Hapless travellers lament as flight delays, cancellations worsen

 Incidents of flight delays and cancellations in the nation’s aviation sector have become worrisome. Many air travellers have had to wait for several hours at the airports before finally flying to their destinations. In this report, BENJAMIN SAMSON speaks with experts and others on what should be done to check the trend.

Flight delays and cancellations are gradually becoming a norm in the Nigeria aviation industry. Scenes of protests by disappointed air travellers are also becoming regular at airports across the country. Unfortunately, it appears that airlines operators and authorities are either not bothered or see the worrisome trend as any big deal.

Latest incident

The member representing Musawa/Matazu Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Abdullahi Aliyu Ahmed, has threatened to take legal action against the management of Air Peace Limited over irregularities.

The lawmaker, while addressing reporters, noted that the nation’s airline changed his flight from Business Class to Economy Class after paying about N12 million from the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport to Jeddah.

Ahmed, who disclosed that he boarded flight P4752 alongside his family to King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, for Umrah (Lesser Hajj), said the flight was supposed to depart Kano airport on March 27, 2024, but it was delayed till the following day.

The chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Interior, said the legal action was imperative because the scenario that happened between him and Air Peace “is one of the numerous abnormalities customers are forced to suffer in the Nigerian aviation sector.”

Travellers narrate ordeals

Other frequent air travellers who spoke with this reporter narrated their ordeals and frustrations with airlines on different occasions at the nation’s airports.

Speaking with this reporter, a frequent air traveller, Aishatu Bakriri, who had suffered several flight cancellations and delays, said, “I remember my experience at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. I arrived at the airport excited to see my family in Lagos after months of separation. To my utter shock, we were informed that the flight had been cancelled without any reasons given. It’s heart-breaking to see how the airline treats its customers, leaving us in the dark about what happened.

“Amidst the chaos, airport authorities attempted to mediate in the situation and establish communication with the airline officials. However, the airline’s representatives remained tight-lipped, offering no satisfactory explanations for the abrupt flight cancellation.”

Likewise, Mrs. Hassana Adeola, who also shared her recent encounter with this reporter, said she booked a 2:30pm flight from Abuja to Lagos, but the trip was delayed for over five hours without apologies and/or explanations.

She said before leaving for the airport, the Company had sent a mail that her flight had been shifted from 2:30pm to 4:45pm, and apologised, but on getting to the airport, she met other passengers who had booked for 12:00pm flight still waiting to board.

“This time around, they did not announce the flight postponement; people were just seating there and nothing was happening, no apologies or explanations were given for their actions,” she said.

She said they were called to board at almost 10:00 pm, and that the Company had to combine five batches of travellers on an international flight that later arrived.

 The displeased passenger said further that they arrived in Lagos at some minutes after 11:00pm and waited for another two hours before being conveyed from the international wing to pick up their luggage.

Similarly, a nursing mother, Maryam Mojeed, said she booked for a 3:50pm flight from Abuja to Benin City, but arrived at her destination at almost 7:00pm.

“Earlier that day, I was notified that the flight had been moved backward to 3:10pm which made me hurriedly leave my house in order not to miss the flight,” she said.

However, Mrs. Mojeed said she arrived at the airport on that day at 2:00pm, but was surprised that no boarding announcement was made for the 3:10pm. While wondering if she had missed the flight announcement, she said she observed that other passengers bearing similar tickets as hers were still seated.

“I began to wonder what was happening since no apologies or whatsoever from them for delaying the flight again. By 4:30pm, the airline made an announcement that the flight had been delayed by another 30 minutes. They were finally called to board at 5:16pm.

“Often, during the long wait at the boarding terminals of airports, most passengers are forced to spend more on food they never budgetted for, especially as foods and even snacks sold at the airports are usually more expensive,” she said.

Expert’s views

In an interview with Blueprint Weekend, an aviation expert, Capt. Chuma Okogwu, gave an insight into the reasons for the delays and cancellations among Nigerian airlines.

He said, “Delays happen because the airlines are trying to leave the airports at the same time, especially in the mornings, yet there are no sufficient facilities for all of them.” Okogwu said further that the problem is also partly attributed to the weak enforcements of regulations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

“There are regulations for delays; the NCAA has regulations for delays, but it’s another thing for them to enforce it. Also, the airlines don’t get audited yearly as they should,” he said.

Okogwu also flayed what he described as the “arrogant attitude” of airlines, who behave as if they owe passengers no apologies for delayed flights. If a ticket says one is leaving for 10:00am, it should be 10:00am. If one has to wait till 2-3pm for a ticket that says 10:00am, it’s a problem. There should be consequences for the airlines for delayed flights,” he said.

Legal implications

A legal practitioner, Barrister Ezenwa Chimezie, in an interview with this reporter, shed more light on what the law says about flight delays and cancellations in Nigeria.

Quoting the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations Act of 2015 (as amended), he said the law spelled out actions to be taken, as regards passengers’ welfare, in cases of flight delays or cancellations.

He said, “Part 19.6 of the regulations, which dwells on domestic flight delays, states that when an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure, it shall provide the passengers with the reason (s) for the delay within 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and the assistance specified below:

“(i) After two hours: refreshments as specified in section 19.10.1(i) and telephone calls, SMS and emails as specified in Section 19.10.2; (ii) Beyond three hours, reimbursement, as specified in Section 19.9.1(i).

“(iii) At a time beyond 10:00pm till 4:00am, or at a time when the airport is closed at the point of departure or final destination, the assistance specified in sections 19.10.1(iii)and 19.10.1(iv) (hotel accommodation and transport) (should be provided).

“In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned shall, according to Section 6 of the part: (i) Be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Sections 19.6.”

Continuing, he said, “(ii) Be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Sections 19.9.1(i) and 19.9.2 as well as, in the event of re-routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified in Sections 19.9.1(ii) and19.9.1 (iii).

“(iii) In respect of domestic flights, (passengers) have a right to compensation by the operating air carrier in accordance with Section 19.10 unless they are informed of the cancellation at least 24 hours before the scheduled time of departure…”

According to Barrister Chimezie, passengers can go to court to seek redress in cases of unjust delayed and/or cancelled flights.

“Airlines are duty-bound to carry passengers who have paid. If for any reason a cancellation or delay occurs sufficient warnings must be given to guarantee the convenience of a passenger. It’s because the regulatory agencies in Nigeria are colluding with the airline operators that they’re fleecing their passengers every day.

“FAAN and NCAA are responsible for the agony that Nigerians are going through in the hands of the greedy airline operators. There’s no reason whatsoever for people to experience what they’re currently going through where airline operators manipulate them by selling tickets beyond the capacity of their airline. They give flimsy excuses of aviation fuel scarcity or operational problems. Everyone who is affected is entitled to go to court for any loss occasioned from such breach of contract.”

He added that, “If delay has caused anyone monetary loss in any terms, you can sue. But Nigerians don’t do this because of delay of justice. If you go to court, it can take you 10 years to obtain justice. So, why will you want to waste your time?

 ”A situation where airlines delay flights at will, will stop when passengers can get expeditious legal remedies in court.”

Solution 

Pundits in the aviation sector believe that the federal government and other stakeholders need to make conscious efforts to tackle the challenge of flight delays and cancellations.

Okogwu said there’s a need for a structured gap analysis to address challenges in airport operations.

He underscored the importance of involving all stakeholders, including airport operators, aviation fuel providers, regulators, passengers, and airlines, in a collaborative effort.

He said: “If you want to correct a process, you must do a structured gap analysis to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to tackle it. This is why all stakeholders; airport operators, the aviation fuel providers, the regulators, the passengers, airlines, etc, should be brought to the table.

“It is a fact-finding process that enables each person to say exactly what needs to be done to be effective. It is not for the airport to do things in isolation. Even if you provide the best airport or the best passenger flow within the airport, you are likely not to succeed because it is teamwork.

“As long as we continue to blame the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), NCAA and others, it will not change the situation. The first place to start is to convene a stakeholders meeting, including the five or six principal stakeholders in the value chain.”

He also stressed the need to allow all the stakeholders to state their challenges so that together the industry would be able to come up with solutions.

“Whoever is responsible for providing batons for the next person to run with needs to be told what needs to be done. Then, there will be a timeline for when such things should be done. We will then test-run it.”

He said a holistic landscape of the entire process should be looked at and then come up with a blueprint which everyone will buy into.

“The interest of all the stakeholders and passengers will be to be captured in the blueprint. The government also needs to improve the infrastructure at airports to meet the growing demand.”

FG’s avowals

Meanwhile, the federal government through the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, Festus Keyamo, said airlines would begin to compensate passengers for delayed or cancelled flights.

 The minister said this not long ago when he appeared before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Aviation to defend his ministry’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year. According to Keyamo, aviation regulators will start forcing airlines that delay or cancel flights to return customers’ funds.

He said he would also ensure that a weekly list of offenders be published in the media as part of the new compensation scheme.

 “I have called the customer’s satisfaction commission regarding the treatment of Nigerians. In fact, I have gone back to the committee; that is how much I am concerned. And I have said at the last address that I gave during our stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos and our retreat in Warri.

“I said on a weekly basis, please publish the list of airlines that do not fly as at when due, cancelled flights, delayed flights, how many hours it was delayed, and were there compensation, actions they took as regulator against these airlines. We are starting that in January.

 “For every delay, there is a report, an actual report by the regulator. What did they do? Did they pay compensation? And if they didn’t pay compensation, we have said that the other way to get compensation if they can return cash is that once the passenger is buying the next ticket, it must be given a rebate.

“That passenger must be given a 50 per cent rebate or 40 per cent rebate because there must be a rebate,” he had said.