The governments of Kenya and Tanzania expressed outrage when Netherlands flag carrier KLM Royal Dutch Airlines issued a false travel alert indicating flight disruptions due to a purported civil unrest between the two East African nations.
On Saturday, Kenyan Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen shared in a statement that he had reached out to the airline’s country representative to protest its decision to share “this unfounded, false, insensitive and misleading information that paints Kenya in a bad light”.
Murkomen expressed the government’s shock over the travel advisory, considering the strength of the diplomatic relationship between the Netherlands and Kenya and the high regard held for KLM in the country.
Air France-KLM, the parent company of KLM, owns a 7.95% stake in Kenya’s flag carrier Kenya Airways.
Murkomen also warned that the discussion would be escalated through diplomatic channels to preempt such an error from happening again.
For the government of Kenya, the biggest sting of the travel advisory seemed to be that it was issued without fact-checking or regard for its effect on “the country’s image and economy”.
Tanzanian Minister for Works and Transport Makame Mbarawa also lambasted KLM’s false claims of civil unrest and urged travellers to ignore the advisory.
“This statement is baseless, alarmist, unfounded, inconsiderate and insensitive and has caused unnecessary fear and panic,” asserted Mbarawa.
The airline issued an apology to Kenya, saying the advisory was only meant for their customers in Tanzania “but the alert was also erroneously shared with our customers in Kenya”.
KLM has since updated the travel alert on its website to include only Tanzania, saying:
“Due to local threat in Tanzania from Friday 27 January up to and including Monday 30 January 2023, some of our flights to, from or via Dar-es-Salaam (DAR), Kilimanjaro (JRO) and Zanzibar (ZNZ) may be disrupted. We are doing our very best to help you on your way again.”
Passengers who booked flights to those routes would be required to rebook their flights to on or before Monday, 6th February—and after Monday, 30th January.
However, the local threat remains unspecified, and many believe the new travel advisory to be unfounded too as Tanzania has not reported any cases or threats of civil unrest in recent times. Some have even called for the airline to be boycotted.
In response to Twitter users’ inquiries about the specific nature of the local threat, KLM’s official Twitter account explained:
“We apologize for not using the correct phrase in our explanation of why our crew is unable to stop over in Dar es Salaam. KLM was informed about a specific local threat, and therefore made the decision to create the rebook policy. We understand the need for more information, but for security reasons it is not possible to share information about the details of the threat. We wrongly included Kenya in the rebook policy. This was a mistake that we have corrected. We apologize for including Kenya originally.”
The pressing question now is where KLM got its intel from.
For Kenya, however, the last of such civil threats is recent. Earlier this month, the US Embassy in Kenya issued a travel advisory warning its citizens of threats of kidnapping, terrorism and crime. This was in light of the al Shabaab attacks at the time.
Sources: Zawya, Simple Flying