Lufthansa, which forced partner Brussels Airlines off the Nairobi route in exchange for flights to Accra, Ghana, is coming under severe and sustained critique.
Apparently, the airlines has made a U-turn and is scaling back the number of services operated from the envisaged four to just three, in addition to which a smaller aircraft is now scheduled to operate the Frankfurt to Nairobi flights from mid-October.
The news a few months ago that Brussels Airlines, which operated an Airbus A330-200 from Brussels via either Bujumbura or Kigali to Nairobi before returning to Brussels nonstop, had been pushed to accept a deal reportedly forced upon them by senior partner Lufthansa, to yield the route to Kenya to them, had caused some serious consternation among travelers and travel agents alike.
At the end of the 1990s, Lufthansa ditched the Nairobi route under the flimsy pretext of not having a suitable aircraft after the sale of their Airbus A310 fleet, though insiders at the time speculated that the Africa management forced the decision over revenues as flights to destinations like Asmara and Addis Ababa continued uninterrupted.
“They could not stand the competitive heat over low fares, that is the truth about what happened back then,” volunteered a Nairobi-based travel agent before adding, “We were happy with Brussels Airlines. They were punctual, offered good fares and good service. Many of us are sad that they were pushed out of Nairobi, and the latest news about Lufthansa now scaling back flights from four to three is just a reminder how they abandoned Nairobi 15 years ago. In fact, if the rumors are true that they intend to use a small single-aisle aircraft, they are very mistaken if they think they will make an impact in Kenya. Airlines like Qatar or Etihad use the Airbus A320, but that is only for a flight of about 5 hours. Frankfurt to Nairobi is eight plus hours, and squeezing people into a small aircraft will be self-defeating. The Gulf airlines, BA, KLM, Turkish will all have a field day to demolish Lufthansa’s sales efforts.”
Another senior travel agent rubbished the Lufthansa return altogether when commenting on the emerging news that the airline planned to scrap the Sunday flight and change the aircraft from a wide-body to a Boeing B737-700: “For one, an airline like Lufthansa is expected to operate daily flights and absorb the startup cost until the route is profitable. Secondly, reducing the already ridiculous four flights to three is doing their reputation a lot of extra damage. People are asking why do you come back with a very limited service? Thirdly, the distance is just too long to use a single-aisle aircraft for the route, a very bad way to relaunch and re-enter Kenya. Fourthly, even when they eventually bring a wide-body it is an old Airbus A340, in other words they offload their rubbish equipment on the Kenyan market. Why, and I asked you that before, did they not just let things be as they were. They codeshared with Swiss and Brussels Airlines and it worked well. This is just an ego trip for them it seems, and the way they are starting up makes them a laughing stock. You wait and see how the likes of Emirates, Qatar, Turkish, KLM and BA will take them apart. Foolish, very foolish.”
Wait and see it for sure as all eyes are on the inaugural flight and what whoever comes to Nairobi to represent Lufthansa on the occasion will have to say in mitigation of such poorly-planned changes sprung on the Kenyan market at the very last moment.
“We had high hopes for a big global airline like Lufthansa to come back to Nairobi,” said a regular source close to the Kenya Tourism Board before adding, “Now it seems for whatever commercial reasons they have, they are not delivering what they promised. That is a big letdown, because the net effect, after Brussels Airlines goes away, is a loss of available seats, not an increase as we were told. This is very disappointing from a company like Lufthansa, very disappointing.”
No doubt the airline will now use spin doctors and local PR links to mitigate this rather unmitigated re-entry disaster and everyone will watch their next moves and the reasons they will give to the public.