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Kuwait Airways, a case study.

I'll admit, I didn't plan on writing about Kuwait Airways' public relations. Initially, I reached out to them as preparation for a series of articles on India I was writing for another publication. My plan was to informally include the airline and to obtain press materials to accurately present the organization in the travel series. However, soon I found myself down the rabbit hole and into a communications Wonderland, vacant of actual outreach. The Mad-hatter experience felt like an interesting case-study which I felt was worth posting online. An experience that was both pleasantly surprising and completely frustrating from a PR perspective.

A few weeks ago, I needed to book the flight for an article I was writing on India. I came across Kuwait Airways who was offering idyllic rates on their fares from New York to Bangalore India. Working freelance, I'm always trying to keep costs down. The airline has a rocky reputation online with regards to their aging fleet prior to this year (now spanking new 777s) and their namesake known for the Flight 422 hijacking in 1988. However, things appear to be changing for the organization as they've deployed an entire new fleet of planes and are trying hard to crack the world's biggest airline market: the U.S. - So one would expect that their approach to western style communications would be robust. However, it was almost impossible to reach anyone in their customer relations department.

Once I knew I was flying, I went about reaching out to the airline to request a press-pack for information on the articles I was writing. It's a normal process for myself so that I can gain a full picture to accurately represent the airline. But there was no email address (I was later given one), and tracking down officials on LinkedIn led me to dead-ends and voicemail boxes that were closed. I reached out to former CCO, Philip Saunders whose defunct email auto-reply provided me contact information for his assistant. However, even that email address, as it would turn out, was dead too. Customer service never replied (via web-form that often failed in multiple browsers) and it looked like any possibility to get a hold of anyone at the airline was practically impossible.

Following my recent resignation as CCO at KU, I have now left the company. If you need assistance, then please contact my assistant, Arif, [email protected], who will help.

Best regards Philip
By this point, I was gaining a clear impression that a large restructuring had occurred in the airline around the first of the year (2017). I reached out on social media through their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and never received a reply. Things were about to get worse as just three days before my schedule departure, I received an email from the airline that they had changed the arrival time for my return flight to New York. This would almost certainly mean I would miss my connecting flight at Newark Airport to get back to the office here in North Carolina.

Dear Passenger we apologize to inform you of a schedule change on Kuwait Airways PNR HHDLK6 flight no. KU 0117/ 3APR2017 bound to NEWYORK. & the new Departure time is 3APR2017 09:00 and the new arrival time is 3APR2017 18:30. Contact KAC for more details.
I called customer service trying to find a solution to my problem. With my press requests now on the back burner, my goal now was to simply fix a crumbling itinerary in regards to travel. I spoke with a supervisor, Mena, at the call center who was fairly adamant that the change in the landing time (now several hours later) was not the problem of Kuwait Airways but that of the America's TSA. However, under both the Montreal Convention and US DOT rules, such a delay of this magnitude is likely grounds for financial compensation. Yet for Mena, my attempt to relay this to her fell on deaf ears. She was also unwilling to escalate the call beyond her position. Eventually, she was willing to move the flight to a day earlier. This meant cancelling numerous hotels, a tour to Coorg, India and losing a day in India. She said it was the best she could do. All this while packing my bags in the hours before my flight out.

Before the call was over, I tried one last time to reach out for a press pack and she gave me two email addresses for Kuwait Airways. One was their customer relations email: [email protected]. She explained to me that the email addresses are in Kuwait and that this is the reason that when I reach out to the airline, I receive little or no response. I really need to learn Arabic. In my head, I was wondering why the company is even interested in the U.S. market if they're not willing to form a communications outreach here?

Eventually, I re-booked everything and flew off to India sending emails to those addresses. I definitely didn't expect a response based on our current conversation. Some of the parts of India I was flying to were quite remote (a coffee bean plantation) and I wouldn't have WiFi access for days at a time. About three days into my stay in India I received an email asking me to send them proof of my US flight ticket.

Dear Ms. JONES,
We would like to apologize for the inconvenience caused due to schedule change..
Please send us a copy of your domestic flight tickets from EWR airport where yours names , flight dates and departure time are clearly mentioned .
We will check the with department concerned and send you a reply.

Best regards,
Customer relations-LB
I immediately did by taking a screen shot on my Iphone (since laptops were banned). The email immediately bounced and was rejected by their servers. I eventually succeeded by forwarding the email with an attachment, though I cannot tell you why replying to the email resulted in rejection. This was the end of their communications. Considering all this, you would expect for my experience to be completely negative. I'll admit that their communications definitely need some work. However, I was quite surprised when I checked my tickets on the day of our departure to be upgraded to business and that their staff was waiting for me when I landed at JFK. They provided me VIP services through security and to the taxi stand to make the next flight. I was quite grateful and admittedly surprised that my efforts invoked a response. I still ended up one day short in India and have yet to receive any further press information, but I came away with the conclusion that if you're persistent, you can actually reach someone at Kuwait Airways.

Ideally, they need to hire someone to man their digital holdings (website, Twitter, Facebook and customer service). They definitely need to be aware of the security issues facing their airline with regards to the new president in the U.S. (they claim the delay was related to the U.S's. TSA making them land the aircraft in Shannon Ireland, prior to New York). Lastly, they could be a little more transparent with their explanations. Speaking with security in Ireland, supposedly this "security landing" has been in place for the prior six months. What changed in the last week (actually, three days prior to departure), is anyone's guess. I suspect it has to do with more thorough screening due to the recent ban on laptops and electronics flying in from certain Middle-East destinations. Though no specific answer has been given to me.

As a customer I feel like I was accurately compensated for the delay via the upgrade (it actually cost them nothing as the Business Class was practically empty), but as a communications professional, getting them to actually do it was absolutely hard work. The time lost was priceless both in reaching out to the airline and the day missed in India. Had my efforts to reach out to them yielded zero response, I likely would not return to fly with them. Considering, the positive response at the end, I would, but I would be very careful in how I approach my next flight with regards to connections. Clearly, the organization needs a better communications approach as currently it is barely functional. The airline is ready to impress customers, it just needs protocols and channels that are accessible by their clientele. As someone who did their post-graduate thesis on civil aviation, I'm always routing for airlines to find their success. Kuwait Airways is an ambassador for the country of Kuwait, more than any other institution. I honestly believe that with some common sense changes the airline could become a strategically positioned as one of the best, but it doesn't seem to employ effective means to develop these relationships from their current monotone outreach.

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