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Opinions Tue, 14 Dec 2010

Aviation And The Service Mentality In West Africa

Here is a Christmas Story that you may not cherish, - a story with a message; a story that should be told:

The setting is Kennedy Airport. The time: middle of December, some years ago. The weather is calm; big snowflakes coming down; the kind that melt when they hit the ground; beautiful on a Christmas card but hard on your feet, if you have to stand outside in the slush. The scene is set at International Terminal # 1. Ghana Airways is fully booked and passengers, traveling home for the holidays are lined up for the check-in process.

• THE TERMINAL ORDEAL: The check-in lounge is small. There are 3 lines, but only 10 people in each line extending to the door to the outside elements. Outside - the line, with 100 + people extends along the pavement all the way to the next terminal. Inside the terminal, at shops, bars and restaurants there are the sounds of Christmas Carols and cheer - outside the mood is grim. Passengers are cold, wet and miserable. There is no cover from the snow, rain or sleet. A mother takes off her coat to shield the cardboard boxes from getting soaked; a father takes turns to take the children inside to warm up. He comes back to move his pieces of luggage a few feet ahead. Slowly the bedraggled crowd moves forward.

• THE CHECK-IN ORDEAL: Finally, once inside the lounge - the real battle starts. West Africans traveling home for Christmas carry the biggest suitcases made by man; any number of boxes - big and small; anything including the kitchen sink. The small lounge is in chaos. Once realizing that passengers are limited to 2 pieces of checked luggage, the move is on, repacking on the lounge floor, in an effort to reduce the number of pieces. Families are split up; one person at the check-in counter; another paying for excess luggage, with the children running in between. Excess baggage is not cheap. The passengers are paying hundreds of dollars; the airline is taking in thousands.

• DELAYED AND LOST LUGGAGE: Next, with the check-in process completed - now come the worries: Will my luggage make it to Accra? Will it be OK, damaged or destroyed? The wide-body jet can only carry so much. With a full load of passengers, only so much luggage can be accommodated. In fact, mountains of luggage, boxes - and the kitchen sink are left behind - to follow on another flight, or a flight after that. Unfortunately, in many cases, luggage arrives in Accra days later and sometimes precious Christmas presents arrive after Christmas, causing heartaches for big and small.

So what is the moral of this story?

1) All of this chaos and misery could have been avoided. It is a matter of preparation and

management. Christmas comes every year and it is no surprise that flights before the holidays

are fully booked. So prepare for the onslaught, just like any other business that expects added

business during the holiday season.

2) Recognize that your check-in lounge is too small. Make other, satisfactory arrangements.

3) Add check-in personnel, just like any other company in the Christmas business.

4) Start the check-in process earlier during the holiday season. Tell your passengers to arrive earlier

5) Treat Excess Baggage as a separate revenue center - there are thousands of dollars at stake.

6) Devise a system, whereby customers with excess luggage are able to make reservations for the

boxes (and the kitchen sink!) to be checked in ahead of time - separately, thereby guaranteeing

that the pieces arrive at their destination undamaged and on time.

7) Establish a care service at the other end, to serve people who are waiting for their luggage or

who's luggage is lost - in the spirit of Christmas.

8) Introduce a new spirit of service and care - whereby every passenger is treated as a VIP.

Some obvious questions that need not be answered by an aviation expert:

1) Does your Christmas Story feature an isolated event?

No, this was the regular process every Christmas Season - without fail - and during Easter as well!

2) Why was this situation not addressed?

Because management did not care and did not have the imagination to make the changes.

3) Did the Chairman of the Board, the Managing Director or other managers ever check on the

passengers standing outside in the cold? No.

4) Was this situation at Kennedy in New York unique?

No. There was a culture of "who cares" that dominated. Flights were late; flights were cancelled;

passengers were left stranded or they arrived late for events, from business meetings to

weddings and anniversaries. The Ghana Embassies were besieged by angry passengers asking:

Why do we have to put up with this? At times disgruntled passengers became violent - in 2002

passengers left stranded in Banjul threatened to burn the DC10 aircraft.

We live in a democratic society, based on freedom and choice. Air Travel is considered a necessity by many, a luxury by some, a privilege by others. Everybody expects a certain minimum level of service in turn for the thousands paid. Airlines that do not meet this criteria will fail - go out of business. Passengers will choose to travel via Europe rather than being stranded in Banjul. They will forsake their national airline rather than have their personal belongings stolen or destroyed. If Ghana wants another airline it must be based on a totally different culture- professional service above all.

Again - what is the moral of this story? We have published several articles recently, about the need for Ghana to revitalize its aviation industry. We have argued that it is time that Ghana had its own airline; a well-managed, efficient and free from government interference. Ghana should be a participant moving passengers and cargo in and out of Kotoka Airport. There is a reason why about 30 foreign airlines fly to Accra. The reason is spelled: P R O F I T and Ghana deserves to collect its rightful share.

Each time when our articles appear on the Ghana Web, the response is tremendous. However, there are those who cannot forget and will not forgive the days of Ghana Airways and GIA. They keep on predicting doom and gloom, - that Ghana should not have an airline and that Ghanaians are not capable of running one. This article is written to demonstrate that we are very much in tune with the many Ghanaians, at home and abroad, who harbor bitter memories from days gone by. This unfortunate "Christmas Story" illustrates what happened and why a rotten service mentality brought down the national airline. We have said before; let Ghana Airways rest in peace.

These stories should be told for only one reason, - to live and learn. Ghana holds a promise for a bright future - also in aviation. The day will come, when Ghana has an airline again; a company that provides employment for Ghanaians and tax dollars for the state. Then we will write another Christmas Story, about Ghanaians traveling home for the holidays. They will enjoy the hustle and bustle at Kennedy Airport and ride in comfort on a modern aircraft, with a Ghanaian crew in charge. They will arrive at Kotoka Airport on time - and they will enjoy Christmas cheer with family, thankful for beautiful presents brought by Santa.

Article by Joe Klatsi and Ingo Blondal

For the future of aviation in Ghana and West Africa, email us at aviationinfo@afrimeric.com

NEXT WEEK: GHANA NEED AN INDEPENSENT AVIATION COMMISSION

Columnist: Klatsi and Blondal