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Is the grasshoppers story a blessing to Uganda Airlines?

The Nsenene hawker who got onto Uganda Airlines early this month.

COMMENT | Samson Tinka |  Just over 90 years ago, on 1 January 1914, a gentleman named Abe Pheil became the world’s first airline passenger on a 21-minute flight from St Petersburg to Tampa, Florida in the USA. A phosphate miner, he sat on an open bench in the cockpit of the seaplane nicknamed Limping Lucy.

Since that eventful day, the industry has made great progress. The accessibility of air travel to the ordinary man in the 21st century is such that many people commute as effortlessly on board aircraft as they do by bus or train.

Back in 1914, the success of the trip or otherwise would no doubt have been determined by the fact that the aircraft survived the flight without falling from the skies. These days, however, the average airline passenger expects a lot more by way of in-flight comforts: a comfortable seat, an in-flight meal that meets the same attributable standards of quality as served in a restaurant on the ground, a fully flushing toilet and hot and cold running water, in-flight movies and music at the touch of a button.

Whether or not Abe Pheil was given an in-flight meal was not recorded by the newspapers of the day. The first record of in-flight catering appeared in Flight magazine on 14 December 1922.

Two weeks ago, I boarded Uganda Airlines to Dar es Salaam Tanzania for some engagements. While waiting to board at Karibuni Lodge, I met a top official of the Ministry of Works and Transport, and somehow the grasshopper (nsenene) story took our time. How the Dubai bound passenger got on board with his item, remained the talk among passengers, with some of them demanding for Nsenene as they were being served their meal.

At Julius Nyerere Airport, the COVID testing team and immigration officers wanted to know if we had been served nsenene on-board. In Dar salaam, its rare delicacy. I was told that in Tanzanian grasshoppers come from one region- Mbeya. Dar salaam people crave for nsenene and when they reach, they are very expensive.

It appears that the grasshoppers incident did more good than bad to Uganda airlines. It now turns out many passengers are travelling with Uganda airlines hoping to taste some grasshoppers!

Operational glitches will happen in any institution. What is important is for the company to have in built systems to address such incidents and control the damage if any.

Whereas at the start, the Nsenene incident looked ugly, it is now the hot story associated with Uganda Airlines. In fact, the followers of Uganda airlines both on social media and in real life, increase by huge margins.

We must acknowledge that whereas it’s an international airline, 70% or so of our passengers are either Ugandans or from the East African region and grasshoppers are a delicacy within the region. If there was a way of availing it in the aircraft especially to those that like it, I would recommend it.

Most food served on the airlines is already Ugandan. There is Rolex, Lato yoghurt, Lato milk, Wavah water, Lato butter and Uganda Waragi. This is good for Uganda BUBU policy.

Recently, a short video on social media also showed the Ag CEO Jennifer Bamuturaki serving economy passengers. That’s an added surprise, as world over, CEOs or senior leaders participate in company activities to identify themselves with either their customers or prospective customers.

It’s always a good feeling but also CEOs get feedback direct from their clients. If I was Jennifer, I would do it again and again.

It’s us Ugandans – not Kenyans, Malawians or Europeans – to start the growth our our airline through buying tickets, referring other customers and also defending our airline especially on social media attacks.

The management and operations teams at Uganda Airlines should know they are on the right track and should continue to baby seat this airline to move from infancy to adult stage.


 Samson Tinka is a safety and security consultant | Director Matts Secure Solutions Ltd tindsam@yahoo



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