Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Who looks tougher?
The U.S. still doesn’t think Kenya is safe enough to fly a plane into. And it’s probably right if it’s an American plane.

There was an enormous brouhaha in Kenya this week as Delta Airlines began service into its sixth African city, Monrovia (Liberia). Tempers are still flared from last year’s debacle when Delta canceled service into Nairobi two hours before the inaugural flight was set to take-off from Atlanta.

Delta canceled when the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) exercised its veto authority over Delta’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) license to operate into Kenya.

Delta wants to fly to Nairobi. It has been expanding rapidly into Africa and had scheduled service to begin to Nairobi on June 2, 2009. The champagne was stacked on tables, officials were planning to line up on the tarmac, Delta had given 26 free seats to a seventh grade choral group from Atlanta, and an entire Delta business with offices and employees had been set up in Nairobi.

Today the airline flies to seven cities in Africa: Liberia (Monrovia), Accra (Ghana), Abuja and Lagos (Nigeria), Cairo (Egypt) and Johannesburg (South Africa).

But the inaugural flight into Monrovia last week dumped a keg of petrol on the simmering emotions. Liberia is less than ten years out of a near apocalyptic civil war that slaughtered millions. Its leader at the time, Charles Taylor, is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

One of East Africa’s most respected blogs yesterday quoted an unnamed Kenyan government official as saying, “Did Obama’s father not come from here? What issues does he have with us? We even gave him a special paternal home attraction near Kisumu and for what – that we can be pushed around by them?”

But the fact remains – and I hate to say it – Nairobi airport security isn’t good, and there’s not going to be any flight from America until it is.

Nairobi is an essential market for European airlines, but passengers on British Airways and KLM actually march through security twice before boarding the plane. Both BA and KLM bring down their own machinery and security personnel from Europe, and all passengers after passing through the normal gate security supplied by Kenyan airport personnel, then pass through the individual airline security.

Those second levels are good. The irony, of course, is that this diminishes even further the quality of the Nairobi security. The Kenyan security personnel know it doesn’t matter what they do, that the real security comes later. And these folks rotate between the many other airlines in the airport, carrying their laissez-fare attitude with them.

So it’s sort of a death knoll repeated time and again as far as Delta is concerned. TSA will not accept the airline’s own efforts, as authorities in Britain and the Netherlands obviously do.

But there’s another angle to the story worth considering. I’ve talked to a few people in Kenya who believe despite the posturing, Kenyan officials are quite relieved Delta isn’t going to fly in. They argue that America is so hated in the Muslim world right now, and they point out that Kenya is on the edge of all the controversies.

Delta might attract terrorism in a way British Airways or KLM don’t.

Be that as it may, TSA played the trump. And TSA is only concerned with at-the-airport security. Homeland Security and the FAA are the agencies that could nix the deal for those more global issues. And right now, they have both given a pass to Delta to fly.

I wouldn’t expect a flight from America to Nairobi for a long, long time.