The Kulula Ordeal

After Alistair and I tweeted about our horrific Kulula experience on Saturday, Kulula asked me to email them. Below is the email I sent detailing the nightmare of cancelled flights, airport sprints and complete lack of care shown towards fur children.

Basically I’ve asked them to sort their shit out. I used to be a fan, but until they fix their planes I’m regretfully going to be supporting the de facto parastatal that is SAA.

Looks good, but doesn't always fly.

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To whom it may concern

You asked via twitter that I contact you with regards to our kulula experience on Saturday. My husband (@afairweather) and I (@amandasevasti) are in the process of relocating to Joburg from Cape Town and decided to fly up with our cat, Boo.

I originally booked a flight one month ago, but received an email two days before the flight informing me that it had been cancelled and we’d been moved to another flight two and a half hours later. This was problematic for the people fetching us from the airport so I phoned to request an earlier flight and we were put on MN112 at 11:35am.

We had Boo and excess luggage so we arrived an hour and a half early. We checked in, paying for our excess baggage and Boo (this took longer than usual because the ticketing desk’s printer wasn’t working and they miscalculated the excess). I then asked if the flight was definitely leaving on time and was told “yes”. We gave Boo a sedative and proceeded to take her to the excess storage area, where her carrier had to be scanned while we had to hold her in an open airport – not the most efficient process, but the drugs had calmed her.

We went through security (little did I know this would be the first of 3 times) and got to our gate. Everyone lined up at 11:10 and it looked like the gate was opening. We were then told that there was a problem with the plane and the flight would be delayed until 2:45 at the latest. We were advised that we could go back to the check-in counter and try to get on an earlier flight, but it would be wiser to sit tight and wait for the engineers.

I was worried about Boo, but was told she could be collected from the cargo area so I could give her another sedative. By 12:35, we’d heard nothing so we went to the check-in counter and asked if we could be put on the 2pm BA flight, just to be safe. We had plenty of time to transfer our luggage and Boo so I thought this was the wisest course of action.

At the check-in counter we were told that, “MN112 is definitely leaving at 2, the plane has been fixed. So it’s not worth your while to transfer to another flight at the same time.” My husband and I took this in good faith and waited another half an hour. At 1pm we asked to see Boo again so that we could give her another sedative. It is not advisable to keep animals drugged for a prolonged period of time, but we had been assured of our flight’s departure at 2.

We gave her another sedative and once again had to hold her in the open airport while the carrier was scanned. We then proceeded thorugh security again and went to our gate. It was now 1:35. We waited at the gate. And waited. At 1:50 we were told that the flight would not be leaving at 2, but had been delayed “indefinitely”. None of the staff could tell us what was going on, but said that this “usually means the flight is cancelled”.

A uniformed BA staff member then asked those with children / animals and the elderly to come with her to put us on a 1Time flight leaving at 2:10 – i.e. in 20 minutes. She told us to go to Gate A12.

We ran through the airport to Gate A12 and were then told we had to go back through security to the 1Time check-in counter. We raced back and I asked what was happening with our luggage and Boo, but the uniformed BA staffer had disappeared and the 1Time people had no idea. Then a man on a cellphone dressed in plain clothes appeared and assured me that our luggage and Boo were being put on the 2pm BA flight. I had no idea who this man was but what else could we do?

We then went through security for a third time and were harrassed for not taking our laptops out correctly, all the while being told to “hurry” as we only had 5 minutes to make the 1Time flight. After another 200-metre mad dash, we boarded the 1Time flight. We had no idea if our luggage and Boo had been put on the 2pm BA flight or not. I prayed the whole way to Joburg.

When we arrived, I was relieved to reached the luggage carousel and find our luggage and Boo – tired, traumatised and still very dopey from the extra sedative.

The whole procedure was an ordeal of miscommunication, incompetence and blatant untruths. The already stressful task of relocating was made even worse. My biggest concern was the complete disregard for animal welfare. Do not lie and tell people the plane is fixed when they have a sedated pet.

I used to be a fan of kulula, flying it very often for business. I resent that my taxes keep SAA afloat and I always like to support the underdog, in this case Comair.

However my husband and I, as well as our friends and business colleagues, have noticed that these “technical problems” are happening more and more frequently. Get some new planes or more mechanics (your “new livery” doesn’t count). Until then, I will not be flying kulula. Despite the discounts I receive, it’s just not worth the stress. And I’m not the only one.

Regards,
Amanda Sevasti Whitehouse

8 Comments

  • July 19, 2010 - 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had the worst flying experiences with BA and Kulula. The absolute worst. Multiple delays with BA (almsot every flight). Ive ben delayed with Kulula before for over 7 hours… IT was my connecting flight, I just made it to my international flight in JHB.

    In London, I flew BA to Barcelona, the plane started smoking and we turned around as we were heading over the France. Ended up back in Heathrow 2 hours later, had to do security again, delayed for 9 hours. We received a 5 pound voucher for lunch (I only had euros). Once we boarded the plane 9 hours later, then first and foremost told us that we would not receive a meal because we were given a 5 pound voucher.

    Once we reached Barcelona 11 hours later that we were meant to, they lost my luggage. I did not have a toothbrush or proper warm clothes and buying some was out of the question as I arrived in Barcelona late at night and my lift had already left. I had to navigate my own way through the city.

    They delivered my luggage the next day… My suitcase had no handles and all the zips were broken…. They fixed that a few weeks later.

    I would say that approximately 80% of my BA / Kulula flights have ended up in a disaster. The only thing they are good for is the business lounge, which thankfully I get access to as a FNB customer. I now only fly 1time, Mango and SAA.

  • July 19, 2010 - 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve experienced pretty much the same as you – cancelled flight and subsequent flight delayed, and had a little one to look after. Happily Kulula allowed us to spend time in the BA lounge.

    One of the tricks which seem to work is to book BA flights on the Kulula site (yes you can, identify them by the 4 digit flight codes) and in my experience these are cancelled less frequently.

  • July 19, 2010 - 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had equally crap experience on both airlines.

  • July 20, 2010 - 9:32 am | Permalink

    Hi Amanda, I’m sorry to hear about your ordeal with Kulula. If you are not happy with the response that you get from them please submit your complaint via getclosure – we’ll deliver it to the most appropriate person at Kulula. They have a good record of responding to complaints on our site. Let me know if I can assist at all.

  • July 20, 2010 - 10:16 am | Permalink

    have also only had shit experiences flying kulula – always delays, always no explanations – which is severely kak with a small baby. after a two hour wait in the cold joburg airport with a 4 month old, i decided never to fly kulula again.

    i love that they have a sense of humour and they’re all witty in their advertising and whatever, but it’s hard to keep your cool when it’s not only yourself you’re worrying about.

    Poor Boo – i hope he’s okay.

    Glad you guys are here. x

  • July 20, 2010 - 10:17 am | Permalink

    have also only had shit experiences flying kulula – always delays, always no explanations – which is severely kak with a small baby. after a two hour wait in the cold joburg airport with a 4 month old, i decided never to fly kulula again.

    i love that they have a sense of humour and they’re all witty in their advertising and whatever, but it’s hard to keep your cool when it’s not only yourself you’re worrying about.

    Poor Boo – i hope she’s okay.

    Glad you guys are here. x

  • July 20, 2010 - 10:28 am | Permalink

    ARGH – comment double-posted – mostly because i’m a spaz and didn’t read properly that boo is a SHE and not a he. Sigh.

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