh, and here’s one for HRH ;o)

A cheetah relaxing!


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…

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…

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…

Either side of the road to nowhere, Part 1


Driving down Mombasa road on a Monday afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter, is much like a personal game of Death Race 2000, only it’s real.

The cacophony of sights, sounds and smells  makes the long journey ever interesting…. God is Real!, God Can Set You Free, Hakuna Matata emblazoned across the rear ends of the buses (in all shapes and sizes) leave you with a sense of the inevitable brought home all the more by the reckless abandon with which the drivers hurtle past on blind summits and closing corners you find on every stretch of the ‘new’ road.

The black smoke belched from the City Hoppa buses, supported by the same from the matatus as the shiny new SUVs fly past with the devil may care attitude only found in someone sure of their religious piety and right to live, only adds to the felling of melodrama.

The colours of the buses are matched, even surpassed, by the shacks at the side of the road selling everything from tomatoes, red onions and mangoes to salad spoons, Maasai busts and various incarnations of the wildlife you search for on safari in the game reserves.

Stopping for a cup of coffee brings its own challenges with the negotiations necessary to avoid buying more salad spoons, busts and animals as the shosho parades her grandchild, beautiful, wide eyed and shabbily dressed before the mzungos, hoping to make good on our pervading sense of pity, responsibility or shame while we order a drink to quench the thirst on our journey to paradise.

After the main road the dusty tracks in the game reserve seem positively calm in comparison. Of course you need to carry out the ritual of entering the park before that, waiting 15 minutes as the burly woman enters your details on the computer to produce you with your Kenyan Wildlife Service temporary resident cards which are duly loaded with the credit for your stay only to be charged, 10 yards further on, from the same cards, for the same amount,by a surly KWS representative at the park gate… It’s the Kenyan economy at its best and something which will be repeated at the Mombasa ferry later in this trip. Unnecessary bureaucracy created to allow 2-3 jobs where one would suffice. It keeps the people happy and, as long as you’ve been here more than a few hours, you know it’s the Kenyan way; poli poli.

Inside the park the Sun is beginning to set and you drive along the dusty, corrugated roads as close to the 40kph speed limit as possible to make the lodge before the curfew sets in. Even here, in this reserve of all that is wild the Kenyan drivers still have their way; a white pickup hurtles past with a clutch of grinning Kenyans in the open back (no doubt on their way to a shift at one of the lodges) leaving you spluttering in their dusty wake as you head towards the oasis of calm in this most serene of surroundings.

Entering the gates you feel the pressure lift, there’s an air of calm over the whole place, the staff are smiling, awaiting you with warm, scented towels to wipe away the stress of 250kms of Mombasa Road and a fruit cocktail to clean the dust from your throat as you prepare for the ordeal of booking in.

Yet it does’t come to that. As you walk through the leaf gilded archway entrance into the vaulted hallway of the lodge all the troubles of the journey wash away… Before you lies a private valley, all of your own, stretching out to Mt Kilimanjaro (Kili to her friends) in the distance. The sunlight lingers, tentatively, on her shoulders as you stand there, awe struck, speechless, in this land of wonder. The hours of watching all your mirrors, at once, while negotiating the speed bumps, pot holes and suicidal drivers fall away as you stand there, staring at something framed for a blockbuster movie, full of child like wonder and the concierge walks over, hands you a registration card, advises you that your rooms are ready and says “Karibu Tsavo”…

The light crawls across the valley as you sit on the balcony eating breakfast, the mist evaporates leaving the hues of blue and grey to be washed away in the flood of burnt red and green as the Sun exerts her power over this land of wonder.

Driving out of the lodge the day ahead already seems like a boys own story with tales of yesterday’s sighting of lion, cheetah and leopard ringing loud in your ears. Within minutes every rock is turning its shaggy maned head to look at you from behind the acacia trees and the boulders are raising their trunks to blast out indignation at your interruption of the lands natural slumber. It doesn’t matter that you see nothing; it’s the expectation, the anticipation, it grabs you the second you’re behind the wheel and holds you, tightly, until you return, exhausted, to the restful recluse of the lodge to regain your composure ready for the next run out later in the day.

The sheer scale of it all is breathtaking. Africa’s highest mountain seems to fade away and hide behind the lava peaks of the reserve, the sky arching blue above it all seems to reach higher than in any other corner of the world. The horizon is broader and further away than even that of the widest ocean and the blanket of green and red; it goes on for ever.

Waterbuck, elephant, baboons, dik dik, Thompson gazelle, impala, guinea fowl and lizards make up the quota for today’s sightseeing and it’s more than enough. The excitement’s in the journey itself, heading off the beaten track to follow the tree laden river bed in case the ever elusive leopard decides to deign us with it’s presence, driving down Rhino Valley on the off chance that the lion and leopard spotted yesterday have decided to follow the same schedule and allow us the pleasure of their company. Every twist and turn brings a new air of expectance and with it the excitement of what might be.

It’s all too much. Even the cool, calm invitation of the swimming pool isn’t enough to prevent an afternoon snooze and, before you know it, the chance of another drive is past for the day. Back on the balcony the sun heads off behind Kili again and you’re fighting off the Scorpion King’s hordes while you enjoy a cool drink before dinner.


As last night’s reports of lion and cheetah ring in your ears you head off as soon as the sun rises to search for more of the ‘Big 5’. A slightly different route to the Rhino Circuit today brings its own wonder as you pass from the dusty roads to the black, crunchy, paths of the lava plain. The moisture in the air belies the fact that, at 0650hrs, it’s already passing 24 degrees under a clear blue sky. Descending into the valley you see a huddle of white safari buses in the near distance and head off in their general direction. You won’t reach them in time, there’s something to distract you at every turn. On this occasion it’s the

lone giraffe stubbornly refusing to give way on the road as he helps himself to the sweetest greens at the top of the acacia overarching the road ahead. Behind him the zebra idle around the low shrubs, helping themselves to their fill before it becomes too hot to even think of searching for food.

Further sightings of safari buses and conversations with their drivers fail to produce the goods and the leopard, lion and cheetah evade us all for another drive. He was there though, the leopard that is, we could all hear him, but he wouldn’t move into sight; remaining instead behind the low fallen tree, laughing at even the ‘real’ tourists in their elevated position out of the top of the safari buses. Even the elephant trunk sized lenses couldn’t see through that foliage!

Miscalculating the distance a little you hurtle back along the other half of the Rhino Circuit to the lodge only to round a corner and be confronted with a bull elephant making his way across the road ahead. The redness of the wildlife here is in complete contrast to that found in the other reserves; washing themselves in the dust and mud from the Tsavo plains leaves them a bright burnt ochre in colour, even the ostriches are black and red in colour.

Heading out to Mzima Springs after lunch gives the opportunity to stretch your legs as you walk along the path to the cool, shaded calm of the hippo pools. Hippo, smiling with contentment, bask in the waters while a fish eagle wait for its unsuspecting prey on the branch overhanging the waters. The crocodiles glide from edge to edge of the lower pool waiting for some poor monkey to venture down to water’s edge for a drink… It doesn’t happen at least not while we were watching.

The Rhino Reserve poses it’s own challenges. 70+ square kilometres of tree shrouded park land with visibility of a few metres before the dense foliage hides all before you. Excursions to the watering holes show tantalising evidence of the day’s visitors, footprints, droppings, the smell of urine where animals have marked their territory. Yet even a detour along a now unused portion of the track yields no return… With the fuel gauge heading South (quickly!) it’s time to head back to the scorpions, watering hole and excellent cuisine at the lodge. A mostly uneventful, yet wholly rewarding day, has passed.

Willy Wonka, the Sheriff, a Mzunga and the self destructive rock star…

Time is a dangerous thing, especially when you have plenty of it to yourself. If you’re anything like me you tend to spend it thinking, and that’s a dangerous pastime, especially when you’re in the process of going through one of the biggest periods of upheaval in your life, as I am.

There’s a number of things going on just now; I’ve moved to a new continent, my family are following in a week or so, I’ve started a new job (which appears to be shaping up to be one of the most challenging of my life) and I’m coming to terms (slowly) with what was perhaps both the easiest and, increasingly as the days go, one of the hardest decisions to come to terms with that I have had to make.

The moving continent thing, though quite a huge undertaking, is something I’ve considered on more than one occasion and,having finally taken the plunge, I’m cracking on with it. In the early nineties I nearly emigrated to Kenya after spending some time there on holiday/safari. They wouldn’t take me at the time as there was a huge drive on employing the populace and that’s as it should be. Then, slightly later in the nineties I had the opportunity to move to Austin, Texas to continue working for Motorola when they summarily dispatched most of the business managers in the Scottish (or was it European?) offices of their empire. Sense prevailed at that time, or at least my partners did. She’s now my wife, and we’re happily married with 3 great children, so it was obviously the right choice. I’ve since considered Canada, New Zealand and Kenya again but they all fell by the wayside for some reason or other, until this year.

I was back in Nakuru, Kenya in Feb of this year and met some great people who I discussed emigration with and the lifestyle of ‘residents’ (as opposed to Nationals) and they advised caution, but I was still very, very interested… Fate took a casting vote on my decision a couple of months later when, quite by chance, I discovered a new post had opened up in my job as the IT Manager in Kenya for 2 years. To say I jumped at the chance would be a gross understatement.

Having had a few weeks here in Nairobi on my own while I wait for my family to arrive I’ve been able to ‘get my feet under the table‘ at work and begin to get to grips with the oddities of life in an African country… ‘Kenyan time’ for instance. It’s a fluid concept to say the least and any deadline, meeting or schedule must be taken with the equivalent of the Dead Sea rather than the usual pinch of salt.

The life of a ‘Mzungu‘ is one of huge contrasts. If, like me, you’re still in the employ of a ‘Western’ nation your salary affords you the opportunity to live in a manner well beyond that on the same salary in the UK or some other European country. A beer costs about £1.60 in a pub and, if you buy for the house, it works out about £0.50 for a half litre bottle. Beef is ridiculously cheap, a decent T-Bone, sirloin or fillet will cost £5 at most. And then there’s the matter of security. The carrying of clubs, happy sticks, batons, or machetes (pangas) in vehicles is common practice for ‘whites’, you live n a guarded compound with security on the perimeter gates and walls as well as patrolling your personal residence. There are no-go areas in town, the night clubs, bars, hotels and restaurants all have security with some even being fenced and gated… It takes some getting used to!

Strange as it may sound, it doesn’t even feel odd! During the day I’ve been out for meals, visited businesses etc and at night I’ve done the same. Despite the awareness that there’s a ‘bad element’ it doesn’t feel oppressive, yet. I’ll reserve judgement until the family arrive.

This is only in the city of course, and a very small minority of those who live there. I’ve travelled much of the length and breadth of Kenya over the years and the only trouble I’ve had so far was once, in Nairobi, when I was stupid and flaunted my ‘Western wealth’ which resulted in a mugging… the rest of the time I’ve felt comfortable enough as I would travelling anywhere in Europe.

I can’t wait until the family arrive next week. I want to show them the wonders of this country and help them understand my fascination with it.

The job? Well that’s a different story. At least for now. It’s like being an extra in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! I can see all these opportunities to make the world a wonderful place (as far as my IT world goes anyway), but I’m not able to touch. It’s like a frontier town in the Wild West, things have run rampant since the first settlers set up camp and there’s a desperate need for a Sheriff to bring order to the place before it implodes. The problem is, I’m going to have to play the sheriff and lock a few of the troublemakers before I can enjoy life and make the place a happy one for all and sundry. It’s more than frustrating, it’s annoying, but prudence and not a little experience have made me aware that it’s ‘slowly, slowly, catchy monkey’ :o)

And then there’s the other thing…

Over the last 3 years I’ve had the privilege of being able to make more than one of my life’s ambitions come true. They were quite simple really, but they meant a lot to me and, nearing 40 I had resigned myself to the fact that the opportunity had passed me by… Then I met Pete Harwood and all that changed. In a short time we managed to write more than an album’s worth of what is, in my not so humble opinion, some damned fine rock songs, we played to appreciative audiences in England, Scotland and Wales, we had a #2 single, received an 8/10 review in Rock Hard (the biggest selling metal/rock magazine in Europe), released an EP and a live album. People recognised the name of the band across the country, we were played in pubs in London and elsewhere, on the radio in the UK, Europe and America, and appeared on (albeit local) prime time TV. And then, being the selfish git I have the habit of being, I threw it all away.

I don’t regret my decision, not at all, the opportunity to live and work in Kenya is one I could never have considered turning down, but now, this week in particular, I’m turning into the green eyed monster I had hoped I wouldn’t. You see, I mentioned above that we’d written enough material for an album. We certainly did! We even started recording it but, in a very sensible move, we (and I mean we) decided it would be redundant to release an album of music with a band’s ‘previous singer’ when the band was still very much alive and kicking with a new singer.

And then there’s this coming weekend… In order to get your name out there as a band/artist, there are a couple of avenues open to you; buy the publicity, which usually involves a label or some such binding contract, gig forever across the country, impractical with ‘real’ world jobs and other commitments or, and this is the one, play at decent festivals where you’ll be exposed to a horde of possible new fans. On Friday, at 14:35, Morpheus Rising will do the latter. Appearing on the Classic Rock Society stage at the Cambridge Rock Festival, the lads will fulfil the other of the two ambitions I have outstanding. They’ll play in front of a sizeable audience of rock fans who are there for one reason, to enjoy rock music. And later this year, or early next year, they’ll release the album…

I thought this would be easy. With the chaos of a new life, a new job, a new continent and all that goes with them I thought that what would be going on over last week and the coming weekend would pass me by. Alas, it hasn’t, and I’m torn between conflicting emotions that I find hard to resolve. I’m proud, really proud, that I was involved in everything that led up to this period with the band, the writing, the singing, the recording, the PR, the website and the gigging… and then I’m insanely jealous. In another life I would have been getting up on that stage on Friday and facing (what I hope for them will be) the largest crowd of my performing life.

If you make it to the Haggis Farm Polo Club this weekend I hope you’ll head over to Stage 2 for half past 2 and support what I still believe is one of the most promising rock bands currently playing the ‘circuit’ and if, like me, you won’t be able to for whatever reason then take a pause at that time and, if at all possible, raise a glass and wish them all the best on this, the beginning of something new.

Pete, Gibbo, Andy, Daymo and Si, I wish you all the best and I hope you knock their bloody socks off. I’ll be thinking of you and I hope, somewhere along the way, you’ll tip me a proverbial nod. I’m proud of you guys, of everything we achieved and I wish you all the best this weekend and for the future.

Pastures New…

Those of you who are fans of, or follow, the band I sing with, Morpheus Rising, will have seen the Press Release announcing my departure as vocalist for the band. This decision was not taken lightly and it was perhaps one of the hardest, and yet easiest, decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Over the last 3 years I have been fortunate, not only to have played with some of the most consummate musicians I have ever known, but I have also been honoured to be able to call those same people, and the extended circle we’ve created/joined, my friends. Pete, Gibbo, Daymo and Andy have become good friends not only to myself but to my family as well. It is for this reason that the decision was hard. The reason it was easy was that the rest of it involved a decision that directly affected my family.

I’m not leaving all together. I have worked on other aspects of the band’s world over the last few years including its online presence in all its forms and will continue to do so. I simply cannot commit to the role of vocalist any more.

To many people this decision may need explaining and this is my attempt at that explanation.

When Pete and I first got together to add lyrics to his music I told him

I’ll quite happily write and record with you, but I won’t be able to perform it live…

Pete, Daymo and myself on stage, giving it LARGE!

I said this due to my ‘real’ job. I’m a serving soldier and, as such, am liable to changes in my personal circumstances at a moment’s notice. Of course, it didn’t last long! The songs we created excited me and rekindled a passion for music which has been one of the greatest gifts this whole experience has provided me. Before meeting Pete I hadn’t performed, or worked, with anyone else for almost 13 years and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it.

As all of you will be only too aware these are trying times for everyone and, unlike previous economic hard times in this country, it is actually having an impact on the Armed Forces as well. So much so that, until a very short time ago I was considering a career change. All that changed when I returned to work a fortnight ago and was offered a chance which can only be described as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for both myself and my family.

I have been offered a job in Kenya for the next few years which will afford both my wife and children opportunities and experiences which I would never forgive myself were I to turn it down, it is also a new and challenging role for myself which can only enhance my career and future employment prospects.

My only regret in the whole situation is with regards to Morpheus Rising. The band has grown far beyond my expectations far sooner than I thought possible. We have achieved far greater things than I ever hoped and I am sure that Morpheus Rising will continue to grow and do great things.

The band are continuing to record the material for the album and are currently searching for a new vocalist, I look forward to meeting him before I go anywhere and wishing him all the best.*

I hope that you will all continue to support them in all they do, I certainly will.

Pete, Daymo, Gibbo and Andy, thank you for some of the most amazing memories of my adult life. I am proud to call you my friends and look forward to working with you, albeit in a different role, in the future.

All the best,

Morpheus Rising (For a little while longer at least!)

* If you can think of anyone you feel may be suitable to work with the band as the new vocalist then please recommend them to the guys at info@morpheusrising.co.uk