Posted Jan. 28th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

KLM-Kenya Air Nightmare – I Don’t Want To Remember This

With all the travel that Tanya and I do, we decided long ago to pick one quality airline and try our best to fly  them as much as possible. Committing to one airline provides us with tremendous perks. In our case it’s been Delta and it was Northwest before that. Each of these U.S. carriers have provided mostly wonderful service for my nearly 30 years of travel. When they see how often we fly, many times they bend over backwards to make our traveling life more comfortable.  However, one of the downsides can raise its ugly head when traveling overseas, as I’m doing now, flying from Nairobi to Amsterdam. When we leave U.S. air space all bets are off.

Our adventure in travel patience all began last November when KLM, Delta’s international partner airline, cancelled our flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam. Thankfully they had the courtesy to rebook us on Kenya Air which disrupted our schedule but, hey, we rolled with the punches and left for the airport for the new 5:30am flight. Our plans to kick back at the beautiful Norfolk hotel and leave that afternoon at 3:30pm had to be changed. So much for a little R&R between Kenya and Costa Rica. Little did we know, the first change was only the beginning.

We arrived at Nairobi International Airport nearly three hours ahead of our scheduled departure and it was a good thing we did. First, since Kenya Air has no interest in our yearly miles of flights logged with Delta, the larger than normal duffels we carry had to be paired down. We typically travel heavier than most due to tripods, extra checked camera gear, goodies and giveaways for our traveling guests and admittedly a few too many shirts. Even with the extra gear we still only travel to Kenya with two duffel bags and never exceed the U.S. weight restrictions of 70 pounds. Delta always gives us a break due to our annual milage, but when we get off the Delta main line, it all changes.

When we began the ticketing process, at the Kenya Air counter, we were informed that the changed reservation, from KLM over to Kenya Air, could not be located. Tanya brought out her 13 inch MacBook Pro and immediately brought up an email, from Kenya Air, with confirmation numbers etc. The Kenya Air representative scratched her head and began searching ever more diligently for something within the computer to help her figure out the answer to the frustrating discrepancy. After about five minutes she finds the records and proceeds to inform us that, ” I can see your seat assignments but Delta has them locked and we cannot unlock them. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do. You’ll have to see a senior advisor.” My response was, ” What? Are you serious? You can see our assigned seats but you can’t print boarding passes because Delta has them locked?” Ok, now Tanya is starting to pinch me. I back off and she takes over.

We do as we’re told and make our way to a senior advisor. She has the same story. We ask if she can please contact Delta. She says it’s possible but not likely to help since they had this exact same fowl-up two days earlier and no amount of ringing the local Delta phone line inspired an answer. Even so, we try the Nairobi Delta office, after forty rings we hit the end button on our iPhone. Tanya pulls off  her Platinum Delta luggage tag from her brief case and hands it to the senior advisor, suggesting she might help us by dialing Delta’s International Help Line advertised on the tag. No use. We can’t convince the Kenya Air supervisor to give the number a try. We decide it’s getting too late to try it ourselves and in response Tanya suggests we just buy two new tickets. “Wow, great idea honey. Expensive, but effective,” I reply. I hand over our American Express and request two tickets to Amsterdam. The agent retorts, ” That’s $1150.00″. I say, “OK” and he comes back with, “$1150.00 per person.” “Yeah, I know,” I reply, “please just book them so we can get moving.”

Back to the agent printing boarding passes. This time we make headway and shortly have our printed tickets in hand. We make our way through customs and eventually into the gate security line. In the haste to remove weight from our luggage and get each bag down to the 50 pound limit,  I grabbed my toiletry kit where I carry my beloved Swiss Army multitool that I’ve had for decades. That knife has been all over the American West, many trips to Alaska, down under in Australia, over to Antarctica, off to Kenya, Botswanna, South Africa, Zaire, Rwanda, Madagascar, the Orient and just about every place in between.  Yep, you guessed it, the boys from the Kenya Airport Security now own my longtime friend and companion made of stainless steel and sharp edges. Good grief what a morning.

We board the Boeing 777 and wait patiently as times ticks by. The temperature rises in the aircraft to a point where people get out the in-flight safety brochure and start fanning themselves. After about an hour the purser finally announces there is an issue with something in the food preparation galley. It eventually gets fixed and off down the runway we rumble.

We get comfortable in our coach seating. I plug in my Bose noise-canceling headphones and search the onboard entertainment offered on the screen of the seatback in front of me. Nothing seems to be working. I flag down a steward and he informs me that there’s an issue with the entertainment system, “unfortunately it’s not working,” is his reply. I chuckle, just as my dear wife receives a cup of coffee thats placed on her pullout tray. She has her MacBook Pro sitting on her lap, the coffee makes contact with the wobbly, slick plastic  surface that has a slight angle pointing downwards. The coffee begins to slide and off it goes, spilling hot liquid all over her right thigh. Thankfully, she wasn’t burned and she had the presence of mind to grab the computer before the spill. The steward brings a 4×4 inch napkin and hands it to her for cleanup just as the lead flight attendant makes announcement on the aircraft PA system in a dull, listless voice,

“Welcome everybody to Kenya Airways. Please make your New Year’s resolution to make Kenya Airlines your airline of choice. You will be glad you did due to our superior service.” I looked at Tanya, chuckled again and said to her, ” man, that is good humor.” As the steward stood by, watching my wife dry herself of wet, hot coffee, I politefully requested,  “excuse me miss, may we get another 4 inch napkin?”

PS – We’ll have a report on the fun part of Kenya once I get my photos edited. I had planned on editing on the flight to Amsterdam but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Though I plugged my Macbook Pro in for the the whole previous night, the switch to the plug was inadvertently turned off for sleep. Thus my battery is dead and I’m writing this on my iPad. Good thing the places we travel can be so enjoyable when getting there or back can be so painful.

There is 1 comment on this post…
  1. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn Jan. 29th, 2012

    Geez what a HORRIBLE story. Dan, you and Tanya (OK probably just Tanya) are two of the most patient people I know and this shows how crazy travel can be. Only you could turn it into something that was actually funny . . . sad, but funny. I’d be in a Nairobi prison right now if I was in your place. Hope you recover in Costa Rica.

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