COVID-19, High Goods’ Prices, Fail to Dampen Urge for Christmas Celebration

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•Aircraft scarcity leads to hike in fares

Chiemelie Ezeobi, Chinedu Eze, Rebecca Ejifoma, Chiamaka Ozulumba and Oluwabunmi Fache

Nigerians thronged shopping malls, markets and motor parks yesterday in last-minute preparations to celebrate Christmas today with the rest of the global community.
THISDAY checks showed that they were undeterred by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and high costs of goods, occasioned by rising inflation, in their quest to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

THISDAY checks revealed that traders, transporters, including airlines, cashed in on the occasion to hike prices with the cost of airfare for economy class overshooting the N100,000 mark in some cases.

In Lagos, visits to different markets across the state showed the influx of shoppers who huddled together as they bargained for clothes, shoes, foodstuffs and poultry.
At the Balogun Market in Lagos Island, the mammoth crowd defied the COVID-19 protocol as they haggled for prices. The scenario was not different at other markets on the Lagos Mainland.
However, the shoppers have to contend with the steep prices of goods, which tempered their buying spree.

Mrs. Chika Ukaegbu, a shopper at the Ikorodu Garage Market, told THISDAY that she shopped late because of the demands of work, and lamented that the last-minute decision backfired as prices went up higher.

She said: “My office closed late and I couldn’t shop on time that’s why I’m shopping now. I thought everything would be relatively cheap but the price of commodities are still high, even pepper is very expensive and scarce.

“Even a bottle of palm oil has gone up from N2,900 to N3,300. With the high cost of live chicken, I settled for frozen foods because live chickens like the broiler went up to N6,000 from N2,500 while cockerel went up to N6,000 from N3,000.
“For consumers, things are really hard in this country. It is as if there is nothing to celebrate with the current economic situation.”

Also, visits to some motor parks showed a surge in passenger traffic as people trooped in on their way to joining family and friends outside Lagos State to mark Christmas
Checks by THISDAY revealed that most passengers relied mostly on the online booking platforms offered by most transport companies, although the offline traditional bookings still experienced the usual crowd.

For the online booking, seats have been fully booked for December 24, 25 and 26 either day or night trips, with December 27 to 31 open with a few slots.
At the parks visited in Ikorodu, Ejigbo, Cele, Jakande, Yaba, Jibowu and Mazamaza, destinations like Enugu, Anambra, Abia, Imo and Ebonyi States, had more passengers more than those going to Edo, Delta States, and Abuja.

“Travellers didn’t decrease this period, as many would envisage,” an elderly man stationed behind the counter at the Young Shall Grow Motors in Jibowu told THISDAY.
Unlike what was witnessed in the past years, the cost of travelling to the East did not skyrocket until the federal government issued another COVID-19 guidelines, especially in relation to social distancing protocol.

With the guidelines, the fares shot up from N8,000 to 15,000 and N18,000, as the transport companies were forced to reduce the number of passengers per seat.
But companies like The Young Shall Grow Transport still pegged their price at N10,100 for their luxury buses for either night and day trips while a seat on their Sienna bus cost N12,900.
For God is Good Motors, the fare increased to N13,800 while that of Petite Transport company’s luxury bus was pegged at N10,000 while the Sienna was N13,000.
A visit to Peace Mass Transit Park revealed that the fare from Lagos to Onitsha was N18,000, which was the same for ANIDS (Anambra transportation company), Libra Motors and some other transport companies.

However, there was abysmal adherence to the COVID-19 protocols, as some transporters not only increased fares, they disregarded the federal government’s directive to reduce the number of passengers per a vehicle. Many of the passengers did not wear facemasks.

One of the travellers at Mazamaza park, when asked why he didn’t wear a mask, said: “COVID-19 where? It can’t stop us from travelling. We are travelling this afternoon. Nothing has changed.”

Aircraft Scarcity Leads to Hike in Fares

Domestic airlines in the country have increased their airfares owing to high volume of passenger traffic.

Compared to previous years, passenger traffic in this year’s Christmas season could be described as low, but due to few aircraft seats, the airlines were unable to meet passengers’ demand.

THISDAY investigations revealed that this gave rise to flight cancellations, flight delays with some airlines having to operate late into the night and early morning on the popular Abuja-Lagos route.

Also compared to previous years, industry observers said the airfares were higher due to the low value of the naira compared to the dollar and high demand of tickets and few supply of aircraft seats.

Industry analysts also observed that a percentage of air travellers were those who previously travelled by road but due to the insecurity chose to now travel by air.
THISDAY checks at the domestic airport terminals of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos; MMA2 and the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) showed that that was high passenger movement in the morning and in the evening than in the afternoon, which differed from the previous years when passengers thronged the airport all day from December 21 to after Christmas.

THISDAY spoke to protocol officials at the domestic terminal, MMA2 who reviewed the airfares in 2019 and 2018 and compared it to this year’s, saying that airfares were high this year compared to the previous years.

“This year’s passenger traffic is much because all the airlines are fully booked till December 29, 2020, especially Eastern destinations of Owerri, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Uyo. Airfares are up with minimum tickets sold at N50,500 by Dana Air. Air Peace minimum economy ticket is N61,500. Arik Air sold Lagos to Jos ticket for N118,000 for economy class.

“Airfares were relatively cheaper last year. By December 24, we were still getting tickets at N35,000 because there were more operating aircraft last year than this year; and this year, Warri airport is not operating so there are no Lagos-Warri; Abuja-Warri flights. Because of inadequate aircraft, airlines now operate late nights, especially their Abuja-Lagos flights. Yesterday (December 23) Dana Air operated Abuja- Lagos flight by 11:30 pm and Air Peace even operated till early morning,” said one of the protocol officials.

The Chief Executive Officer, Aero Contractors, Capt Aso Sanusi, said: “Passenger traffic has increased tremendously by 20 per cent and has exceeded aircraft capacity by 25 per cent. This has given rise to high demand, which invariably has given rise to air fares. But Air Peace deployed high capacity aircraft (Boeing 777) and airlifted high number of the passengers. We give thanks to them. This lack of capacity will continue into next year and air fares will continue to increase until the airlines will have enough aircraft that will meet passengers demand.”
THISDAY also learnt that due to paucity of aircraft, many of the domestic carriers had to reschedule their flights to the chagrin of passengers and some of the flights were cancelled outright.

Explaining why airfares were high this year, spokesman of Arik Air, Adebanji Ola, attributed the steep airfares to the rise in the value of the dollar, adding that in airline business, everything is denominated in dollars.

Head of Communication of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, told THISDAY that the average airfares for economy class by the airline was about N50, 500 because in the airline’s style, it ensures that its air fares are lower than the average fares offered by other operators.

Ezenwa said there is high demand of tickets to the extent that in the next few days, all domestic airlines may not have tickets because all the aircraft seats have been sold.

“Passengers are flying. The airports are full with passengers. All the seats for flights going to Port Harcourt, Owerri and Enugu have been sold out. No airline has seats to these destinations. We are expecting to receive two aircraft from maintenance so we have started taking care of the backlog gradually and by today (December 24) till tomorrow, we will finish the backlog. Our airfares are relatively low because of our style; so you get something in the neighbourhood of N50,000-N45,000.

“Those who bought tickets at cheaper rates were those who booked in October and November, but in Decembe,r the fares are high and you may not get tickets. By the time we receive the two aircraft we would have five aircraft operating. So when the additional aircraft comes we will have available seats,” he said.

Also the spokesman of Air Peace, Stanley Olisah, told THISDAY that because some of its single isle aircraft were yet to arrive from maintenance, it has to deploy the long-haul Boeing B777 to its most busy routes, which are Lagos-Enugu; Lagos Owerri.

“We deployed the aircraft on December 18, but we will withdraw it from the routes after December 29, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we could not bring back all our aircraft from maintenance facilities overseas. But some of them will come back in January and our new aircraft, Embraer 195-E2 aircraft will start arriving from next week,” Olisah said.