17.08.2004 Feature Article

GHANA AIRWAYS and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines ...

GHANA AIRWAYS and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines  ...
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Don't Go With The Flow In analysis of Ghana's inefficiency to operate and manage Ghana Airways, it is fair to conclude that, the institution of binding rules and regulations is non-existent. We do not need to be told that codifying and instituting best practices often result in cost savings and increases efficiency. The repercussions of greed by the few have allowed all Ghanaians to directly or indirectly feel the pinch of failed economic planning. When the elite (not necessarily qualified) is put in charge of some operations, his or her cronies are the first in line to be employed dishing away qualifications and expertise and common sense. Notwithstanding the meager service by Ghana Airways, more people are now flying with other airlines, and subsequently are depleting our cash resources with no direct reinvestments in Ghana. It is shameful that Ghana as a nation cannot provide the basic airline transportation to its citizens, be profitable, reinvest or cycle the revenue, and provide at least more job opportunities for its citizens as KLM has done in Amsterdam or British Airways has done in Great Britain or Lufthansa in Germany (they control more than 30% of the total airline industry in their countries and employ thousands of people). Beyond that, airlines provide links for tourism, trade, communications, industry, and everything else in between.

The trickling down of varied types of corruption from top management to the common janitor of Ghana Airways, sharing ill-gotten gains, exemplifies how varied and complex the issue is. How is it possible for KLM, British Airways or Lufthansa offices in Ghana to issue computerized tickets at all times and not Ghana Airways offices in Ghana? We are all aware of our limitations in Ghana. Beyond those limitations, why is Ghana Airways issuing handwritten rather than computerized tickets in Germany, a country where computers are abundantly available? This handwriting scheme was done deliberately to undersell tickets and not account for the difference in price (selling an adult ticket as a child's ticket and pocketing the difference) leading to loss of revenue. Who checks tickets and issues boarding passes to ensure that kids are really kids? Maybe we need to do spot checks, make unannounced visits by investigators. Where are the undercover agents to root out corruption? Maybe we need to expand the Criminal Investigation Department or create a new Bureau of National Investigators. Chances are they will be corrupt too. In light of that, we need undercover counter Investigators. Best yet, we need to pass laws that would authorize the media or the common man to request a copy of any Government document, operations manual, or accounting records (fees to be charged). This act may be called “Freedom of Information Act” or what have you. After all, the Government is for the people and we have the right to know. I do not think anyone in Ghana at present can invoke any law that would authorize him or her to obtain a copy of any Government document for verification. If there is such a law, then I stand corrected.

Is it possible that we are afraid of stepping up the upgrade cycle or we lack the ability to remain focused on the big picture rather than becoming fixated on the minutia even if that. It seems as though, we have a genetic defect for corruption that is inherited at birth and passed on through generations. We cannot get rid of corruption; most of us have either participated in it or condoned it. The notion that the world circles around us individually “the me, me attitude” will in the end be our own loss. We lack vision for the future and do not think about our children as the generation to succeed us like other countries think. For example, in most households in Ghana, who eats the fatling off the meal? It is the parents (Papa and Mama) and not the children who need nutrition to grow…often they get the leftovers and bones to chew on. We are a nation of the “here and now, and selfish” Ghana has turned into the land of survival of the corrupt and con men with lack of empathy. It is the me, me attitude.

Looking at the major airlines offering services to Ghana, KLM and British Airways have played a major role in scratching our backs and we should thank them. British Airways have successfully played catch up but with Amsterdam as gateway to Europe and Asia, KLM does not feel threatened in its non-competitive service from Amsterdam to Ghana. Such complacency has led to abuse. We are at the mercy of foreign airlines and investors who feel that we lack self-governance and business entrepreneurship. We have sold most of our infrastructures to foreigners and not Ghanaians, why don't we sell Ghana Airways? This is just a thought. Why do we have to purchase corroded and decommissioned fleet of aircraft that are not airworthy to fly in Ghana? Are we not good for anything better? The Management of Ghana Airways thinks corruption, lies, and delayed tactics play well with other nations. This is a true exhibit of the Ghanaian mentality at best. Such simple deliberate oversight if that, is not excusable either. Why does the Government of Ghana or the administration pay contractors or intermediaries a huge percentage of the cost to purchase equipments and machinery for Ghana while keeping people on the payroll who are well qualified to do the same? How can the Management of Ghana Airways fail to renew its license to operate in the USA but do not forget to allow the issuance of FREE GHANA AIRWAYS TICKETS for relatives to vacation in London and elsewhere. Is it incompetence or amnesia? When at fault, do they receive the proper punishment that merits their cases? The answer is no, because some in the very Criminal Justice System have indulged in bribery and corruption themselves and more than likely are associated or have close ties with those people at the helm and therefore go unpunished or get lesser punishment. Become the manager, Assistant Manager, Manager of Operations, etc. etc. of Ghana Airways, and you can take away provisions purchased to be used solely for catering on the airlines, take alcoholic beverages to be served in flight for self enjoyment. Where and what company in the world offers such lucrative benefit to its employees and relatives including FREE AIR TICKETS? Presumably, some of you will dispute these allegations, but I have lived in the same house with an Administrator for Ghana Airways…the family and relatives lived well beyond Kings and Queens. Most consumable items had Ghana Airways emblem on them, plush or soft drinks, tots of alcoholic beverages, packages of ready made salads, meats packaged for Ghana Airways, bags of rice etc. The psychological influence on me to work for Ghana Airways as a result was great, of course, I did not know any better as a student.

Based on some of the corrupt undertakings of Ghana Airways leading to loss of revenue, we cannot invest in newer but older fleet of aircraft that fail airworthy inspection to fly, that coupled with some pilots who risk passengers' lives by consuming alcoholic drinks before flight does not speak well of the Government and the people of Ghana. Anything good or bad however, rests with the Government or his administration. I highly commend the Government however, for taking the initiative to correct the problem. Creating a task force is the first step and I hope this task force do not create or become a “web of corrupters” in the end. In my view, a task force should be diversified to include farmers, ministers, the like, and not just the elite. Wisdom and common sense are not at parity. A graduate could have book intelligence and just as dumb on social issues, most Kings were illiterates but they had wisdom or common sense, as such diversity is important.

When a citizen refuses to travel on Ghana Airways, the non-patronizing Ghanaian, in effect is labeled “unpatriotic,” but do you blame them? Would you like to be stranded in a foreign country and short on cash? Would you trust your life to a corroded aircraft or non-airworthy aircraft, which increases its probability of disintegrating in mid air? Would you want a drunken pilot who can easily become disoriented to be captain of your flight? In Ghana, there is minimal or no accountability in place, the manager of any Government operation is the god of all the small gods and speaks with vengeance; he will fire you if you snitch. The practice is scratch your boss's back and be taken care of. Playing the watchdog for each other, they show up to work at 11:00 a.m., take lunch at 12:30 p.m., return to work at 3:00 p.m. and close at 4:00 p.m. This is the prosperous Ghana. How dare we compare ourselves to United States, Germany or Britain where if you are late 3 minutes for work, you can lose 15 minutes of pay, and 3 late occurrences in a month you can lose your job? We need an Act of God to tweak our corruptible minds to God-fearing, selfless, and dignified citizens.

Many airlines have undoubtedly seized the opportunities that have been available to Ghana Airways for years to service Ghana either to Amsterdam (a gateway to Europe) or elsewhere for years. In spite of their huge revenue from operations in Ghana, some of these foreign airlines have created a very demeaning atmosphere. Oh yes, they do employ Ghanaians but, almost all of their managerial positions for operations are held by non-Ghanaians. Have you seen a baggage handler for KLM, British Airways or Lufthansa at Kotoka Airport who is white? All the Airlines servicing Ghana offer poorer services to Ghanaians than they offer Europeans, Americans or other nationals. KLM is the worst of the pack. If anyone has ever flown on KLM from elsewhere to Amsterdam and connected with KLM to Ghana, one will agree that the services on that route was far better than services offered en route from Amsterdam to Ghana. While British Airways is not far behind, it has better boarding and in flight service as Lufthansa Airlines. Nevertheless, British Airways and Lufthansa Airlines are worse in employment of Ghanaians. In lieu of all the ills, KLM charges Ghanaians $36.00 each way ($72.00 roundtrip) on flights to or from Amsterdam /Ghana which starts on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In contrast, no major airline (British Airways, Lufthansa, South African Airways, Ghana Airways, Alitalia etc.) with flights from Ghana to elsewhere charges extra to fly on those days of the week. When you are down and can't get up, everyone tramples on you for free. With no possible choice, you just go with the flow.

On all flights from the continental US, Great Britain, Germany, and Asia to Amsterdam, all kinds of services including limitless choices of major newspapers and magazines to read, wine, beer and other types of liquor or soft drinks are available on flights. Maybe, the reason behind this by KLM is that most of the passengers are made up of different nationals, racial or ethnic groups (mostly white) unlike what is seen on travel from Amsterdam to Ghana of which 90% (on average) of the passengers are Black (Africans). For the times I traveled on KLM from Amsterdam to Ghana (1998/99, 2002, and 2003), not only did I witness intimidation and disrespect but also degradation. During boarding in Amsterdam, the boarding gate was so crowded as if a flock of vultures were pecking off the flesh on a bone of a carcass at Serengeti. The body language, facial expressions, and the gleaming stare by KLM attendants showed lack of concern. One foreign traveler from USA who works for a US Embassy witnessed the chaos at Amsterdam; she expressed the same sentiment and defined her experience on frequent flights as “a repeated and calculated abuse.”

In Amsterdam, KLM hardly puts out newspapers on board their aircrafts bound for Ghana (saving money?) and each passenger is limited to one newspaper if at all. An attendant who stood at the gate refused me one each of the 3-days old newspapers (Financial Times, US News) on board. His statement was “everybody is allowed one newspaper, take a choice.” I cannot agree more, they are smart to circulate 3-days old newspapers by probably paying ten cents on a dollar for each newspaper, very smart abuse on Ghanaians indeed. His argument for not allowing me one each of the old newspapers was that, there were not enough newspapers to go around and that many passengers collected the newspapers for sale. If that is true, KLM needs to implement a policy that all newspapers, just like audio headsets should not be taken off the aircraft. The attendants sometimes refuse serving alcoholic beverages because most Ghanaians don't consume the tot bottles of wine or beer but take it off the aircraft for sale. Again, KLM can and should implement a rule to benefit the many. Drinks are not to be taken off any aircraft anyway.

In spite of offering Ghanaians poorer service in comparison to services elsewhere, one is at the mercy of KLM if one's baggage is delayed or lost. About 8 months ago, I had a delayed baggage on KLM. My delayed baggage was mishandled right from the beginning. In my investigation, a credible source told me that some passengers are compensated for delayed baggage others are not. How they profile who gets compensated and who does not beats me. In other words, KLM has no firm standards in Ghana to adhere to when it comes to baggage claims. They however are good at providing frequent service…. it's all about the Euro. Let us evaluate how airlines are supposed to handle baggage claims stemming from my investigations and experience. If you live within city limits e.g. Tema or Greater Accra, an airline has the choice of delivering your baggage to you at home or compensating you for your travel but do not have to pay for inconveniences such as clothing, beauty aids, toiletries, etc. If customs declaration issues are a problem, the airline should compensate you for your travel to claim your baggage. There should be no qualms about this. If you live outside of city limits e.g. Nsawam, Tamale, Sunyani, Kumasi etc. not only is the airline obligated to pay for your travel to claim your baggage but also for your daily inconveniences for as long as your baggage is delayed. The payments to you are prorated because most of the reimbursable items are reusable and not consummated.

If on filing a claim, the person authorized to disburse funds for inconveniences is sick or gone for the day (the usual excuse you get) you will not get paid. Ironically, they will ask you to provide receipts if you file a claim in writing. Similarly, you will have to provide receipts if you request payment on the following day for all the items you purchased. Without receipts, the most sinister offer by KLM is a travel discount voucher or certificate if you are lucky. The voucher can only be redeemed through purchasing your ticket directly from KLM and not from your travel agent. The coupon cannot be redeemed for cash and you cannot give it to uncle Kofi to use (non-transferable) and you better travel within one year or lose it altogether. You may redeem your coupon at KLM and end up paying about 45% more than buying the same ticket from a travel agent because agents purchase tickets in bulk at discounted prices and pass the savings to you. To my dismay, the baggage holding area in Accra is full to capacity with more than 50% of the baggage from KLM. I believe, most travelers from places like Tamale, Takoradi, Berekum and elsewhere literally give up and wait for weeks or months before traveling to Accra and checking on their lost or delayed baggage without any form of compensation. The airport authorities need to take inventory and start charging penalties for baggage held more than 5 working days. This creates a fire hazard and who knows what some of the contents of the baggage are: pressurized canisters, hairsprays, electronic batteries etc. can explode at certain temperatures. Ghanaians should demand good and equitable service and should not succumb to unequal treatment by KLM. Just because Ghana Airways is ill managed and not self-sustaining does not imply abuse. Remember however, that before you slice off your right hand that feeds you, make sure our Ghana Airways is in full gear and reaching for the unlimited skies. Meanwhile, we should not condone bribery; but give money at heart and not as quid pro quo. We need to insist on compensation from any airline for inconveniences the very day we arrive not a day later. In January 2003, I complained in writing (claim case# 1911226, file# 1911226) to agents and the President of KLM/NWA Airlines to answer my questions about price gouging, service, baggage claim issues but all to no avail and no response to date except a coupon for $100.00. The next time you travel on KLM, remember your actions go far and wide, you are an ambassador of your country, portray good behavior, and respect the presence of others. Discreetly and without belligerence, we need to speak up against bias and maltreatment by KLM or any airline until changes are put in place.

In all, we have to remember to show restraint and good manners, after all Ghana Airways should bear the blunt of the blame. I pray that someday there will be a tro-tro or a boat available for travel from Amsterdam to Ghana (Africa). At least our baggage will be with us when we arrive and we will not have to listen to the deafening cheers and screams by some for safe landing at Kotoka International Airport. When the plane lands at Kotoka next time, can we just say, “Hallelujah, praise God” for a change, or better still keep a silent prayer instead? God will appreciate us more and help our Ghana. At least He will know that we think of Him and appreciate Him and He will do the same for us. Hallelujah. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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