Kenya Airways
Kenya Airways

Those like me who have flown the national carrier for many years and who frequently travel out of the country for business, have witnessed the airline?s steady fall from the skies of grace to the grass of utter inefficiency. Yet, the airline should be setting the pace in Africa.

Kenya Airways
Kenya Airways

KQ?s Sh10.5 billion net loss loss in the first six months to September 30 may have come as a shocker to shareholders and Kenyans who hold the airline in high regard. However, for regular customers of the airline, the staggering loss was not a surprise. This is a culmination of neglect and a long catalogue of poor strategies.

Several factors have conspired to pull down the airline. For starters, its highly compromised services have seen customers troop to competing airlines such as the Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Getting a KQ flight is now as easy as boarding a matatu. Just call customer service and you will get a seat for the next day?s flight. Of course, this is a good thing for passengers who have to travel in a hurry. However, it also means low demand for the airline?s services. For other airlines operating the Kenyan routes, it is not as easy to obtain a seat. For some, you even need to book two weeks in advance.

Fly down south

Yet this crippling situation was not the case for KQ some years back. In its glorious past, the airline was commanding the African skies.

KQ is easily the most expensive airline in the region. In fact it is cheaper to travel outside Africa than within the continent on the airline. Because of the high fares, passengers now prefer rival airlines which are not only cheaper but offer far much better comfort.

Take the South African route for instance. While KQ?s charges around $870 for a return ticket to Johannesburg, Fastjet, which operates in Tanzania, charges as low as $100 for early bookings. What a massive difference? This explains why an increasing number of Kenyans are crossing the border to Tanzania by road then hop onto Fastjet to fly down south.

Ethiopian Airlines now controls the African market thanks to its affordable fares. From Nairobi to Addis Ababa its costs Sh20,000 yet for Kenya Airways, fare between Nairobi and Mombasa can go as high as Sh30,000 for a return ticket. Travelling to Kinshasha from Nairobi on the Ethiopian Airline?s economic class, you part with slightly more than $800. The same trip on the Kenya Airways is more than $1,000! How then do you expect the national carrier to be competitive?
And although fuel prices have been on a downward trend globally, KQ?s fares have been rising. A decline in fuel prices should lead to a drop in air fares given that fuel form a significant component in the calculation of cost of tickets.

The management has essentially locked out travellers within the continent with sky-high cost of tickets. It offends common sense that the air fare for Nairobi-London is almost the same as that of Nairobi-Kinshasha. Yet the airline ironically refers itself as the Pride of Africa! Unless this motto is being applied in reverse, the airline ought to earn most of its revenue traversing the continent.

KQ has also got it wrong on direct routes. Logically, it should be cheaper to travel directly to a city abroad from Kenya than using connecting flights. However, in KQ?s calculations, this is not the case. Although the airline now travels directly to Guangzhou in China, this has not resulted in any significant rise in the number of passengers. Yet China is the most populous nation. The rapidly rising volume of trade between China and Kenya also ought to be a goldmine for Kenya Airways. It is absurd that some airlines which do not fly directly to China still beat the national flag-bearer in terms of affordability of fares.

KQ?s strategies

Travelling to Guangzhou on Qatar Airways costs $1,000 while with KQ you have to part with $1,350. Ethiopian Airlines? ticket costs about $920 to the same city. How can tickets for Qatar, a five-star operator with some of the best services, cost less than that of the Kenya Airways whose services have a lot of room for improvement?

It is shocking that the humungous loss the airline has made comes on the back of acquisition of huge planes such as the Dreamliner. This speaks volumes of the fact that the problem the airline faces has nothing to do with equipment but has everything to do with strategies.

The earlier the managers of KQ learn this, the better. It is encouraging that KQ?s new CEO Mbuvi Ngunze promised that in the midst of all this turbulence, he will find ways to steer the airline to safety. His unassuming disposition as well as his approachability are key arsenals that will come in handy as he seeks broad-based solutions to KQ?s dire situation.

?The writer, who has held KQ?s Platinum Elite Plus card for nine years, is a member of China-Dubai Traders Association.

By James Kariuki, The Standard

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