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Forget about delivery of new aircraft, purported on-time- performance and other perks. At their core, airlines promise a simple service — timely transportation — yet they make little progress toward improving that basic offering, WOLE SHADARE writes
The experience has been excruciating. Passengers travelling across the country have one tale of woe or another to tell about chaotic scenes at airports, occasioned by flight delays. Delays and cancellations affect both passengers and carriers.
On the other hand, airlines suffer from extra crew costs, costs associated with accommodating disrupted passengers and aircraft re-positioning, as airline fleet and crew schedules are largely based on the scheduled times.
Aviation Metric learnt that 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.
Not a few saw this coming. Many of the country’s airlines operate at half their capacity because of the impact of COVID- 19, which has kept many operators’ aircraft in storage.
Many others have been ferried overseas for maintenance and are yet to return. These are happening amid reports of increase in the number of people that are taking to air travel despite the fact that the traffic is yet to match the same number of traffic recorded in 2019 or shortly the country’s airspace was shut middle of March 2020.
Air Peace leads others
Nigeria’s biggest airline, Air Peace’s penchant for flight delay is legendary. The carrier’s attitude to passengers’ welfare is less than impressive. In 2019, NCAA’s report of airlines with the biggest number of delays ranked Air Peace first as the airline with the highest – 14, 069 flight delays, 137 cancelled flights and operated 22,055 flights.
The carrier has become a butt of jokes by intending travelers that one should reconsider flying Air Peace if the person has an urgent appointment to meet anywhere in the country, except for its early morning flights. In 2021, the story has not changed as the serious effects of COVID-19 and other administrative matters have conspired to ensure they maintain the unenviable position.
The statistics from the apex aviation regulatory body showed that 59,818 flights were operated by nine airlines during the period under review.
According to the document, 544 flights were cancelled for various reasons by the airlines. NCAA listed airlines in operation as Max Air, Dana Air, Overland, Arik, Azman, Aero Contractors, Air Peace and Medview. Next in line was Arik Air with 8,073 delayed flights and 152 cancellations out of its scheduled 15,205 flight operations.
Dana Air, on the other hand, operated 5,944 flights with 3,915 cases of delayed flights and 67 cancellations. Azman Air recorded 3,242 and 49 delayed and cancelled flights respectively, out of the 4,944 flights operated by the airline during the period under review.
Also, Aero Contractors operated 4,361 flights with 2,459 delayed and 70 cancellations; Overland, 601 flights with 1,960 delayed and 29 cancellations; and Medview, 2058 flights with 1,256 delayed and 42 cancellations. Max Air recorded 1,151 delays and five cancellations, out of the 2,205 flights operated by the airline.
Virtually all the airlines in Nigeria are guilty of this problem that is gradually taking the joy off travelers. Air Peace has become the major culprit as it flagrantly delays or cancels flight schedules.
The truth should be told, if airlines are made to compensate passengers for flight delays or cancellation, they will sit up. Within a spate of one week, passengers in Kano, 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. This is quite disheartening.
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 need to wake up.
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 passenger, but how the airline communicates this to the passenger is important.
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’. 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.
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 past few months, airlines have recorded more cancellations and or delays without a reasonable reason.
They don’t even tell their passengers reasons for the delay or cancellation. A frequent traveller had a harrowing experience in the hands of official of an airline recently. The flight scheduled to depart at noon was delayed till 6 pm. The flight was eventually cancelled.
All efforts to get 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.
Incessant flight cancellations remain a challenge for airlines and demands for compensations by flyers seldom pitch distraught passengers against erring airlines. Albeit Nigeria regulatory authority, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) efforts to ameliorate and mediate in issues as they arise, passengers said there is more ground to cover by all those involved. Passengers’ satisfaction, no doubt, remains the basic impetus that holds the key to the successes of any airline business. When they complain of any unpleasant experience or ill-treatment upon the purchase of a flight ticket (s) until they arrive at their destinations, they are guests of the airline and expect to be accorded due courtesies.
Flight cancellations, especially one too many, be it mechanical or otherwise, rude flight attendants, poor in-flight services, delays and leaving passengers in the dark without information as well numerous other bad deals are pointers that the airline may well be on its way to extinction or kiss the canvass if passengers’ complaints are ignored.
NCAA is alleged to be helpless because of lack of infrastructure at the airports to aid seamless passenger facilitation and other problems peculiar to the country’s airlines. NCAA had declared in strong terms zero tolerance to flight cancellations/delays that has plagued airline operations within the country.
Value for money
Against this backdrop, all airlines were warned to always adhere to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs 2015) and Passengers Bill of Rights in their dealings with passengers.
Passengers must get value for their money. A stakeholder once said: “Because the airlines know that most passengers are not aware that they have a right to complain and get financial compensation when they don’t get the right services, the airlines tend to get away with the unscrupulous act, violate passengers’ right and subject them to physical and financial trauma.”
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.Google+