Dear Kenya Airways, Some Observations to Improve In-Flight Customer Experience (that’s if you still care)…

Dear Executives in charge of KQ customer experience,

(I penned this from 38,000 feet above sea level, aboard KQ 100 on March 26, 2017, while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, to fly over Greece, towards the European continent).

I happen to fly with you quite often, and I think I’ve flown most of your direct-flight destinations, sometimes fighting tooth and nail to pay extra to fly directly – to London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Accra, Bangkok, Amsterdam, to name a few. Since October last year, I have noted the efforts to acknowledge Frequent Flyers on board, beyond the flight parser’s welcome announcement.

There’s room for improvement, though. I benchmark this against my experience with other Frequent Flyer programs and their partner alliances (of which, the highest level I’ve attained is with SkyTeam, but I seemingly am reaping the least benefits, especially from Kenya Airways).

To ease your reading, I have italicized the major points I hope you can take away from my flight with you today.

My first point: as a Frequent Flyer, you will forgive me for growing to expect personalised services. You hold a repository of data on my -and other frequent flyers’ – preferences, if you care to dig into it, or collect it in formats that allow you to personalise my flying experience, that would do us all some good.

For instance, I always request a special meal. And yet, for this flight e.g. (booked via a KLM deal), I could not make the request for this KQ leg of my trip, nor indicate seat preference at the time of booking. (I have noted that for flights booked directly via KQ, however, I can do so).

Two things here: must I keep keying in my request with every booking? Given that bookings are done via multiple avenues, I do try to ensure that they have all my preferences captured in the booking (aisle seats, special meal etc). For this trip, I had to call your customer service center to make the request. It’s 2017, yawa. Coming up on my umpteenth flight with you, I am getting tired of always chasing after my requests being captured. (The option to amend previously captured preferences upon booking or checking-in would be a natural next step!)

Secondly,  what’s with your online data capture systems? I have a breezy time with KLM, Air France and linking to the Flying Blue system. Yet, when it comes to being referred to KQ’s partner website, blergh. The only thing your system seems to acknowledge is my Frequent Flyer number. Yet, most of my preferences are in the Flying Blue program database. Now, I understand Data Protection and Regulation mechanisms are likely at play, but what’s the bare minimum interoperability with the Flying Blue system you can aim towards, while upholding privacy safeguards? Else, what more can your systems do, even if it’s an option to save one’s preferences for future bookings and confirmations?

I suppose I could take a cynical approach here and be happy that you don’t have my data on preferences in a neat bow, if it meant that it would be prone to abuse. (I work in tech policy you see, so I’m super sensitive about personal data footprints and how they are (ab)used).

Then let’s get to the meals. Maybe  I’ve been compelled to pen this reflection because I’m stone-cold sober. (Your generous servings of alcoholic beverages is something you must never stop, we give thanks!). Halfway into my trip, and I’ve not had a meal. For breakfast, I didn’t need to as I had sorted myself. I did, however, hope to have some fruit in the special meal order- there was none. As my blood sugar levels dipped, I asked cabin crew for fruit; there was none (not in the meals on board for Economy class, at least).

Pro-tip: some apples, bananas, melon slices etc, aren’t a bad idea to have on board. Gives those of us who don’t like snacks of the junk-food variety some  options. (Keep the nuts forever, though!). At this time, I can’t quite indulge in the nuts, so one other option off my list. (What snack options for those allergic to nuts, by the way?)

I wait with trepidation, on what my lunch will be. It seems I shouldn’t expect fruit…

Let’s talk about the coffee served.  I imagine there’s some operational reason for which instant coffee (Nescafé) for Economy is the default. But I know for a fact that there’s good coffee on the other side of the curtain; something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in other trips (oh, along with fruit).

By virtue of producing the some of the world’s best coffee, I have a difficult time reconciling the serving of Nescafé aboard the Pride of Africa.

If you will keep one data point about this passenger, right next to my Frequent Flyer details- it’s that I am a coffee lover (NOT instant coffee). Wondering out loud here: is it possible for that to translate to having decent coffee on future flights? (No milk or sugar, good ol’ black coffee). That’s why it’s doubly painful to down the instant stuff…but I needed it to make my alcohol-free trip bearable.

I really wanted to ask for “some of the good stuff from up front” when breakfast service was done and lights were dimmed. Twice, I tried to use the alert system (that  little blue light thingy? I forget the term, let’s blame it on low blood sugar). No one came. So each time I needed coffee, had to collect myself and go all the way to the back. (I don’t mind, actually. The walk is good for blood circulation). Couldn’t venture into asking for the good stuff given the fact that even a basic request outside “serving hours” comes across as a nuisance to your crew. This is something I’ve picked up  on severally. And I’m not one to beg for decent service.

Based on my experience with my other favourite alliance, such a request would not go unanswered, though. Isitoshe, (allow me infuse this with lugha ya taifa), even for frequent flyers not in Premier World/Business Class, an attendant is allocated to tend to the needs of  Frequent Flyers’  in cattle class.

My point in sum, is that there’s more to be done. Question is, will you do it? Or the fact that you got us to our destination is all there is to your hustle?

One time, on a NBO-JHB flights, one of your Executives was on board to assess customer experience, and so she came up to me and we had a chat. She thanked me for being loyal (though I come  up short on what resulting perks there have been). Pleasantly surprised, I asked her how she identified me, and she said my status popped up in the system (along with others – we were all in Economy). So I know you have ways to know who’s on board. She solicited some feedback, which I gave. Much of the same stuff mentioned here.

On a NBO-AMS flight, some survey forms were being dispensed; I was sufficiently marinated in wine and filled one out, even though I found the instrument very limiting to share meaningful insights.

Besides, all that feedback provision, and here I am. (My lunch request was pretty decent btw, and turns out there was some fruit. All of two small chunks of melon, pineapple and some traces of orange). I’ll survive till Heathrow, though I cringe at the thought of more instant coffee. I’ll dare request for the good stuff, and hope I won’t be shut down. I needed to read through a depressing report on communications surveillance back home (noting with irony that the practice is pretty much legal in my destination).

Next time you’re determined to improve customer experience, hope you can refer to these reflections. Also, next time your execs are “in the field”, have them fly economy. It’s just as important a benchmark as Premier World is.

Encourage more qualitative feedback from your Frequent Flyers. I see a lot of it shared via Twitter, but how much of it permeates through to those making decisions? Quantitative and one-off instruments limit what you can glean to truly remain the “Pride of Africa”.

(About 2 and a half hours to go on this trip). Let me comfort myself with the fact that at the very least, baggage allowance is more generous in my tier, when I need it. Else, I look forward to experiencing other perks of frequently flying with KQ.

If any of you care to do a right of reply, would be mighty nice. It could even be titled “Perks for KQ Frequent Flyers, both in Premier World and good ol’ Economy“. You can even have it in your next Msafiri issue; I’ll be back on board, and I’ll be happy to read such a piece.

Much as accolades and awards might stream in, you have a ways to go, not just in outranking your peers, but setting standards. Don’t -to borrow someone else’s words – pride yourself in being tall among stunted children. Not with such a tag line. Pride of Africa calls for always redefining that pride.


PS: how on earth can one utilise their miles with/on KQ, without having to call your centres? I have it figured out with KLM and Air France. Your system is a maze, Pride of Africa! Terrible user experience.

Also, please fix the KQ Msafiri portal. I need to redeem my miles from your Barclays’ co-branded Gold Credit Card before y’all sunset it. Please don’t make me have to call, I am not a fan of phone calls.

PPS: I am such an observer of phenomena, so whenever you really want to understand more, email me. (Please, don’t call. I don’t like calls).

Also, how about Fast Track forms for us folk who are loyal to y’all when we land at Heathrow? Can the service be extended to Elite Plus customers? You slide it along with the landing card…that would be peachy.

PPPS: I summoned strength to ask this lady for the good stuff. She said it’s for Business Class only. *sniffs*. (We have really good coffee in Kenya…sigh).




Kenya Power: Help Us Help You!

Kenya Ingependa Kumeta. I propose this as a working slogan as you forge your way to efficiency, oh dear transmitter, distributor and retailer of electricity. You see, Kenya Yameta essentially is untrue; makes for a better fit alongside your Vision 2030 strategic plans.


 (Image Courtesy of Eugene Nyawara)

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