Flight Delays, Cancellations: Tightening Noose On Airlines

Nigeria is witnessing a new normal in flight delays and cancellations. The double whammy is taking the joy out of air travel. WOLE SHADARE writes that at their core, airlines promise a simple service — timely transportation — yet they make little progress toward improving that basic offering

Sirika worried, kicks

The pronouncement by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, last week, that passengers whose flights are delayed by over two hours are bound to get 100 per cent of the value of their ticket refund among other benefits has put airline operators on the edge and keeps tongues wagging on how to differentiate between delay or flight cancellation.

Never has the industry experienced a harrowing, excruciating pains and frustration associated with flight cancellations, delays than now with no solution in place to stem the tide.

To underscore the seriousness to which the minister takes seriously to incessant flight delays and cancellations that are fast taking the joy out of air travel as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) are ready to bear their fangs.

The minister and, by extension, NCAA, are worried by embarrassing flight delays and cancellations that have nothing to do with some of the known problems such as poor infrastructure, VIP movements and scarcity of aviation fuel, among others.

 

Nigerian airlines

Public sensitisation

To further show its seriousness to stem the tide, the Director- General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, said that the agency would, in the coming weeks, commence information drive to passengers, maintaining that this would enable them to respond appropriately in case their rights are trampled upon by airlines.

According to him, before the 2015 amendment to the extant regulations, airlines were supposed to pay 100 per cent compensation to passengers after two hours of delay, but the regulatory agency amended it to three hours in order to accommodate the complaints of the indigenous airlines and in a bid to ensure fair play for all.

Nuhu insisted that whatever the Minister of Aviation said on compensation recently was not new, stressing that the minister was not reinventing the wheel. He, however, clarified that in case of natural phenomenon  the airlines would not be sanctioned by the agency, describing it as a force majeure.

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Lack of proper planning

The truth should be told, if airlines are made to compensate passengers for flight delays or cancellation that are caused by their own lack of proper planning,  there is he likelihood that they will sit up.

Within a space of one week, passengers in Kano, Abuja, Sokoto, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Benin, Asaba, Akure, Ilorin and Enugu airports have either experienced outright flight cancellation or delayed flight schedules for an upward of four hours.

Flight delays and cancellations are very rampant among virtually all the carriers with many of them giving flimsy excuses such as ‘operational reasons’ for what is currently playing out in the country’s aviation industry.

On-time departure from Lagos and Abuja airports to other parts of the country has lately been hard to come by, with all flights now delayed for between two and six hours, or more.

To worsen the situation, airlines find it extremely difficult to communicate effectively to passengers on the cause of delay. They find it difficult to provide refreshments for passengers and also do not provide accommodation to travelers, if flights are cancelled in the later hours of the day.

 

Aircraft positioning for take-off

Aside Ibom Air, which, for close to three months, has maintained scheduled integrity for over 70 per cent of its flights, other carriers have done abysmally poor with no regards for passengers.

Where they are supposed to make refund to passengers for cancellation of flights, all manner of underhand tactics are deployed to frustrate customers.

Factors under airline control

There are factors that are under the direct control of the carrier, such as aircraft turnarounds between flights, passenger punctuality, technical and crew performance, etc.

Out of airlines’ control

On the other hand, there are perhaps even more factors that are outside of the airline’s control, such as weather, air traffic control, security and airport conditions, among others.

The reality is such that so long as airplanes continue flying, flight delays will be a part of the experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, about 20 per cent of all flights are delayed by 15 minutes or more.

 

DG NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu

Air traffic control restrictions

Since the 80’s, air passenger traffic has grown from half a billion to well over three billion passengers a year. That is a lot of airplanes in the skies carrying a lot of people at any given point.

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And most of this traffic is concentrated around just a handful of hubs. Longer flights also come with more restrictions and regulations, with airlines often changing their routes at the last minute due to weather and jet streams. The latter gets even more complicated because of airlines’ effort to be cost effective and optimise their fuel efficiency.

Infrastructure challenges

Certain airports across the country do not have navigational facilities that could allow them to operate for longer hours as most of the aerodromes close after sunset, coupled with lack of handle aircraft in emergency situation and provision of spare parts for a faulty aircraft in some cases.

This forces air traffic regulators to require larger periods of time between take offs and landings to ensure safety, which easily turns into a chain reaction if one or more flights are delayed.

Adverse weather conditions

Different airports have different standards when it comes to delays caused by adverse weather conditions, usually determined by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET).

Adverse weather conditions are often cited as one of the main reasons for flight delays, however they are not as common as most people think. That is because even if the weather does not appear to be optimal, it is not a given that the flight cannot be operated on time.

When we speak of adverse weather conditions impacting the performance of a flight, we’re mostly speaking of extreme weather conditions – i.e. tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, among others,which typically account for only about six per cent of all flight delays.

What this means in practice is that even though airlines often cite bad weather as the reason for a delay, that is more often than not, not the actual reason. It’s also why passengers could be entitled to compensation, even if the airline comes up with excuses that the flight was delayed due to bad weather. Wake up call for NCAA At the moment, most air passengers hold the view that they are being taken for granted.

Who’s fault? The regulatory agencies has come to life by taking stringent measures to tackle the menace.

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Today’s problem will continue to expand if not addressed. Most of the delays are technical matters, operational issues that are beyond the airlines, like the infrastructure at the airport, which may hamper the processing of passengers, but how the airline communicates this to the passenger is important.These are never communicated to passengers. Passengers are kept in the dark as to what could have caused delay to their flight or outright cancellation.

 

NCAA logo

Lamentation

An airline official, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said: “Time is of essence in global aviation business. Just a minute delay is enough to ruin an entire operation and cost the airlines dearly.”

In other airports around the world, the standard time for processing a passenger through the checkpoint screening is about two minutes.

Some best of the bunch airports process faster. It is not as if airlines do not cancel flights when there is bad weather or technical problems, but the way most of the airlines do leaves much to be desired. In the past few months, airlines have recorded more cancellations and or delays without a reasonable reason.

The Nigerian aviation industry has been taken 40 years behind compared with their counterparts in other climes. Passengers blame airlines for operational anomalies, but the regulatory authorities also have their share of the blames. However, the delays, according to the airlines, were due to ‘operational reasons.’

They don’t even tell their passengers reasons for the delay or cancellation. A frequent traveller had a harrowing experience in the hands of an airline recently. The flight scheduled to depart at noon was delayed till 6 pm. The flight was eventually cancelled.

 

Private jets on airport tarmac

All efforts to get a reason for the cancellation could not yield fruit as the officials whom he described as arrogant and rude simply said the flight was cancelled for operational reasons after over six-hour delay.

Last line

In Nigeria, it is a chain that is also complicated in nature and one that has persisted despite efforts by the regulatory body and airlines to rectify the situation

Wole Shadare