Nigerian Airports: Boredom over Wi-Fi, desired amenities’ absence

In certain parts of the world, access to the internet via Wi-Fi at airports is regarded to be a basic human right. Such amenities are lacking in Nigeria as the government seeks solutions to providing the basic amenities at major airports across the country, writes, WOLE SHADARE

Dire need

Business Air travellers as well as travellers in general consider the availability of wireless internet access as an absolute necessity at airports. They like to stay connected to their office, colleagues, clients, social circle, or families during the waiting times for their flights.

 According to a recent survey, a high percentage of passengers responded that Wi-Fi availability at airports is one of the most sought-after amenities nowadays. The demand for free Wi-Fi connectivity at airports is continuously growing worldwide and certainly, many airport authorities are adding free Wi-Fi access service as a basic amenity for their travellers.

The commercialisation and privatisation of airports in combination with the deregulation of the aviation market have introduced new possibilities for competition among airports. This in turn has meant that there are increased opportunities for airports to develop new strategies to gain competitive advantage.

Wi-Fi has become an integral part of travelers’ airport experiences. According to a study by Boingo, airport Wi-Fi users consume an average of 44 MB of data per session. More than half connect to Wi-Fi via phone, while 24% use tablets and 21% use laptops. What travelers do on their devices also varies, from reading the news to streaming movies, shows, music, and sports.

But airport Wi-Fi is used for much more than binge-watching or checking work emails at the gate. Increasingly, passengers are turning to Wi-Fi connections and their mobile devices to support their travel logistics and airport experience.

And as the travel and tourism industry continues to grow and evolve, one aspect that is becoming increasingly important is wireless connectivity. In today’s digital age, travelers expect to have access to the internet and stay connected regardless of their location.

Nigerians yearn for airport connectivity

Millions of Nigerians and international travellers who use the five major international airports across the country and 22 others operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) deserve super fast and reliable internet connectivity to stay in touch with loved ones and transact their businesses even while in transit.

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The aviation industry in Nigeria is yet to make a permanent provision for that. The one experimented with some few years ago ended without explanation of what led to its failure.

In many parts of the world, particularly in advanced countries, travellers waiting at airports for their flights can hook up to the internet using airport Wi-Fi facilities to maintain contact with their loved ones, colleagues, friends, and business associates.

Airport Wi-Fi facilities have proven to be a very useful resource for cutting back on the billions of unproductive man-hours spent by travellers, especially business travellers, waiting for flights at airports across the world.

The offering of free Wi-Fi has become a worldwide phenomenon proving to be particularly popular at high-frequency, high-volume destinations.

The types of destinations where free Wi-Fi is offered vary greatly in kind and include the likes of airports, restaurants, shops, shopping malls, tourism attractions, and even cities, to mention only a few.

N24.2 budgetary approval

Not much has been heard about the N24.2 billion approved by the Federal Government in 2023 for the provision of Internet in 20 selected airports in Nigeria and higher institutions of learning, and also some markets to support micro, small, and medium enterprises.

It is ironic that Nigeria, which has very high internet penetration among over 200 million subscribers, lacks functional Wi-Fi at any of its airports.

Despite enormous work done by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and, by extension, the Federal Government, Nigeria’s premier airports, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, are miles apart from how friendly airports should be.

They are far from the ideal situation travelers have experienced in smaller countries and many of the big airports across the world that the country tries to emulate

Not a few believe that the inability of many of the airports across the country to provide great customer experience for passengers is major because of the way the facilities are run devoid of great initiative by the private sector, rather, the continuation of running many of the nation’s aerodromes in a civil service style.

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Other airports example

Emulating other better airports across the world should come with providing infrastructure, Wi-Fi and other social amenities that would make passengers travelling or transiting through these aerodromes have unforgettable experiences.

The Infrastructure is out of tune with the modern idea of airport infrastructure. Rather, many users of these airports see them simply as a vehicle through which they exit or come into the country and not because they find the airport environment conducive enough for business or social activities.

No matter the awards won by Abuja and Lagos airports recently, there are so many things lacking that should by now have jolted FAAN into providing these missing links. Despite the awards, many do not get value for their money because of the appalling services offered by the airport authority.

A few years ago, the Federal Government, through its Executive Orders, brought some reforms to the Lagos and Abuja international airports, including the harmonisation of security checks for outgoing passengers, electronic scanning of baggage, and improvements in the air conditioning, toilets, car parks and sanitary conditions of the airports.

But, it is not the same story across all the airports, especially the domestic terminals. The agency may have reverted to its old self as some of the things the Executive Orders tried to correct are manifesting presently.

The experiment to provide Wi-Fi for the Lagos airport only lasted a few weeks. Even Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2) could not go beyond the initial stage of making it free to the terminal users.

The nation’s aviation industry had gone into overdrive with news that the major airports across the country would have wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) facilities.

The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo had promised to tackle many of the problems bedeviling many of the country’s aerodromes that have prevented them from offering quality services.

One of the anomalies he met on the assumption of office was the lack of a master plan for some of the country’s aerodromes, especially those of the five international airports.

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“I did not meet any masterplan on the ground in the entire Nigeria,” the minister said when asked to speak on the state of infrastructural development at the airports in Nigeria.

He explained that when he assumed office as the minister, the first thing he asked officials at the ministry was the master plan for airports, especially the five international airports.

Opportunities

Providing free Wi-Fi at airports an opportunity thus opens up for airports to not only engage with international travellers, but possibly also with corporate or industry sponsors to engage.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) feels it’s high time that airports got around to giving passengers free, easy to access, Wi-Fi at all terminals around the world.

Heathrow had in 2019 launched a fast-speed Wi-Fi service at the airport. In partnership with Boingo.  Passengers at all Heathrow terminals are now able to enjoy the new Wi-Fi experience with up to 100 MBPS (megabytes per second) speeds.

Wi-Fi in the airport has become integral to the passenger experience, making the terminal a place to visit, and a place passengers want to stay. Whether it’s booking last-minute travel insurance, pre-ordering groceries for the return home, or streaming cartoons to keep children entertained, passengers have no time limit when browsing on Wi-Fi at the airport.

Last line

Wi-Fi does more than keep travellers entertained at gates — it’s critical to the safe functioning of modern airports. This is just the beginning of the “connected airport.”  In the future, airline travelers may use augmented reality to access 3D airport maps with customised directions to their gate or might video-chat with a gate agent to change flights instead of waiting in a long line. The possibilities for the Internet of Things in the airport are endless, but it is clear that Wi-Fi provides the needed connectivity for it.

Wole Shadare

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