Capt. Fola Akinkuotu
Air transport passengers in Nigeria will now start getting compensations for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights from this week, writes Adeola Akinremi
If you've ever arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airports in Lagos or any of the nation’s airports after a long hour travel without your luggage arriving with you, it can be a nightmare trying to figure out why the luggage is left behind in the country where you embarked on the journey. In most cases, passengers are left in such difficult situation without help from the carrier. Perhaps more worrisome to passengers these days is cancellations and delays of some local and international flights without prior notice. In all of those cases, the airline owes you for your trouble. Sometimes it's good customer service, and other times it's the law.
From this week, erring airlines will no longer go scot- free as passengers flying from Nigeria will be able to enforce their rights through the law. The Federal Government, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) will this Friday begin the implementation of the passengers’ Bill of Rights, which seeks massive compensations for passengers whose rights are unnecessarily trampled upon by the airlines especially the domestic operators.
For instance, if you're bumped from a flight involuntarily, or you arrive at your destination and your luggage is delayed, you're entitled to a refund, not just vouchers or a discount on a future flight often offer by airlines.
The Bill of Rights says: “If you are involuntarily denied boarding, the airline must explain your rights in a written document, which must state how the airline decides who gets to stay on an oversold flight. You may keep your ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make alternative arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket. You have a right to choose between quiet and entertainment in-flight.”
The Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. Fola Akinkuotu, insists it was high time airline operators stopped maltreating their passengers, adding that the implementation of the bill of rights would help put an end to unfair practices by airlines.
“It is not good for passengers to get raw deals from the airlines. What is sauce for the geese is also sauce for the gander. We have a responsibility to ensure that the bill of rights works.
“We need to make sure passengers get good deals and value for their money. We need to let them know that air transport is the best way to go, and that they will get good deals and value for money.”
According to NCAA the new set of rights would apply to passengers departing from an airport located within the Nigerian territory to another airport within the country; passengers departing from an airport located in another country to an airport situated within Nigeria; and to foreign air transportation with respect to non-stop flight segments originating at a point within the country.
However those passengers travelling free-of-charge or at reduced fares not available directly or indirectly to the general public will not benefit from the rule.
For flight delays, the Bill of Rights adds: “Flight delays are a usual occurrence in air travel. When they occur, they come with inconveniences to passengers. That is why the new NCAA Bill of Rights provides that whenever an airline anticipates a delay of its flight beyond its scheduled time affected passengers are entitled to the following rights, if domestic flight: For a delay beyond 1 hour, carrier shall provide refreshment, telephone call, SMS or e-mail; in the case of a delay for 2hrs and beyond, carrier shall reimburse passengers the full value of their tickets. For a delay between 10pm and 4am, carrier shall provide hotel accommodation, refreshment, meal, 2 free calls, SMS, E-mail and transport to and from the airport.”
When an international flight delays between two and four hours passenger shall be entitled to refreshment and two telephone calls, SMS or E-mail. A delay of four hours or more shall entitle a passenger to a meal, two telephone calls, SMS or E-mail and when the reasonably expected time of departure is at least six hours after the time of departure previously announced, a passenger shall be entitled to hotel accommodation and transportation between the airport and place of accommodation.
Unlike before, now if your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for its repairs. If it cannot be repaired, they will negotiate a settlement with you to pay its depreciated value. The same applies for clothing packed inside according to the Bill of Rights. So passengers are encouraged to report external damage and/or pilferage of content before they leave the airport by filling out a Passenger Irregularity Report (PIR) form.
In some instance the bill says airlines may decline to pay for damage of fragile items when there is no damage to the suitcase. They are however, liable for fragile merchandise packaged in its original factory sealed carton, or other container designed for shipping.
As regards upgrading of ticket, If any airline on its own places a passenger in a higher class than the class of the ticket he is booked (such as from economy to business class), it may not request additional make-up payment from the passenger.
But If a passenger is placed in a class lower than that for which he/she purchased his/her ticket, the airline shall immediately reimburse the passenger the difference in accordance with the mode of payment and in addition, pay 30 per cent of the price of ticket for all the domestic flights immediately in cash and 50 per cent of price of the ticket if an international flight within 14 days either by cash, electronic transfer, bank cheques, or other mode of payment available in the country.
Also, apart from the airlines, passengers too have some responsibilities to the airlines, among which is the prompt arrival to the airline’s counter despite the purchase of ticket.
“Even if you have already checked in for your flight, an airline can cancel your reservation if you are not at the departure gate on time. If you do not check your baggage in sufficient time for it to be loaded on your flight, the airline will not be responsible for any delay in the delivery of your baggage to your destination.
“Passengers have a duty to be courteous to staff and agents of airlines. All adults are required to present photo identification upon check-in and at boarding”, the Bill stipulated.
The Bill, which seeks to put power in the hands of the passengers whenever their rights are unnecessarily violated by the airlines, will ensure that passengers get adequate compensations when they are maltreated by the airlines.
But analysts say as good as the passengers’ bill of rights appears, efforts must be made to ensure airlines respect the rules.
An Aviation expert, Mercel Okoro believes it’s a new dawn in the aviation industry, where passengers will become king.
“I think this is laudable. It will take away the pains and fears people have when arriving at our airports, because it is painful to arrive without your luggage or sit forever at the airport because of cancellation without help from anywhere. It will also improve customer service,” he says.
The bill of rights was first introduced to stakeholders early last year in Lagos.