In November 2014, I had an opportunity to fly Kenya Airways from Bangkok, Thailand to Hong Kong, China. The following is a report on my experience with wheelchair assistance on the airline.
Flight: KQ 860
Aircraft: Boeing 787-800
Distance: 1,051 miles
Check-in went smoothly. There were standard questions about my wheelchair and its battery type/connection. I insisted on taking my wheelchair to the gate and did not have to argue for it. That is rare for Asia. The agent was very courteous and I was on my way to security and passport control within 20 minutes.
At about one hour to departure, I arrived at the gate. I was escorted by an agent to another gate area on the terminal’s ground floor and asked to wait for a short time. I was transported to the plane in a cargo truck with a wheelchair lift. Most airports in Europe and Asia have these vehicles as they allow for faster loading/unloading of passengers who require the aisle chair.
The truck, which has a design similar to that of aircraft catering vehicles, connected to the Boeing 787 at door 2R. I transferred from my power wheelchair into the aisle chair, disconnected the power to the control joystick, and was helped onto the aircraft.
On this flight, I was sitting in the airline’s Premier World Business Class. It was a short flight, but I had a Delta voucher to use and was able to lower the cost of the $340.00 fare. Once pushed on board the aircraft, I was told that I had been moved from the seat I had reserved, 2J, to seat 4J, because it would be “easier.” While seat 4J was fine and still in my class of service, I did not appreciate my seat being changed without my prior consent.
The plane was not very full, even in the economy cabin. Service was prompt and courteous. Due to it being a short flight, I did not have the need to use the restroom and cannot report on the cabin crew’s competence with the onboard aisle chair.
Upon arrival to the gate at Hong Kong International Airport, assistance with deplaning came quickly. The airport staff refused to deliver my wheelchair, which had been gate checked in Bangkok, to the gate. It was a very long walk/roll to passport control. My pressure-relieving seat cushion was attached to my power wheelchair. After clearing immigration, I waited for nearly an hour for my wheelchair at baggage claim. This was in addition to the time spent getting to and through passport control.
When my wheelchair arrived, it had sustained some minor aesthetic (not mechanical) damage since I had last seen it prior to boarding in Bangkok. The Kenya Airways staff in Hong Kong were all contract employees and I was basically told that nothing would be done. I was not compensated in any way for the damage or for the time spent waiting for my chair.
Given the generally positive experience at departure from Bangkok, I will give Kenya Airways another chance. I believe that the problem in Hong Kong was the “too bad” attitude of the contracted staff who were working for the airline. The flight crew were friendly to me and I have no complaints about the in-flight experience.
I should note that I had arranged wheelchair service in advance with the airline, about one month prior to departure. I reached out via @KenyaAirways on Twitter and received an e-mail asking for the specifications of my chair. The airline thus had ample time to prepare for my travel.
Here is a video with scenes from my trip:
Have you previously flown Kenya Airways with a disability? Share your experience in the comments below.