It’s been a while since our last correspondence, titled, ‘Dear Max Air’, where I had observed that, “It is without any doubt, that Max Air has done considerably well, in plying northern routes mostly abandoned by other airlines. It is a no brainer to appreciate the fact that those routes are low revenue routes, compared to heavier and more consistent passenger traffic routes coming or going to the South. Basing your flights up North was not only a decision borne out of a business or revenue drive, but an ‘arewite’ attempt to ameliorate the plight of Northern Nigeria air travellers. Most of our domestic airlines ply the Lagos-Abuja or Lagos-Maiduguri, and the Lagos-Kano, or Sokoto-Lagos routes. Abuja-Port Harcourt route is another live route that receives the attention of airlines. For airlines, it is strictly business and hardly about any patriotic or regional servitude. Northern Nigeria appreciates you for stepping in, to service the intra-northern routes especially those connecting the northern states to Abuja”.
It’s been a while since my last ordeal in a Max Airline plane which had very serious problems, as it tried to climb the sky, and abruptly lost one of its engines. It had to glide back to Kano, and all 120 of us passengers aboard the aircraft kept hoping and praying that we do not descend as low as hitting the ground. We kept descending dangerously. We didn’t climb to the optimum altitude, neither did we fall down to dangerous heights. We were in the dark as to what was happening, until a friend, Sa’in Daura, eventually brought it to our bewildered attention that we were descending and we were most likely detouring and going back to Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport. Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport was just too far away from us. Just the way the two politically historic icons are separated by time, with Nnamdi Azikiwe much farther away, and Mallam Aminu Kano closer, so was Aminu Kano Airport closer to us.
We landed safely and we quickly disembarked. The crew finally announced what had happened and pledged to resolve the fault; and that we would soon be on our way back. I got up alongside two other passengers. We protested and announced to the crew that we were not intent on reaching Abuja dead or alive anymore. Our travel plans have been changed by Almighty God. They pleaded that we remain calm and be seated as another aircraft was being readied to fly us to Abuja. I meditated ‘ki gini’ on my mind.. Mba was the unanimous outcome of my meditation.
We had the door open, and we disembarked. I managed to forget my phone in the aircraft. I and Alhaji Nuhu Sarkin Kasuwa, a friend and a member of the Presidential Campaign Council were just excited and thankful that our lives were spared and we were not to perish so ‘abruptly’ and ‘ceremoniously’. We had been engrossed with political talk all through, explaining to each other, how we had contributed immensely to the success of President Bola A. Tinubu. Sa’i broke the situation to us and we maintained pin drop silence. I found my prayer mood and Sarki.. well I think he found that too as just stopped talking to each other.
Somehow I was identified by quite a number of the passengers as a writer and I was challenged to write about it. Others maintained the Arewa spirit and that since it was an Arewa airline, I should not write about our experience. I was at a crossroads between reporting it as it was or turning a blind eye, and in this case, ‘rolling an inkless pen’. In Abuja, the news was all over the place. The challenge to write was all over the place, too. I was no longer at a crossroads. My innermost conviction to write, encouraged by the rage of many, got the better of me. I wrote. Before I finished, a newsflash lightened my burden, breaking the news of the suspension of Max Air operations. It was explained that the aviation fuel was contaminated by water from the heavy rainfall in the last month.
It was explained that it was not adulterated and that at certain heights and temperatures, the water component in the fuel would freeze and crank up the engine. This caused the aircraft engine to shut down or fail. As laymen in the workings of aircraft engines, we all agreed without probing further. The journalist in me had some questions about how the fuel is tested before it is fed to the aircraft. Or who was in charge of quality control, either at storage or at the point of dispensing the fuel to the trucks, and eventually the aircraft engines? Some people were not doing their jobs – the aviation authorities or the Max engineers. In the long run, lives are at stake; 120 lives in the instance of our botched Kano-Abuja bound flight.
I found myself traveling, and I unavoidably ended up reactivating my Max Air ticket from Kano to Abuja. I had not flown since we met with Max the last time in a not too friendly encounter. I was coming from Katsina, where I had gone to do a ‘see finish’ of Gwagware’s tour of projects around the local government areas in the state to mark his 100 days in office. I boarded a Max aircraft, coincidentally the same one I had suffered my worst air travel experience yet. Sarkin Kasuwa had done a lot to educate me on the types of aircraft and their year of manufacture during our botched trip.
I had quite a number of pleasant surprises with Max this time. No one was there to tell me to write about it. My conscience was capable enough. I decided that I would write another letter to Max. Here we are. Dear Max II: I had the most pleasant experience in my entire life of domestic travel. I scampered to make my flight as the aircraft was almost ready to taxi, when I arrived at the airport. There was no African time, let alone Nigerian. I was quickly checked in, and I was the last to get in. One of the crew members ushered me to 7B, and her colleague stopped at the business class section.
I queried Godiya to understand why I was being VIPeed when I had an economy ticket? She explained that sometimes, when they have spare seats, they do upgrade a few passengers to ease out the congestion in the economy ticket seats. I further prodded to ascertain if I wasn’t marked for the upgrade due to my last experience. She didn’t even know about it. I briefly told her about me and Sarkin Kasuwa and the rest of us. She said, “Oh, you’re the one that wrote us? You were kind of harsh” I struggled to agree, but I was too glad to even argue. The plane was cold, and the flight was smooth. There was zero turbulence. It climbed up perfectly, and it navigated the skies smoothly. I prayed the prayer that may the last experience be the only one of its kind ever. We landed safely and smoothly.
I clapped alone, then remembered my mom and her prayer sermons, and I stopped clapping and said my Alhamdulillah. I thanked God. Then, I continued clapping. The pilot was brilliant. The crew asked me what I’d want for refreshment. I replied, “Really?” They said “sure”! It was my first domestic flight in a business class. The economy was my usual as I didn’t see the need for business class seats in just 40 to 45 minutes flight. I was happy after the flight that I had conquered my new and strange phobia for air travel domestically. Even more thrilling is that the same airline and same aircraft that caused the fear conquered it. Thank you, Max, for the effort to restore confidence in us. Dear Max, please buy a few more aircraft so that we can enjoy more routes like Bauchi and Jigawa. Thank you for listening, Max.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.