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Kenya Airways: Perfecting the cattle class feel

My latest trip to Seoul, Korea was an enchanting one, filled with some very new experiences for me and I will write about those separately. On this post, I wanted to take the time to catalogue my flight experience which was remarkable in itself. I had a KQ ticket to Seoul and back – economy, or as frequent flyers would have it tongue-in-cheek: Cattle class.

To Seoul, the flight was operated by Korean Airlines and it was a good experience.

  1. The flight attendants were friendly, respectful and kind. They took time to make sure that they understood our needs and followed up. The attitude was “please call us any time you need something.” They were efficient and courteous to a fault.
  2. The plane was comfortable, good leg room and the airplane entertainment system was the only slight negative. It didn’t have a wide selection of movies and TV series but otherwise it was clear, the sound was good and the headsets were good. The plane itself was very clean.
  3. The food was quite good. It was hot, well served. The flight attendants were careful enough to introduce us to the Korean food, Bibimpap and show us how to eat it. I quite enjoyed that. The coffee was served hot and the face towels were most refreshing.

From Seoul, I got on a Korean Air “matatu run” to Bankok. Matatu run because they clearly do a lot of that route and the flight was a bigger plane which was full. The quality of service was no different except that the food was standard – chicken or fish.

In Bankok, I switched to the national carrier Kenya Airways and because I know they do a lot of the Bankok-Nairobi direct flight, I expected that this would be one of my better KQ flight experiences. Alas! Not quite by a mile. The flight had all the marks of a true “matatu run” and cattle class felt entirely like it.

  • The flight attendants were efficient and polite but not quite so. They were not rude at all but they were not quite polite either. Certainly they were not friendly. I did not see a single smile between them. It was clear that they were a bit hassled and chemistry between them was not quite there. For example, they gave us the blankets after we sat down before the flight took off and so they were doing it in a hurry. So all they could do is to literally throw a blanket on your lap as they hurtled past down the aisle. Since they were coming from behind to the front, you can imagine one’s surprise to feel blankets dumped on they lap with no word. As I say, they were efficient but not nice at all. Food service had the same effect as the blanket dump in the sense that they didn’t talk to us – just yelled options and looked pointedly at you for your choice. “Chicken or fish?” was the refrain upon which they would dump your selection on your table. Once I had to call the attendant serving me back to add me some water and her displeasure could be clearly felt. If she could slap me for my “excuse me”, I think she might have.
  • The plane was not clean. Thats all I should say in that respect. I had to clean crumbs from the seat when I came onto the plane.I think it was hurriedly prepared.
  • It was one of the old 737s (correction: 767-300) with the same amenities as when they started. The inflight entertainment consisted of these tiny screens and as it was an old system, it was filled with “rice” on the screen, you know what I mean – the static thing. So we struggled to make sense of the safety message through that, the sound was horrible and you couldn’t choose what you wanted to watch. What you could watch was off color and the screen was filled with rice anyway. The logo on the screen was the old one!!!!

  • The food was cold, badly presented and the carrots felt a little off. The coffee too was cold. I care about my tea and coffee and they need to be hot. The amarula was nice but the attendant wasn’t happy when I asked for more ice.

All in all I felt that KQ had on this flight worked quite hard to perfect the cattle class feel and they did it well.

Seriously, this is my national carrier. It is one of the prominent openings that showcase Kenya to the world. I feel enraged that KQ would demonstrate such in hospitality and yet we as a country pride ourselves in our hospitable nature. That is all.


Update: KENYA AIRWAYS RESPONDSToday, Kenya Airways called me and apologized for my experience. They followed it up with the email below. They invited me to come over and see how their food is made by NAS (National Aviation Services, I think) and perhaps in coming weeks I shall honour the invitation. Here below, their verbatim assurances.

Dear Mr. Al,


Thank you very much for choosing Kenya Airways as your preferred airline and for letting us know of your last flight experience while you travelled with us from Nairobi – Seoul – Bangkok – Nairobi. We reiterate our most heartfelt apologies for the dissatisfaction you have gained in our service.

I also wish to thank you for taking my call. As per our telephone conversation this evening, we hereby reassure you that the matter is being handled with the level of seriousness it deserves.

I should like to add that we shall assist with crediting your miles into your account, as per your last trip. It will be our pleasure to welcome you aboard again, on your trip to London and whenever other opportunity arises.

Assuring you of our wish to be of service. Kenya Airways highly values your patronage.


Florence Ade

I am a writer first and foremost. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, which I define by finding ways to innovate the world’s processes to make life better for people – whether in business or in the non-profit sector. I am professionally involved at the Open Institute, Thellesi Co and various agricultural ventures.

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