By Sospeter O
Open Letter to CS Macharia: JKIA’s IMPROVED BUILDINGS AND BAD MEAN STAFF
The horrible service I got at JKIA last month points to an airport that still has a lot to do in order to evolve into an international hub. Infrastructure enhancement seems great, but buildings don’t give service, people do. I don’t even know whether they do customer satisfaction surveys, but the only reason I am stuck with JKIA is that its home.
Here I was coming from the rest of the world where in Atlanta, New York, and Dubai, every customer service person, including security personnel welcomed and treated me like a human being, and then as soon as I landed at my country of birth, it felt like the first day at a boot camp. Why won’t the Airport staff smile, when they have a job with such a huge strategic national significance in a nation of 40 million, where only 11.3million(about 25%) of those have a full-time employment? I have, during most of my hustling, been trained to smile at anyone I come into eye-contact with. And I treat it as rude and arrogant when you can’t return your smile towards me. And with the national renewal stakes involved, it’s the highest form of sabotage, un-patriotism, and national betrayal. Being the first face a visitor meets, working at the port of entry,, is an incredible honor, which puts you at the frontlines of a “war of the regional hubs”, with the key weapon being just a smile and emotional intelligence.
The dude who stamped my passport at the port of exit was throwing the boarding passes and passport at me, instead of handing it to me with respect. I am a colored minority with an accent, who has lived in the US for 11 yrs now and has never been treated like that in a foreign land. No one, even the most Trumpian border entrance agent throws a passport or boarding pass at you in the US. And then they are serving you leaning back on the chair. They are there to chill, not work.
The first thing that the hardworking CS James Macharia or Kenya Airports Authority should do is to make them stand, not sit at the desk. It would keep them alert and conscious. Airline staff(most of them Kenyans) are excellent, but the government folks are horrible, why?
And while CS Macharia did an incredible job in captaining JKIA to Category One status, which is 90% about safety and counterterrorism, it is just one component in a complex matrix as Nairobi crawls towards becoming an internationally acclaimed hub, capable of rivaling Ethiopia or Dubai. Ethiopia is, according to travel consultancy, ForwardKeys, currently basking in the glory of overtaking Dubai as the largest hub of air traffic exchanges to Africa. This glory should have been Kenya’s not Ethiopian. I can’t hide my jealousy.
We have made huge strides with the aesthetics, airwaves choking state propaganda and the huge public relations gimmicks around KQ direct flights to New York’s JFK, and the priority should now shift towards the soft skills which are imperative if we are to leverage on the floodgates of fortune that popped open with the attainment of the category one status. Happy connecting travelers would delight at connection flights through Nairobi, while disappointed ones, would shun flights through JKIA. More connections mean more business for KQ. This explains why well mannered Airport staff are a big deal.
The immigration, I was told, takes Visa fees in dollars and in cash which is ridiculous. And yet, there was only one ATM(a KCB one) at the VISA section, and which wasn’t always guaranteed to dispense cash in dollars. One tourist was heard lamenting how exorbitant the withdrawal fee of $4 was, which to her was unprecedented, having traveled to many countries. Travelers should have choices of ATM. What happens when this single ATM is dead or dysfunctional? This is a huge corruption loophole.
These unpatriotic, Uhuru legacy-sabotaging, mean looking staff at JKIA aren’t indispensable, and should be overhauled considering that Kenya is not short of people well-groomed in first-class customer service mannerisms. Whether it was the few days that I spent in Mombasa and the various restaurants in Kenya or my 3 days at Dubai’s Waldorf Astoria where some Kenyans working in Dubai served me with honor, we can leverage on Kenya’s wealth of incredible customer service-talent. With the JKIA now infrastructurally improved to global standards, new investments should now shift to massive real-time customer satisfaction surveys and data analytics in identifying and then with precision, target the tastes of patrons passing through our airports. The airport manually collects passenger emails, but such a process can be automated, and the emails entered leveraged for autogenerated customer service survey forms, whose responses should be analyzed by a neutral contracted third party. Going by the rise of Addis as a hub under the stewardship of a very focused leader, and after doing a 3 days analytical tour of Dubai, I feel that time is fast running out for Kenya.