On Sunday, at around 5 pm, Kenyans who subscribe to news alerts received a text message alerting them that the runway at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was closed after an emergency landing and that flights would be delayed.
Such a message sounds harmless and almost inconsequential. But it is not. It signifies the onset of total chaos at Kenya’s leading international airport.
It turns out, again from this ‘news’ services that an aircraft from Somalia had made an emergency landing and gone ‘bellyflop’ on the runway.
After the incident, in which no casualties were reported, no plane could land or take off. A mishap or accident at JKIA grounds airport operations totally for as long as it takes to clear it.
Ordinarily, airports close in case of a state of emergency, a coup d'état or a threat of terrorism. Where an airport has only one runway, an emergency of any sort might also count as a reason.
I happen to have been held up in the latest airport closure. I was amazed at the level of understanding, or lack of it, that clients exhibit when they are even slightly inconvenienced.
One thing airport services can do better is to give the most useful information. Announcing that this or that flight has been delayed for two hours, then another two hours, then cancelled does not help client tempers at all.
In such cases passengers are left to individually seek out reasons for the delays, which means that staff has to be prepared to deal with all sorts of temperaments.
For once, I was totally sympathetic with Kenya Airways and other carriers who are often blamed for delays, bump-offs and sometimes overbooking. In this instance they need to be cut some slack.
When the airport's only runway is shut down, it is not the fault of any carrier, the Kenya Airports Authority, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority or any other body.
Cornering a Kenya Airways worker with the argument that with the NYS money we can build another airstrip may be hilarious ordinarily, but is quite ridiculous at such a stressful time.
Second, some basic manners. The world is unlikely to end just because you did not travel to Kisumu, Malindi or Mombasa. So please do not yell the airport down, even if, or should I say especially if, you are accompanied by children.
So you will sue. Fair enough, call your lawyer and tell the story. Other travellers, who also have someplace to be, are just taking the bad news in their stride.
It turns out that the last time there was an incident on the runway it took almost 10 hours to sort it out. So the five hours this Sunday may not be an international record, but it is a great improvement, and improvement is always something to appreciate.