Rage over Flight Cancellations

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Last week, Nigeria’s fast rising airline, Air Peace literally received baptism of fire when angry passengers beat up its duty manager at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja over flight cancellation. THISDAY learnt that at first, Air Peace delayed the Abuja-Benin flight and after the passengers had waited patiently; the airline later announced the cancelation of the flight. The passengers lost their temper and turned violent by beating up some staff of the airline, including the duty manager.

It took the intervention of security operatives at the airport to contain the angst of the passengers, but this was after the duty manager was beaten to a pulp with torn shirt and all.

The incident was not new. It has become a regular experience at the airports, but that was the first time Air Peace experienced that. In the past, Arik Air used to carry the can. Last December, THISDAY watched passengers beat up Arik Air duty manager at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos when he came to announce the cancellation of flight to New York. When the passengers who were obviously angry hauled questions at him to explain why the airline cancelled the flight, the duty manager said something that further infuriated them and they practically descended on him, threw him on the ground and threw blows on him until he struggled to get up and escaped to the airside.

Also, last December, passengers beat up some senior officials of Medview Airline, over the airline’s alleged failure to bring in their luggage more than 24 hours after the passengers had arrived from London. Despite the efforts of the airline to pacify and courtesy them, they still turned violent on the airline staff.

Officials of Arik Air were beaten up several times in the past to the extent that workers of the airline no more make announcements to the passengers to inform them about developments about their flight; unless the information was favourable.

THISDAY investigations revealed that the major reason why passengers revolt against airlines is because airlines do not sincerely carry the passengers along. But many reasons beyond the airline could be reasons for cancellation. For example, the Air Peace aircraft that was supposed to come and pick the Benin passengers had earlier operated Lagos-Benin service and was about to take off from Benin to Abuja when it was damaged by the equipment of a handling company, so the aircraft had to be grounded.

Previously, two aircraft of the airline were damaged when they clipped their wings as they manoevred to park at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Lagos airport, thus reducing the number of aircraft the airline deployed for service. This obviously affected its operation schedules.

Industry observers have noted that infrastructural and natural limitation, are the major causes of delays and eventual cancellation of flights.

“The operational environment is harsh to domestic airlines. If an airline plans its daily flights schedule this may be marred by delays caused by inadequate airport boarding facilities, VIP movement, lack of airfield lighting or delay in the supply of aviation fuel due to the gridlock on the Apapa road, which would delay the fuelling of the aircraft. The airports do not have Category 2 or 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS), which means airlines have to cancel flights for any slight change of weather. But airlines in Togo and Ghana will not border with these problems because they have those facilities. These are extraneous factors beyond the power of the airlines. Passengers do not understand all these,” an insider told THISDAY.

Records indicate that in other countries, it is rare for passengers to fight airline personnel for whatever reasons; even if there was attempt by the passengers, airport security operative don’t allow that to happen. Also, the Director of Consumer Protection Directorate at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Adamu Abdullahi, has deplored the attitude of the passengers, saying that aviation is a sensitive sector where passengers should never be allowed to take laws into their hands. He noted that there are plans to put a permanent check on the excesses of air travellers to prevent such incident from recurring.

Travel expert, Ikechi Uko said the major problem with Nigerian airlines is lack of adequate communication to the passengers.

“Airlines’ communication system is poor. They don’t carry passengers along. In other parts of the world airlines are usually sincere and straightforward with their passengers. I learnt that some government agencies don’t allow them to say everything about the reasons why flights were delayed or even cancelled because some of them will hurt government image so they end up with “due to operational reasons, but airlines can use influencers to get across their message, using social media. All they need to do is to engage influencers who will provide necessary platforms to pass the message. I know that government will not be happy if an airline announces that a delay and possible evening flight was cancelled due to VIP movement but somebody close to the airline can say it and nobody will accuse the airline because it is not the airline that is saying that. So the airlines are still running old school system of communication,” Uko said.

Decrying Air Peace harrowing experience with the unruly passengers at the Abuja airport, the spokesman of the airline, Chris Iwarah said: “In Lagos, some other passengers attacked and almost killed our station manager. Also in Calabar, unruly passengers had an unchallenged day, preventing our aircraft from flying. On Sunday, April 16 our staff members were also attacked at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.

“It is surprising all these attacks could take place at the nation’s airports, a high security environment, without any challenge whatsoever from security agents. The situation has, therefore, left us with no choice than to resort to our right of self-defence to prevent our staff from being killed. We can no longer tolerate unruly passengers maiming our staff simply because we have chosen to provide service in a very challenging environment.”

Many believe that security operatives at the airports tacitly support the passengers because there have not been many incidents, whereby such unruly behaviour was aborted by security personnel. It usually happens first before the security operatives make efforts to quell it.