Just wanted to get home

By Wendy Maloon
This item appears on page 26 of the August 2014 issue.
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Our family of five took a customized private tour of Southern Africa and Seychelles, Dec. 19, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014, that had been arranged by a US-based tour company. 

On our way home from Seychelles on Jan. 5, the Kenya Airways flight that was supposed to transport us from Mahe to Nairobi, Kenya, at around 2 p.m. had mechanical problems so never left Nairobi. Kenya Air sent a different plane out, which arrived around 5 p.m. We figured we still had time to catch our British Airways flight, scheduled to fly out of Nairobi for London a little before midnight.

Unfortunately, Kenya Air’s flight paperwork was still under the registration of the original plane. By the time the correct paperwork arrived, the pilot and crew had “maxed out” their on-duty hours, so the passengers had to deplane. 

Kenya Air put us up for the night in a Mahe hotel and flew us to Nairobi the next day, but no one from Kenya Air assisted anyone with rebooking their lost flight connections. We discovered that British Air, KLM and SWISS all were overbooked for days. Kenya Air had two business-class seats to London but nothing else. 

Before our trip, our tour company had hired airport helpers to assist us in transit*. In the Johannesburg airport at the start of our trip, a representative from the service Menzies saved us from having to collect our luggage and go through Customs before connecting to our next flight — a huge help.

In the Nairobi airport on our way back, a representative from the service Eurocraft checked with several airlines to see if seats were available. The rep was able to go to the other side of Customs and talk with a Kenya Air manager. 

According to our helper, the manager offered to sell us three business-class seats and give us two coach seats to London that night. We asked how the airline could do this if the seats weren’t available. We were told they would “make room” if everyone showed up. We were dumbfounded that Kenya Air would even offer to do this and, futhermore, that they wanted to charge us for the tickets.

We met with a British Airways manager, who said that they were overbooked for over a week. She advised us to purchase any seats we could find, if our goal was to get out of Nairobi, because the situation was not about to improve.

We called our tour company for help. While they had arranged all of our inter-Africa air, my husband and I had originally booked our British Air international flights, ourselves, using frequent-flyer miles for the two first-class seats and paying cash for the kids’ three coach seats (San Francisco-London-Johannesburg and Nairobi-London-San Francisco).

Our tour company discovered that five seats on a SWISS flight heading to Zürich and then San Francisco had become available: one in first class, three in business class and one in coach. One business-class ticket was subsequently downgraded to coach.

We felt we had no choice but to take the seats, which cost us $22,626. SWISS later gave us a debit card worth $1,489 as reimbursement for the downgraded business-class seat.

It’s true that Kenya Air’s first Mahe-Nairobi flight was canceled due to mechanical problems, but the replacement plane’s flight was canceled due to human error; the pilot had been given the wrong paperwork. When we got home, we sent a letter to Kenya Airways asking for reimbursement of the money we spent on our tickets on SWISS. They denied our request and offered us a 10% discount on our next flight with them (like we would ever use it!).

Though it took a lot of prodding, I would say that, in the end, British Airways went out of their way to help us, refunding the $1,935 in taxes on our children’s unused tickets (the return portions of the round-trip international tickets) and refunding us 142,500 frequent-flyer miles on our first-class tickets.

The “Trip Interruption/Missed Connection Benefit” from our travel insurance has reimbursed us a further $5,000.

WENDY MALOON

Diablo, CA

*Regarding the “airport helpers,” the Maloons’ tour company wrote to ITN, “Menzies is a meet-and-assist service at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. The service is booked by DMCs (destination management companies, or local ground services, which are contracted by tour operators) and not the general public. Eurocraft is a similar service at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and, again, must be booked by a DMC.

ITN sent copies of Ms. Maloon’s letters to Kenya Airways (16250 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 100, Encino, CA 91436; customer.relations@kenya-airways.com) and to British Airways (2 Park Ave., 11th Floor, Jackson Heights, NY 10016) and received the following replies.

Kenya Airways sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience experienced by the guest and her family. The flight was delayed due to operational constraints beyond our control, and the flight was later canceled. 

Kenya Airways operates in strict compliance with all flight safety requirements as well as relevant normative-legal regulations. Should even a minor deviation from safety standards be revealed during a technical check, the company makes no concessions and postpones the flight until all issues are effectively resolved. 

Unfortunately, flight delays are inevitable. This is an industry-wide practice, since only after the elimination of a malfunction may we be ensured that the flght is being conducted with a 100% airworthy aircraft.

We do acknowledge that there are circumstances that require the airline to compensate the guest; however, under their circumstances, the Maloons were not eligible for compensation.

However, airlines are still to provide support to passengers in the case of long delays, regardless of the reason for the delay. . . a matter that we apologize for and deeply regret.

Once again, on the behalf of the entire company, we express our sincerest apologies to our guest.

ALICE A. ODERA, Corporate Communications Manager, Kenya Airways Ltd., Nairobi, Kenya

 

The British Airways customer relations team was concerned to hear about the experience Mrs. Maloon and her family endured on their return trip from Seychelles. The family missed their British Airways flight in Nairobi due to a delay on a nonaffiliated airline. 

When they arrived the following day, our team at the airport placed them on a standby list with hope of space becoming available to offer the family. We understand they made other arrangements to return home rather than wait for the next flight with open seats.

British Airways provided a refund on the fees and taxes paid on the unused part of the coach tickets, a substantial portion of the cost of the return tickets. 

Since the first-class tickets were purchased with Avios (frequent flyer miles), we provided a refund for the entire return journey (50% of the Avios spent). This was not required under the conditions of carriage on their tickets, but we provided the refund as a gesture of goodwill, as the Maloons are valuable members of our executive club. 

CAROLINE, British Airways

Editor’s note: The Kenya Airways flight from Mahe to Nairobi was the last of the many legs of the Maloons’ flights ticketed together through the tour company. When Kenya Air delivered the Maloons to Nairobi, even though the plane arrived too late for the Maloons’ next flight with British Airways — ticketed separately — Kenya Air had fulfilled its contract and was not responsible for getting the Maloons to their next destination, nor was the airline financially obligated to get them there.

If the Maloons had been aware of this, they would have been better informed when trying to determine what to do next. 

First, the Maloons would have had to decide if they wanted to wait what could have been more than a week in order to use their already-paid-for tickets on the next-available British Airways flight or if it was more important to get home as soon as possible, no matter the extra cost.

If the decision was to return to the US as soon as possible, the goal then would have been to find five seats together on ANY flight but at the lowest price, even if those seats were on a Kenya Airways flight. But they could not purchase new tickets for a different flight and EXPECT to be reimbursed by any airline unless that airline first endorsed that arrangement (and there are no guarantees that such an endorsement would systematically occur, even if the airline were responsible for getting them to their next destination).

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Our family of five took a customized private tour of Southern Africa and Seychelles, Dec. 19, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014, that had been arranged by a US-based tour company. 

On our way home from Seychelles on Jan. 5, the Kenya Airways flight that was supposed to transport us from Mahe to Nairobi, Kenya, at around 2 p.m. had mechanical problems so never left Nairobi. Kenya Air sent a different plane out, which arrived around 5 p.m. We figured we still had time to catch our British Airways flight, scheduled to fly out of Nairobi for London a little before midnight.

Unfortunately, Kenya Air’s flight paperwork was still under the registration of the original plane. By the time the correct paperwork arrived, the pilot and crew had “maxed out” their on-duty hours, so the passengers had to deplane. 

Kenya Air put us up for the night in a Mahe hotel and flew us to Nairobi the next day, but no one from Kenya Air assisted anyone with rebooking their lost flight connections. We discovered that British Air, KLM and SWISS all were overbooked for days. Kenya Air had two business-class seats to London but nothing else. 

Before our trip, our tour company had hired airport helpers to assist us in transit*. In the Johannesburg airport at the start of our trip, a representative from the service Menzies saved us from having to collect our luggage and go through Customs before connecting to our next flight — a huge help.

In the Nairobi airport on our way back, a representative from the service Eurocraft checked with several airlines to see if seats were available. The rep was able to go to the other side of Customs and talk with a Kenya Air manager. 

According to our helper, the manager offered to sell us three business-class seats and give us two coach seats to London that night. We asked how the airline could do this if the seats weren’t available. We were told they would “make room” if everyone showed up. We were dumbfounded that Kenya Air would even offer to do this and, futhermore, that they wanted to charge us for the tickets.

We met with a British Airways manager, who said that they were overbooked for over a week. She advised us to purchase any seats we could find, if our goal was to get out of Nairobi, because the situation was not about to improve.

We called our tour company for help. While they had arranged all of our inter-Africa air, my husband and I had originally booked our British Air international flights, ourselves, using frequent-flyer miles for the two first-class seats and paying cash for the kids’ three coach seats (San Francisco-London-Johannesburg and Nairobi-London-San Francisco).

Our tour company discovered that five seats on a SWISS flight heading to Zürich and then San Francisco had become available: one in first class, three in business class and one in coach. One business-class ticket was subsequently downgraded to coach.

We felt we had no choice but to take the seats, which cost us $22,626. SWISS later gave us a debit card worth $1,489 as reimbursement for the downgraded business-class seat.

It’s true that Kenya Air’s first Mahe-Nairobi flight was canceled due to mechanical problems, but the replacement plane’s flight was canceled due to human error; the pilot had been given the wrong paperwork. When we got home, we sent a letter to Kenya Airways asking for reimbursement of the money we spent on our tickets on SWISS. They denied our request and offered us a 10% discount on our next flight with them (like we would ever use it!).

Though it took a lot of prodding, I would say that, in the end, British Airways went out of their way to help us, refunding the $1,935 in taxes on our children’s unused tickets (the return portions of the round-trip international tickets) and refunding us 142,500 frequent-flyer miles on our first-class tickets.

The “Trip Interruption/Missed Connection Benefit” from our travel insurance has reimbursed us a further $5,000.

WENDY MALOON

Diablo, CA

*Regarding the “airport helpers,” the Maloons’ tour company wrote to ITN, “Menzies is a meet-and-assist service at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. The service is booked by DMCs (destination management companies, or local ground services, which are contracted by tour operators) and not the general public. Eurocraft is a similar service at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and, again, must be booked by a DMC.

ITN sent copies of Ms. Maloon’s letters to Kenya Airways (16250 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 100, Encino, CA 91436; customer.relations@kenya-airways.com) and to British Airways (2 Park Ave., 11th Floor, Jackson Heights, NY 10016) and received the following replies.

Kenya Airways sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience experienced by the guest and her family. The flight was delayed due to operational constraints beyond our control, and the flight was later canceled. 

Kenya Airways operates in strict compliance with all flight safety requirements as well as relevant normative-legal regulations. Should even a minor deviation from safety standards be revealed during a technical check, the company makes no concessions and postpones the flight until all issues are effectively resolved. 

Unfortunately, flight delays are inevitable. This is an industry-wide practice, since only after the elimination of a malfunction may we be ensured that the flght is being conducted with a 100% airworthy aircraft.

We do acknowledge that there are circumstances that require the airline to compensate the guest; however, under their circumstances, the Maloons were not eligible for compensation.

However, airlines are still to provide support to passengers in the case of long delays, regardless of the reason for the delay. . . a matter that we apologize for and deeply regret.

Once again, on the behalf of the entire company, we express our sincerest apologies to our guest.

ALICE A. ODERA, Corporate Communications Manager, Kenya Airways Ltd., Nairobi, Kenya

 

The British Airways customer relations team was concerned to hear about the experience Mrs. Maloon and her family endured on their return trip from Seychelles. The family missed their British Airways flight in Nairobi due to a delay on a nonaffiliated airline. 

When they arrived the following day, our team at the airport placed them on a standby list with hope of space becoming available to offer the family. We understand they made other arrangements to return home rather than wait for the next flight with open seats.

British Airways provided a refund on the fees and taxes paid on the unused part of the coach tickets, a substantial portion of the cost of the return tickets. 

Since the first-class tickets were purchased with Avios (frequent flyer miles), we provided a refund for the entire return journey (50% of the Avios spent). This was not required under the conditions of carriage on their tickets, but we provided the refund as a gesture of goodwill, as the Maloons are valuable members of our executive club. 

CAROLINE, British Airways

Editor’s note: The Kenya Airways flight from Mahe to Nairobi was the last of the many legs of the Maloons’ flights ticketed together through the tour company. When Kenya Air delivered the Maloons to Nairobi, even though the plane arrived too late for the Maloons’ next flight with British Airways — ticketed separately — Kenya Air had fulfilled its contract and was not responsible for getting the Maloons to their next destination, nor was the airline financially obligated to get them there.

If the Maloons had been aware of this, they would have been better informed when trying to determine what to do next. 

First, the Maloons would have had to decide if they wanted to wait what could have been more than a week in order to use their already-paid-for tickets on the next-available British Airways flight or if it was more important to get home as soon as possible, no matter the extra cost.

If the decision was to return to the US as soon as possible, the goal then would have been to find five seats together on ANY flight but at the lowest price, even if those seats were on a Kenya Airways flight. But they could not purchase new tickets for a different flight and EXPECT to be reimbursed by any airline unless that airline first endorsed that arrangement (and there are no guarantees that such an endorsement would systematically occur, even if the airline were responsible for getting them to their next destination).