In the last few months, not a few Nigerians have had cause to complain about the poor quality of service they are made to endure by aviation companies in the country. Services in the sector have gone from bad to worse and the airlines don’t seem to be willing to effect positive changes.
The complaints are simply endless. An Aero Contractor flight to Lagos scheduled for 1.30 pm on Wednesday 15 February, 2012 did not depart Abuja as passengers waited patiently till 11 pm. The plane eventually touched down at the Murtala Mohammed Airport around 7.35 am on Thursday.
Some of the visibly annoyed passengers who spoke to Street Journal complained about the kind of treatment meted out to them by the airline. “They could not lodge us in hotels, passengers, old and young, pregnant women, nursing mothers and aged people were made to sleep in the aircraft and on the tarmac like destitute”, a passenger said.
The Arik Air flight that was to leave Ibadan for Abuja at 1pm on Wednesday too was delayed with promises that the plane would be in the air by 6pm. By 6pm, an announcement came that the plane would not be leaving Ibadan that day. Passengers lamented that neither apologies nor compensations were offered. One of the passengers disclosed to Street Journal that “it has become part of the airline operators; sometimes the pilot only offers apologies when the plane begins to taxi. Turn it round, if you are few minutes late to check, you do not get any sympathy from Aero. You have to go and reschedule your flight and pay additional fees.”
Street Journal gathered that it was the same situation the eight days before as the flight that was supposed to depart Abuja for Lagos at 5.30 pm did not leave until it was almost 8 pm. Passengers that were meant to fly at 7pm were seated at the airport waiting for their turn. The only explanation offered according to the passengers was “operational reasons.”
Also on Aero Contractors Lagos-Benin route, passengers have complained about flights being delayed without any announcement.
Another passenger who narrated an experience with Aero Contractors disclosed that “my evening flight from Uyo to Lagos was cancelled and they had no arrangement as to how to accommodate the passengers for the night. Worse still, it was their bus shuttle that most of the passengers from Calabar to Uyo took for a fee because Calabar Airport was being renovated then.” Speaking on how bad it was, the passenger said “those who had no money on them slept in the airport with no food and no cloth to change. Some of the guys were to write promotion exams by 8 am the following morning. They couldn’t sit for the exam because of the cancellation.”
Apart from flight delays, passengers also decried negligence on the path of airline staff. For instance, an aggrieved traveller told Street Journal that after landing in Abuja at 6.30pm, it was discovered that the aircraft did not pick the passengers’ luggage. To worsen the situation, no apology or information came in the first hour of waiting. “It was later that a hired hand within the airport came to tell us that our luggage would be coming with another airline. We waited for over two hours after which we marched to their office where they were busy selling tickets and we threatened to disrupt their operations. That was when one of their officials would be coming with Air Nigeria. We left the baggage section three hours after touch down” the passenger said.
Street Journal has also found out that such complaints are not peculiar to people flying the local routes. According to a London-based Nigerian who spoke to Street Journal “I had the same experience with Arik from London to Nigeria (Abuja). The flight was delayed for about three hours and upon boarding, we were told that the flight was going to be combined with those going to Lagos. The flight was filled up with people not having any space to keep their hand luggage. On arrival, Abuja passengers did not get their luggage till the following day. Mind you, it was a flight that was originally Abuja-bound. Getting to the airport in Abuja, the Arik staff kept us waiting for about one hour without any explanation on why our luggage did not arrive.”
While many have attributed the shabby treatment being meted out to travellers by airlines in Nigeria to the fact that Nigerians hardly complain about poor services, others believe the complaints are not getting to the appropriate quarters. It is believed that many Nigerians would rather complain to let off steam than go through the long process of complaining to effect a change.
It has also been observed that that the monopoly enjoyed by some airline operators in Nigeria has gone a long way in making them feel Nigerians have no choice but to patronize them. The fact that most roads are in horrible shapes has also made air travel the choice of many Nigerians, even those who would have preferred to drive.
The coming days however promises something different as passengers are unanimous in their call for the recognition of customer rights in the aviation sector. Plans have been put in place to make sure the National Civil Aviation Authority sanctions the airlines found wanting. Nigerians who have been at the receiving end of the inhumane treatment by airline operators have decided to put a stop to it by taking the case to the appropriate authorities and ensuring that the rights of air travellers are protected.