by Jarred Cinman (@jarredcinman) Here’s the simple one sentence reason: you have to earn the right to be cute.

Kulula (really: Comair) has spent a massive amount of cash since the launch of this airline creating a brand that is irreverent, jokey and – yes – cute. They have subverted a lot of the severe tonality which marks most airline travel experiences and made flying “fun”.

Or so the theory goes.

Actually the only thing that really is fun about Kulula is its marketing. That’s not to take anything away from that marketing – it is often genuinely innovative and on the mark. The Marketing Director and ad agency deserve lots of awards (and have won them). Well done guys.

The problem is that a fraction of a millimetre under the surface of this great promise is a business whose product is garbage:

– It’s not that cheap
– The digital experience is flawed
– It’s incessant delays are a serious problem

I have frequently compared prices between Kulula and premium rate airlines such as BA (also: Comair) and SAA, and depending on when you book there is often no substantive pricing difference between them. You can’t call yourself a budget airline if your prices are on a roulette wheel. We might be cheaper, but then again, we might not. Good luck.

To say nothing of the fact that half the time you find yourself on a BA flight anyway (and, god forbid, vice versa).

Which brings us to the digital experience. The “codeshare” flights (owned by the same company, mind you) don’t allow online checkin. A massive fuck-up if you haven’t planned for the extra 45 minutes at the airport. No-one in the company seems to know why this is or how to fix it either.

And there is no meaningful service available to tell you when flights are delayed. Which, bringing us to point number 3, it is pretty unfortunate because their flights are delayed more often than any other airline I’ve flown on.

I’m not suggesting this is scientific fact, so I accept this might just be my experience. But anecdotally and in conversation with others, Kulula have an abysmal record of delayed planes. Few things are more irritating, and there is never an apology from the company (I suppose they’d just tire themselves out trying).

Now, put these together and you have a formula for a shit experience: it’s not price differentiated, so business travellers choose it because of availability and flight times; then try to checkin and find out: oops, I have to cancel a meeting to get there on time; then, double oops, actually the flight I rushed to the airport to catch is leaving an hour later and no-one bothered to let me know.

But guess what: we’re such a cute, funny brand that we’re going to make the hilarious in-cabin announcements anyway because, let’s face it, no-one is more up for a good laugh than a plane full of pissed off travellers who you have inconvenienced twice in one day.

Let’s agree that no-one is perfect, and there’s a good reason plane travel is the butt of endless stand-up comedians. But when you’ve found imperfection becoming your trademark, it’s time to start thinking harder. I actively don’t fly Kulula, and I advise others not to. And each time I break this covenant, I end up spending extra time in the business class lounge seething and threatening to write something about it.

Well here it is. Now I just need to figure out what to do with the other 45 minutes I’m stuck here.

This post is reprinted from the personal blog of Jarred Cinman. Cinman is the MD of NATIVE.


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6 replies on “Brand experience: Why Kulula is shit”

  1. I agree. I doubt anyone chooses to fly Kulula because it’s “fun”. The experience is quite the opposite. All the forced cuteness in the world doesn’t make up for the fact that their service is poor. To me it feels like they are trying to cover something up or gloss over their weaknesses in the hope that no one will notice.

    On a personal note I don’t think the supposedly irreverent, jokey or cute brand is appropriate from the moment of checking in to disembarking. Fly more than once and it’s immediately tired. Worse still it does nothing to help, quite the opposite I would argue, to comfort or reassure the anxious or fearful flyer.

  2. My father once told me that you’ll never find a businessman on Kulula as they are always delayed; it’s just too risky (time wise). So I guess it’s not just your experiences then!

  3. Do you by any chance fly to Lanseria often? I find the airport is more determinative of delays than the airline.

  4. Its a high risk purchasing choice – your flying thousands of feet up in the air and think you may die. I fly with Kulula because I trust them not to get me killed, although it would be excellent if they were cheaper and more efficient as well… I suspect many people go with what they know.

  5. I feel the same way. I’ve flown from Durban to Jhb six times on Kulula this year and been delayed each and every time with no warning whatsoever. So I’ll definitely be changing airlines.

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