Ideas & Debate

Firm steps that’ll turn JKIA into hub of choice in Africa

A section of the JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A section of the JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In my last column I wrote about some places where I always enjoy great customer journeys, and also about other much less satisfying ones.

Since then I have had to journey through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), which a recent customer survey found to be “the most improved airport in Africa”, thanks to “excellence in customer service”.

The survey measured passengers’ views against 34 indicators, including airport access, check-in, security screening, restrooms and restaurants, and Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) chairman Jonny Andersen reacted by saying it showed the measures they have put in place to improve services are beginning to bear fruit.

They still have a lot to do, he also accepted, but he believes they’re on the right track.

It is certainly good that the recently signed JKIA Service Charter promised to provide “consistent, professional and high quality service”, with all agencies now working as a unified team.

Reading the KAA’s advertisement in the current issue of the Kenya Airways magazine Msafiri, the chairman appears more realistic than the copy there: “Our daring vision to become the Preferred Hub of Africa is within sight as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport continues to receive wide acclaim for its first-class services and a magical airport experience.” This above the tagline “Setting our sights high”.

Within sight? Really? What puzzles me and many others who pass through JKIA is that many of its most passenger-unfriendly aspects have been so for as long as we can remember, and that not a few of them can be sorted out quite quickly. At least to some extent.

In the last few years I have found the agents at the check-in desks to be universally friendly and engaged (very much including Kenya Airways, whose representatives at one time were in an almost permanent disconnected sulk), and those at the immigration desks to be equally pleasant and welcoming — even though there are often too few of them and hence the queues become endless.

Complaints also exist about Customs officers holding back many who take the Nothing-to-Declare path.

So even as the airport continues to restructure and upgrade, surely our longstanding gripes can be dealt with.

I perfectly understand that security at an international airport is paramount. But can we not review what seems like an entirely notional security check as we enter, where we must disembark as the drivers pass through the scans with the vehicles?

And on leaving, why, year after year, has a solution not been found to the long and clumsy queues for traffic exiting through the final barrier? The machines there too often break down, and it usually takes long for anyone to intervene manually. Plus, have clear signs informing drivers of where and how to pay.

Then there’s the awkward security scanning at the international terminal entrance, where people queue outside and where sometimes one of the two entrances is closed.

Not to mention the ridiculous situation at the gate from which BA flights leave, where after passing through the KAA scan we must immediately endure a repeat at the BA one. Now to the movement between planes and terminals.

We appreciate that there aren’t many passenger boarding bridges that enable us to walk directly to and from our flights. But often as not it takes far too long before the buses arrive to take us to the terminals. And sometimes there’s far too long a wait for our luggage to emerge onto the carousels.

I understand that there is an operators’ group that consists of all the airlines using the airport, and that it meets regularly with the KAA. I know that the issues I identify above, plus many others, have been raised repeatedly.

Can we please see a Rapid Results Initiative launched to deal with them?

I’m happy that customer-facing staff are due to attend training at Utalii College to help them with their skills and attitudes.

But for JKIA to deliver decent customer journeys a comprehensive systems approach is what must be undertaken to solve the biggest problems. Then we can go beyond being improved to becoming excellent. Even magical.