Passengers at the Lagos airport
Compared to other parts of the world, Nigerian airlines maltreat their passengers and have created a very hostile and exploitative relationship with their customers. Worse still, government and its agencies in the sector have looked the other way as air travellers are ripped off every day. Chinedu Eze reports
When a passenger who is travelling from one part of the country to another by air is disappointed either by delayed flight or outright cancellation of flight, he is terribly disappointed; not just because of the action of the airline but also because even if he shouted to high heavens, no action will be taken to prevent the airline from doing the same thing next time.
Over the years, Nigerian airlines have taken as standard the delay of flights for whatever reason without explanation to passengers; the cancellation of flight without immediate refund of fares to the passengers and arbitrary increase of fares without prior notice to the passengers.
It is on record, and it still happens every day, that one particular airline sells tickets to passengers to about 50 per cent more than the capacity of its aircraft for one flight and devised illicit strategy to offload the passengers before they arrive at the airport for their flight. So at every flight the airline makes, at least 25 per cent of the passengers who have met all the conditions to travel by a particular are denied that chance.
It is also on record that in spite of all the reports officially made against this airline it continues to do the same thing every day, thus ripping off the passengers and dumping them after collecting their money.
Compensation and Penalties
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in March 2012 introduced Passengers’ Statement of Rights and Airline Obligation that was culled from the Economic Regulation, which is part 18 of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulation.
According to the regulation, when a passenger is denied boarding due to overbooking or whatever reason, the operating airline should immediately compensate them.
Also in domestic flights when an airline reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure, it should, immediately after one hour of waiting provide the passengers refreshments and also give them access to make telephone calls or Emails.
Also when a flight is cancelled, an explanation should be given concerning possible alternative transport and compensation should be paid to the passenger, but NCAA said that an airline may not be obliged to pay compensation if it could prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
In section 18. 17. 7. 3 of the regulation, NCAA said, “When an operating air carrier offers a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that of which the booking was made, the operating air carrier shall bear the cost of transferring the passenger from that alternative airport either to that for which the booking was made, or to another close by destination agreed with the passenger.”
During cancellation, passengers ought to be provided with refreshments including water, soft drinks, confectionaries or snacks after about two hours of waiting. When they have waited for about four hours or more they should be provided with meals and when the flight is cancelled, passengers who are different airport from where they booked their ticket should be provided with accommodation.
It is the responsibility of the Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) of NCAA to ensure that these regulations are enforced and that the airlines that renege on their obligations to the passengers are penalised.
Exploitation and Indifference
No domestic airline in Nigeria abides by any of these regulations. The airline mentioned above does not only deny those who are billed and have met all the condition to travel with the airline, but refuse to refund those passengers; rather, they ask them to rebook their flights.
The Consumer Protection Directorate of NCAA can best be described as indolent. If it has been enforcing these regulations it would have been discernible in the relationship between the airlines and their customers.
In fact, THISDAY investigations revealed that NCAA, including the CPD protects the airlines against the passengers. There has been no case treated by the CPD that clearly favour the passengers. And NCAA would readily say that the Consumer Protection Directorate is not a law court; that any passenger that has a case with an airline who is not satisfied with the way CPD treated the case can go to court.
If CPD effectively acts as a watch dog and enforces the aforementioned regulations, Nigerian airlines won’t be ripping off and exploiting passengers the way they do now.
Recently, the Managing Director of Med-View Airlines, Muneer Bankole, said that passengers on the domestic route have suffered different types of exploitation by domestic airlines; from flight delays without compensation to flight cancellation and refusal by the airlines to refund them their fare.
He urged his colleagues to run their operations in accordance to standards and called for cooperation among domestic airlines.
Nigerian Passengers Most Abused
Aviation insider and the Managing Director of BeluJane Konsult Limited, Chris Aligbe has described Nigerian passengers as the most abused on earth and said that the CPD of NCAA has not been able to protect the passengers or effectively check the excesses of the airlines, by “sharpening consumer protection laws.”
“It starts from ticket refund after cancellation of flights. In many other places it doesn’t take as long for the passenger to get a refund, but in Nigeria it sometimes takes over a year, sometimes six months or nine months. The refund system is very, very abnormal.
“If you delay flights you have to serve the passengers refreshment and when you cancel flights you have to provide accommodation to those passengers who came from outside that state. Also if you don’t bring the passengers luggage he is entitled to monetary compensation, while he waits for you to bring the luggage and if you tear his bag it is mandatory you replace it,” Aligbe told THISDAY on Friday.
Bankole said that airlines ought to refund passengers immediately they cancelled flights and should make genuine arrangement to provide them alternative flight to their destination through code sharing with other airlines.
“What it takes in business is sincerity of purpose I have flown domestic flight, I have suffered a lot I don't need to mention my other colleagues. I have suffered, I was held bound on the ground for six hours; I lost my money, no refund for me to get, so I looked at all these and I told my colleagues that the only thing that makes us want to go into this business is to be sure that we want to do it.”
But the President of Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Benjamin Okewu, told THISDAY that bad weather is one of the major reasons why airlines delay flights and that was why NCAA directed the airlines to ensure they have weather report of the destination of a flight and the en-route weather conditions.
He said that NCAA should come up with policy on how passengers would be compensated in such circumstances where bad weather and other factors prevented a flight from taking off.
“NCAA has to come out with a strong policy on how passengers should be compensated in this angle. You know that the Consumer Protection Directorate has just been established so it is yet to get its act together and become very strong. So they can protect the passengers in a way that they get their compensations,” Okewu urged.
But the airline also said that the operational environment is inimical to their growth. They pointed out that the charges by the aviation agencies, including navigational, landing and parking and others are too much and urged government to review these charges downwards.
The airlines also said that the cost of aviation fuel, known as Jet A1 is also high. In fact, one operator described the prices as the highest in any country that is not in war. There are also the Customs duties which are charged on aircraft and aircraft parts, which government waived late last year but the waiver is yet to take effect, according to the chairman of a major domestic carrier.