KLM forced to apologize after Kenya, Tanzania refute ‘false’ civil unrest claim

Close-up of Boeing 787 Dreamliner PH-BHI of KLM Airlines taxiing to runway before departure. Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam
Andrey Zhorov / Shutterstock

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) has apologized after facing backlash for issuing an “explanation” stating that flights to Kenya and Tanzania would be disrupted due to “civil unrest” in the East African countries.   

In a “cautionary alert” released on January 27, 2023, the airline said: “Due to civil unrest in Tanzania and Kenya 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), Zanzibar (ZNZ), and Nairobi (NBO) may be disrupted.”    

This alert incited criticism from both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments which refuted the airline’s “false” and “baseless” claims.  

KLM has since apologized and clarified in a statement that the “cautionary alert” was only meant for its customers in Tanzania and was “inadvertently and erroneously” shared with its Kenyan customers. The Dutch airline confirmed that its flight to and from Nairobi would not face any disruptions.    

Kenyan government response  

A statement was issued by the Kenyan Ministry of Roads and Transport on January 28, 2023, where Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen said: “I have spoken to Dutch Airline KLM’s Country Representative to Kenya about a false claim posted on their social media on the purported civil unrest in Kenya.”  

“I have officially registered my protest with the airline against this unfounded, false, insensitive and misleading information that paints Kenya in bad light,” Murkomen continued

 “Kenya and the Netherlands enjoy very good diplomatic relations and KLM as a company is highly regarded in the country. We are therefore shocked that the airline would spread such fabricated malicious and false allegations without fact-checking and considering the probable effects to our country’s image and economy,” he added.  

Murkomen also said that while KLM has taken down the travel update, Kenya will “escalate the discussion through diplomatic channels” to prevent similar outcomes in the future.    

Tanzanian government response  

The Tanzanian Ministry of Works and Transport issued a statement on January 28, 2023, where the Ministry of Works and Transport Makame M. Mbarawa, recognized the KLM travel advisory as “baseless, alarmist, unfounded, inconsiderate and insensitive”. 

The response urged the public to “ignore” KLM’s statement, stating that it has “caused unnecessary fear and panic to the general public and the aviation industry”. 

“As of to date, there are no recorded civil unrest within the territory of the United Republic of Tanzania which impair the Aviation operations within the country,” the statement continued. 

KLM issues apology to Tanzania 

KLM issued an apology in a statement addressed to Mbarawa, and released on January 29, 2023, stating that it had incorrectly described its reason to halt its crew from stopping over in Dar es Salaam. 

“The use of the phrase ‘civil unrest’ was wrong for which we sincerely apologize,” the airline said. 

“A specific local threat has prompted us to make this decision. We cannot give further details about this security issue,” the statement continued. 

KLM confirmed that it was working on restarting flights to Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar as soon as possible. 

Following the incident KLM has updated its cautionary alert, removing Kenya and changing its alert from “civil unrest” to “local threat”. 

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