Rwandair successfully sabotaging its own grand plan to become the aviation leader in the region

I had heard so much from friends and family about Rwandair’s good deals. The Rwandan national carrier is fast becoming a favorite of many travelers on a budget. When my big sister, Gertrude, visited me in Johannesburg last November, she came aboard Rwandair and loved it. She had been upgraded to business class on the Kigali-Johannesburg leg of the trip. Jealous, right? I surely was.

So when I got my South Africa visa renewed on 10 Jan 2013, four days to my proposed date of travel, Rwandair was my preferred carrier of choice. I skipped from the South Africa High Commission on Nakasero Road down to the splash Rwenzori Courts, where the Rwandair offices are located, as catalogued in the Eye Magazine. And when I got there, the ticket cost me $565. It was a fabulous deal, I paid on spot and prepared for my night flight.

I have since learnt to travel light, and in this case, light means carrying one slightly over weight suitcase. Yes, I am known to travel with no less than 3 huge suitcases. So doing one is a mighty downgrade. I gave myself points for fitting my life over the next 15 months in Johannesburg into one bright orange Gino De Vinci suitcase.  Life was good.

After hours of waiting, transit and eventual travel, we landed at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg at the scheduled time- 5:30am on Tuesday morning. Tired from the flight and reeling from lack of sleep, we filed out of the plane and headed for the immigration desks. Once we completed with immigration, we moved to carousel 2 where the Rwandair baggage would come through. The carousel slowly spat out the baggage. It made a low humming sound as it made the rounds laden with bags. We crowded around it waiting for our luggage. No one seemed to be picking up their luggage, yet the carousel kept spilling out more and more bags.

First we thought that we were at the wrong carousel, even though the TV screen above the carousel 2: Rwandair. A few of us headed to carousel 7 to see whether our bags could have been loaded there. Nothing.

We returned to carousel 2 and it hit us that Rwandair had not loaded our baggage in Kigali. This luggage, swirling unclaimed on the carousels, which clearly was not ours, had come aboard Rwandair. One black briefcase making rounds on the carousel caught my attention because it had burst open. My heart went out to the owner. Clearly the careless handling had been responsible for the damage.

One of the workers at baggage claim, advised us to make our way to Lost and Found, and file complaints. He added that we should not leave the airport without lodging our claims. He said the luggage we saw was for Rwandair passengers who had traveled on Sunday, 13 January. He added that Rwandair has steadily built for itself a reputation of not delivering passengers’ luggage.

Two women I had made friends with regaled me with horror stories of traveling aboard Rwandair out of Johannesburg in December, 2012. Obviously overwhelmed with the demand, because the airline had overbooked. Passengers were not called about the change in flight plans, so they made their way to the airport only to be turned away. Some demanded for hotel accommodation, which was provided, albeit, reluctantly. Many waited two days or more before they could travel.

As we slowly made our way to the Lost and Found, we agreed, that supporting Rwandair was highly overrated. There was no official to explain to us what had happened to our luggage. No apology offered. The planeload of passengers, cursing and promising never to travel with the airlines again, trudged to lodge their claims. Everyone had their own version of what could have happened, but it was no doubt that the airline had knowingly boarded a planeload of passengers without their baggage. I mean lost and found cases happen with all airlines, but a whole planeload not receiving their luggage takes the game a little too far.

As we filled in our contact details in Johannesburg where the baggage would be delivered, on little sheets of paper hurriedly provided, one passenger asked whether the delivery would be taken to Mpumalanga where she lived. Would the luggage arrive in one piece?

Another plane landed. It was the Korean Airways, and the lady at the Lost and Found, shooed us away to make way for new cases. So we were relegated to one corner, huddled together, breathing in each other’s musty smells, as we waited to lodge our complaints.

For people who had paid for a service, the treatment of the passengers was and is so very unacceptable. Dejected souls who had boarded the plane made their way out of the airport that morning, most promising not use the airlines again.

I and another passenger went up to the ticketing desk to enquire about compensation. It is standard procedure that when an airline leaves behind your luggage or misplaces it, they give a small compensation to enable you buy essentials before your luggage is delivered. None of this information was relayed to the passengers.

The lady at the ticketing desk was involved in banter with another passenger who had just bought a ticket. He was laughing and I thought to myself, you won’t be laughing after your travel. We asked to speak to someone about the luggage problem and she referred us to a Doug in the upstairs office. With a brusque, “I do sales. Doug deals with ticketing,” response, she momentarily dismissed us.  When we went upstairs, the Rwandair office was closed. There was no Doug.

Three hours after my arrival, I boarded the Gautrain to Rosebank, wondering what I was going to do. All I had was a rucksack with my laptops and a handbag with important documents.

I spent four days in the same clothes with little or no communication from Rwandair, save for tweets on twitter. The Johannesburg office was useless. No one was picking the phones. There has been no written apology to the passengers because I surely haven’t received mine in the mail.

I doubt that any of the passengers who experienced the despicable service will be using the airline.  I, for one, will look into cancelling the return leg of my flight.

Such treatment of passengers spells doom for Rwandair. Obviously, the airline is having a hard time managing success. If things continue at this rate, they should brace themselves for managing failure.  Rwandair is successfully sabotaging itself and spelling doom for its plans to be the regional aviation leader.

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13 thoughts on “Rwandair successfully sabotaging its own grand plan to become the aviation leader in the region

  1. Dear Jackee,
    My name is Robert, and I’m in charge of Marketing, Loyalty, and E-commerce. Like you put it so well, we have quite put a stain to our image. If I may explain the reason behind this, we introduced a daring increase to our network connectivity and frequencies. This risk was however well calculated, as we expected it would come at the expense of a number of inconvenienced passengers, like yourself. As we speak, the risk has been greatly mitigated and now we have a stable schedule and still maintain the same frequencies.

    Please accept my sincere apologies, on behalf of RwandAir, for the bad service rendered to you.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you first of all for your post, this greatly comes in handy in managing crisis and improving our services; and secondly for your honesty.

    If there is anyway we could agree to gain your loyalty and patronage to our services I can be reached on +250788478175 anytime.

    • I am so happy that Robert has responded to Jakee’s misery. THis very good. I am just curious to know if Jakee has accepted the apologies and is willing to get served better now that Rwandair is begging her to come back. I would if I were Jakee,

    • I am glad that Mr. Robert responded and apologized but Rwandair should seriously train their stuff in handling such crisis.
      Kindly allow me to share my story as well.

      On the 7th January I sat at the Bujumbura International Airport from 6.50am to 1.30pm because the morning flight was cancelled and we were asked to wait for the midday flight. As if waiting was not enough, once in the plane we were told we were going to pass by Mwanza, we reached our final destination, Kigali at 3.10pm. Truth be told, yes at least a Fanta was offered as compensation!
      We were told that the morning flight was cancelled due to bad weather but I was more amazed to find out the Kenya airways and South African Airways manage the journey with no problem between the two countries during that same time frame. Are they using an itinerary different from Rwandair?

      Though I was very upset about my situation, I was more worried about a friend who had to take her connection to Canada with Ethiopian at 1pm in Kigali. After numerous phone calls to Rwandair both in Bujumbura and in Kigali she was transferred to Kenya airways that left Bujumbura around 10.30AM. Let me emphasize the fact that it’s US who were making the calls not Rwandair. Fortunately she managed to catch her connection on time.

      I did not realize it at the moment but it occurred to me that we were only 8 passengers that morning and all of us deserved the same treatment. Rwandair was well aware of our situation and had no plan of sending an earlier flight for the 8 of us, but what if some of us had important business meeting to attend? Or Medical appointments? Myself had to pick my daughter and take the night flight back to Bujumbura the same night, reason why I was in the morning one.

      I shared my misadventure with some friends and almost ALL of them had trouble with the flight Kigali-Bujumbura, some were either left once at the airport because the plane left earlier, some others had to transit in Entebbe or Kenya and this without being notified while purchasing the ticket.

      Much as we are part of the East African community, the flights are not DOMESTICS but INTERNATIONALS, please give some respect to passengers. You are seriously damaging your reputation and much as I am not a morning person, I am now tempted to take the 6am flights that South African Airways is offering, which by the way ,is cheaper.

      Just to add on Jackee’s story, I completed my studies in South Africa. From 2004 to 2009, every single time we would come back for holidays our luggage would be left behind. I really doubt that the reason was an “increase to our network connectivity and frequencies” it was because of overbooking and loading the plane to its maximum capacity. I even remember Rwandair restructuring and firing some staff for that, seems like a DEJA-VU isn’t it?

      Mr. Robert, I suggest that you review carefully your marketing plan; you are so eager to expand your network that you are forgetting a major tool for success called service quality.

      Thank you Jackee for sharing your story.

    • I am glad that Mr. Robert responded and apologized but Rwandair should seriously train their stuff in handling such crisis. Kindly Jackee allow me to share my story too.

      On the 7th January I sat at the Bujumbura International Airport from 6.50am to 1.30pm because the morning flight was cancelled and we were asked to wait for the midday flight. As if waiting was not enough, once in the plane we were told we were going to pass by Mwanza, we reached our final destination, Kigali at 3.10pm. Truth be told, yes at least a Fanta was offered as compensation!

      We were told that the morning flight was cancelled due to “bad weather” but I was more amazed to find out that Kenya airways and South African Airways managed the journey with no problem between the two countries during that same time frame. I might knowledgable but are they using an itinerary different from Rwandair?

      Though I was very upset about my situation, I was more worried about a friend who had to take her connection to Canada with Ethiopian at 1pm in Kigali. After numerous phone calls to Rwandair both in Bujumbura and in Kigali she was transferred to Kenya airways that left Bujumbura around 10.30AM. Let me emphasize the fact that it’s US who were making the calls not Rwandair. Fortunately she managed to catch her connection on time.

      I did not realize it at the moment but it occurred to me that we were only 8 passengers that morning and i now believe that all of us deserved the same treatment. Rwandair was well aware of our situation and had no plan of sending an earlier flight for the 8 of us, but what if some of us had important business meetings to attend? Or Medical appointments? Myself had to pick my daughter and take the night flight back to Bujumbura the same night, reason why I was in the morning.

      I shared my misadventure with some friends and almost ALL of them had once experienced troubles with Rwandair most especially with the route Kigali-Bujumbura; some were left once at the airport because the plane left earlier, some others had to transit either by Entebbe or Kenya and this without being notified while purchasing the ticket…

      Much as we are part of the East African community, the flights are not DOMESTIC flights but INTERNATIONAL flights so please give some respect to passengers. You are seriously damaging your reputation and much as I am not a morning person, I am now tempted to take the 6am flight that South African Airways is offering, which by the way ,is cheaper.

      to finish, i would likt to add on Jackee’s story, I completed my studies in South Africa. From 2004 to 2009, every single time we would come back for holidays our luggage would be left behind. I really doubt that the reason was an “increase to our network connectivity and frequencies” it was because of overbooking and loading the plane to its maximum capacity. I even remember Rwandair restructuring and firing some staff at the time. seems to me like a DEJA-VU!

      Mr. Robert, I suggest that you review carefully your marketing plan; you are so eager to expand your network that you are forgetting a major tool for success called service quality.

      Thank you Jackee for sharing your story.

  2. Dear Robert Nsinga,

    Thank you for your comment on my blog post about Rwandair’s disturbing service. It is much appreciated.

    However, just apologizing to just one passenger who has written does not address the discontent the hundreds of passengers affected by this crisis. You have many more passengers who may not have been able to voice their displeasure with the service that you need to reach. When I was buying my air ticket, the airlines took down my email address. But there was no explanation or apology ever sent to the passengers.

    Your explanation still does not address the lapse in a planeload of passengers boarding while their luggage is left behind. If it was just an individual case, I would not have blogged about this, because misplaced luggage happens all over the world, but not when the issue comes to more than 5 people, then more effort needs to be made to inform the passengers and address the situation. Neither does it show that the passengers were considered in this ambitious expansion.

    Many people use your airline for two reasons- the good deals and also to promote the national carrier.

    Kind regards,

    Jackee

  3. To be willing to take this kind of risk must have a motive that is more than increasing network and frequency. Robert, what do your planes persistently carry instead of the passengers’ luggage? Something no one at Rwandair will be willing to tell, I guess. I have my suspicions, already.

  4. Dear Jackee, and Isabelle,

    We are working tirelessly to improve our communications services. Thank you for your thoughts and willingness to share your personal experiences. Like Jackee says, dealing with one passenger doesn’t appease the entire plane. But I also believe a one-on-one interaction is very important, case by case. And you would be surprised with the number of people I have had to explain myself to. Please keep sharing, it is very much appreciated… you have no idea!

    Kind regards,
    Robert Nsinga

  5. Dear Robert,
    I would be great full if Rwandair could put some of your words into action. Am one of the latest victim who lost a baggage and nobody seems to care at all. Johannesburg office as usuall never picks calls, and the Uganda office (Kampala/Entebbe) giving me same statements everyday “we are tracing it, we’ve sent an email, will call you” it’s exactly 8days today since i lost my suitcase.
    I don’t know where where Rwandair is heading with a bunch of incapable stuff in their system.
    Am left with no option but sue this Airline so as wake them from their deep sleep.
    Wiri Emmanuel Drake
    wiriak47@yahoo.com

  6. Hi Jackee, excellent blog. I feel your pain, literally, sitting here in South Africa with no baggage and, worse, no idea where it might be. The baggage-handling agents in Joburg rattled the keys on their computer for several minutes but were unable to say if my suitcase had been put on the plane from Dubai to Kigali that morning, never mind from Kigali to Johannesburg. There was ‘nothing’ on the system.
    As the clock ticked past midnight, I was sent on my way, albeit politely, with a World Management Baggage Tracing System number, so I could track the whereabouts of my bag online … only as far as I am able to determine (nearly 24 hours later), Rwandair are not affiliated to the international system, which makes me wonder why I was given this number in the first place.
    I spoke to the baggage-handling people at Joburg airport again this morning and they still could give me no idea of where my bag is, making me wonder what use is it having a baggage check with a so-called bar code and serial number if it relates to absolutely nothing and there is no information whatsoever on computer.
    Though today’s flight from Kigali to Joburg was scheduled to arrive about now, there’s no reply from the relevant phone number I was given at Johannesburg airport and I have not been informed if my luggage arrived on this flight. I am unable to go to the airport and check becasue I have since moved on to Durban on business.
    It has been impossible all day to contact any representative of the airline, despite being given a cell phone number for their man in Joburg! It seems it’s all smoke, mirrors and false numbers with this Rwandair crowd.
    Incidentally, when I asked if Rwandair could supply an overnight bag including essential toiletries, etc, I was told they don’t! A request about compensation in the event of the bag being missing for more than 48 hours (something airlines are legally bound to advise passengers of under international convention) drew little more than a shrug and a change of subject.
    So far, because of the incompetence of Rwandair, I’ve so far had to buy toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving cream, razor, underwear, socks, shirt and a new South African plug adaptor to replace items the one in my missing bag. I’m away from home for a fortnight and due next weekend to head for Abu Dhabi, via Joburg, Kigali and Dubai, for another week’s business before returning home to Ireland. Flying with Rwandair was fine, the planes are relatively new, the staff very courteous and the in-flight service was good … but as soon as I stepped off the plane in Johannesburg and discovered my case was missing, it was like entering the Twilight Zone.
    Who set up their baggage service, Bernie Madoff?
    Has anyone got a number for John Mirenge … a real number …. it’s important he knows what an appalling mess is being made of an otherwise decent operation. So well Jackie, I share your pain!!!

    .

    • Hi Jackee … I thought you should be first to know, my suitcase and I are an item once again. After 42 hours apart, we have been reunited in Durban. Well done Rwandair … I needed a few extra socks and shorts anyway and it was worth a little inconvenience to see Kigali and a few of its beautiful people. Cheers, Karl MacGinty

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