Local airports have been witnessing flight delays and chaotic scenes as airline operators ration fleet capacity to cope with emerging traffic.
The Guardian learnt that the chaos were connected with erratic flight delays, overbooking, indiscriminate rescheduling and poor communications on flight status, all pitting exhausted air travellers against airport and airline staffers.
Operators expressed regrets for the delays, but said the development was inevitable, given limited fleet capacity on ground and perennial poor facilities at airports that have reduced most operations to daytime only.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has also urged air travellers to bear with the delays as occasioned by changes in weather, saying due observance of safety guidelines remains primary concern of pilots and crew.
The Guardian lately reported spikes in air traffic and attendant hike in airfares, despite low capacity across the airlines. Market survey, in the last two weeks, showed that airfares remained at an average of 100 per cent high, and even more on some airlines. For instance, an Arik Air Lagos-Port Harcourt Economy one-way ticket on Friday sold for N75,000. Azman Air sold similar ticket on Lagos-Kano for N95,000 — a 200 per cent spike compared to the normal rate.
On the average, a future flight of about a week away now costs between N50,000 to N60,000, for Economy one-way. Return tickets cost between N100,000 and N120,000. Travellers heading to the East from Lagos or Abuja now pay an average of N60,000 for one-way, subject to flight and seat availability.
The astronomical rise notwithstanding, there is no on-time departure to complement the hard-earned yuletide traffic. The Guardian learnt that on-time departure from Lagos and Abuja airports, to other parts of the country, have lately been hard to come by, with all flights now delayed for between two and six hours, or more.
A passenger on Air Peace Abuja-Lagos flight, Olayinka Ayinla, last Thursday arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) just 30 minutes before departure of his 8:30 a.m. flight.
“I was told that I have missed the flight because counter had closed. There was nothing I said that convinced them. Okay, I rescheduled the flight and paid a fine of N22,000. The only flight that had available seat was for 6:30 p.m.. I took it in my strides, because the entire day was already a waste.
“When it was time, we heard nothing. From inquires, we were told that the flight had been delayed till 10 p.m. Just like that? No message or apologies. Nothing. At 10 p.m., all their staffers vanished from the counter, apparently unable to cope with complaints. It was at 12:15 a.m. that they started calling our 6:30 p.m flight. We got to Lagos past 2 a.m. I have never seen anything like that,” Olayinka said.
Another passenger, Emeka Abba, said his Port Harcourt-Abuja flight was delayed for 24 hours.
“Honestly, our airlines are not in good business at all, and it is a shame. My flight was supposed to be an 8:20 a.m. flight to Abuja. I was about getting to the airport premises when I got a mail that the flight will now be for 4:00p.m. They have no regard for customers’ time, schedule and appointments. It is most criminal that no one is even checking these airlines. There is no difference among them.
“You would not believe that I passed the night at Port Harcourt airport. I think we deserve more from the airlines and the supervising Ministry of Aviation. They are not doing us any favours. If the airlines are tired of the business, let them close shop and let us know that we have no aviation industry. It is just criminal,” Abba said.
Travel agent, Sunday Olumegbon, agreed with passengers that the airlines had not been fair to air travellers in their route planning and bookings, especially in the face of limited capacity.
Olumegbon said the entire Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, and Kaduna had been the most chaotic with airlines overbooking passengers beyond the airplanes and frequencies available.
“This is happening to me as a business concern. I keep having customers coming back to say that the airlines are either not taking them at the scheduled time or getting delayed beyond necessary. It is crazy when customers are demanding a refund for the money I have already paid to the airlines. I know that the airlines have capacity problem, and the harmattan weather too, but their handling of the problems is just horrendous and unacceptable from customer-service point of view.”
Chief operating officer of one of the airlines told The Guardian yesterday, that the operators were already feeling the traffic pressure typical of the festive season, but “we have no planes to go round.”Besides, the weather vicissitude that is typical of harmattan season is unsettling movement across the network.
“The truth of the matter is that our fleet fortune has not changed. We have nothing in the form of government’s intervention; so, our aircraft that are stuck overseas have still not returned and more are still unserviceable.
“In that sort of situation, operators have to be strategic. I’m just telling you the truth. We need all the money coming to survive past losses. So, what you would see is that, after the first set of flights out of Lagos and Abuja in the morning, more flights are concentrated on other routes because they are daytime airports. Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna passengers can wait because their airports are 24 hours, while we use few aircraft available to service those other routes that close by 5p.m. Even those ones get delayed as weather changes.
“One cannot but be apologetic to our customers. They are the reasons we are in business. If all our airports have good facilities and runway lights for night operations, we would not be seeing some of these delays and chaos. This is the season where we all pay more for our decrepit infrastructure and development negligence. Our customers should bear with us,” he said.
The apex regulatory body, NCAA, in a recent advisory circular, had warned of severe dust haze or fog phenomenon prevalent in local airports at this period.
Spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said the adverse weather condition occurrence was expected to subsist from October in the far North; November over the North Central; and December over the Southern part of the country.
“ATCs may temporarily close airspace when hazardous weather conditions such as heavy fog or severe dust haze reduce the visibility to below airport operating minimal are observed or forecasted by NIMET.
“Pilots or flight crewmembers shall obtain adequate departure, en-route and destination weather information and briefing from Nimet Aerodrome Offices prior to flight operations; and pilots shall exercise maximum restraint whenever adverse weather is observed or forecast by Nimet and brief passengers accordingly.
“Travelling public are, however, urged to exercise restraint and show understanding in this yuletide month as flights may be delayed or cancelled on account of weather situations. From the foregoing, the regulatory authority will expect strict compliance to this Advisory Circular as violation would be viewed seriously,” the advisory read in part.