Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

In the coming days, Lufthansa will begin their new service from Accra to Frankfurt with a shiny Airbus A330-300. It is always exciting to fly on wide-body jets, and the upgrade from the previous Boeing 737 will give travellers that 'larger experience'. We wish Lufthansa fantastic success with their new offering - and look forward to seeing their frequency increase, and for their pricing to be more keen!

Many of you know that, historically, I am a Boeing fan, but should be aware that I have, in recent years, come to appreciate more fully the different flavours of airliner design - and enjoy all of their differences equally! My visit to the Airbus production line, in Hamburg last year, opened my eyes wider to the Airbus concept - and thus I look forward to my next trip to Germany in the Lufthansa 'big bus'. (Consider the A320 as the 'baby bus', the A330 as the 'big bus' and the A380 as the 'biggest bus' !).

The design concepts for all the major airliner manufactures are rapidly converging, despite the marketing hype. Therefore, the big difference when we travel is now down to the airline. Sit in a 'low-fare' airline aircraft of the same brand and series as that of a major airline, for six hours, and you will notice the difference! Baggage allowance, seat quality, in-flight entertainment, catering and cabin crew approach, can all add up to make the difference between a pleasurable flight and an experience you will want to forget! 

Let us be honest, our airline trips are major investments. We often spend more on single trip abroad than we might on purchasing a second hand car - even when travelling economy! If we are choosing a second hand car, I am sure that we generally put more thought into that purchase than we do our airline tickets! Travelling is a major investment, and it is time we considered a bit more what we are buying - and why.

Are we simply going from Accra to XYZ-town? Not really. We are entrusting our belongings and our souls to somebody we have never met, and we will be 'encapsulated' aboard a machine that we do not get to 'look under the bonnet of'. We will, willingly, and after emptying a large sum of money from our accounts, board an aluminium tube with hundreds of other people - trusting the machine and the team to look after us. That is no small thing.

Once aboard we hope to 'enjoy' our temporary incarceration - and with that we anticipate service, smiles, good food and suitable entertainment. Oh, yes, the entertainment! Whiling away many hours sitting aboard an airliner can be magnificent - if we are comfortable and distracted - but it can be horrendously boring and buttock-numbing if we make the wrong choice! Perhaps you prefer to work aboard? Great, so do I! Therefore that in-flight entertainment is all the more important - to keep the other passengers content whilst you concentrate! Gone are the days of the 'one screen for all' solution! Gone are the days of 'lets all sing a song to while away the time'. Today we expect video on demand, with games and a selection of fifty or more entertainment options! This has made travelling with children several orders of magnitude more enjoyable - for parents and other passengers alike!

There is an old travel adage that says 'time to spare, go by air'. It relates to the ever increasing amount of time we have to spend at the airport waiting to pass through check-in, security and boarding - and then to clear formalities on arrival. That makes the timing of our flights really important. 

Departing or arriving in the thick of peak hours can add a lot of stress to your journey - especially at the Ghana end of the trip! Our airport facilities are often 'pushed hard' to cope with the numbers - and our baggage carousels appear to have their own agenda! Being on an early flight out from, and an early flight into, Accra adds a lot of pleasure to a trip. For me, the onward travel time after clearing, when I come home is several hours, and getting in that hour or so earlier can change my arrival nights sleep, and hence my productivity the next day. (Lufthansa make a plug of being the 'early bird' in this respect - and I applaud them for their efforts to keep that place!).

I have flown with all the major airlines, and many of the less well known ones too. Often constrained by budget - or availability of seats. Some, I would do all that I can to avoid again. I have my favourites list, and Lufthansa just moved even further up that list with this new aircraft coming on line - and their 46% increase in capacity! 

At this point, I hear the old 'what happened to Ghana Airways?' rumbling. For the record, I loved Ghana Airways. Flew them many times. I also flew with Ghana International Airlines with pleasure. However, we must be realistic at this point. Ghana is not in a position to operate its own airline right now. If we had kept Ghana Airways and its infrastructure in place, and not cannibalised it, I would sing a different tune. But we have, for one reason or another (you know and I know what we think they are), managed to dismantle one of the biggest prides of this nation. It is not practical, nor financially prudent to return to those days. Let us be honest, many bigger and more financially secure nations have abandoned their national airlines, so we should pack away our guilt now. We must accept the past, and seek other solutions. The world is changing and all the time we have outstanding airlines offering great service to and from our nation, safely, efficiently . These activities are generating many jobs in Ghana, for which we should be thankful. If we want to invest as a nation in aviation infrastructure, let us sort out our arrivals procedure! Let us make our ground experience in Ghana one to be proud of. After all, we have that big AKWAABA to share with the rest of the world - and those arriving at Kotoka should feel it once again - not just read it and hear it - but feel it to their core. 

I must confess that I have not felt the Great Ghana Akwaaba at Kotoka for a long time, and I miss it. My wife and I get treated far better arriving in European countries than we do in our own... it did not used to be that way... so let us return to our core values, focus on making the arriving in Ghana experience one to be proud of - and then let us enjoy again the comments of international visitors (crew and passengers) about how wonderful it is to arrive in Ghana - not to hear that they were delayed, had challenges with visas, felt harassed, bullied or frustrated at their arrival in our home. 

Thank you Lufthansa for having the confidence in Ghana to increase your capacity here, we trust that you and your passengers will find that Ghana will rapidly increase its welcome, ease its procedures and that your crews and passengers alike, will yearn to return to our land - where people matter, and a welcome really means that Great Ghana Akwaaba in every sense, for every step on our soil.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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