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By NBF News

A mild drama played out Sunday evening at the Port Harcourt airport when stranded Lagos-bound passengers engaged Arik Air ground staff in fisticuff, querying why they were not airlifted or adequately compensated.

The passengers, Daily Sun learnt had arrived the Port Harcourt airport as early as 1pm waiting to be flown to Lagos on the 3pm flight, but that never happened.

With the 3pm flight was cancelled, the passengers were told they would be airlifted at 5.30pm.

Temporarily relieved, they waited and those originally booked on the 5.30pm flight joined the long queue of waiters.

By 5.30pm, no airplane was on ground to fly the passengers booked on either the 3pm or 5.30pm service; a situation, which further angered the passengers.

Daily Sun further learnt that an announcement from the airport's information desk came in, indicating a one hour delay.

At this point, the departure terminal was heated up, with passengers besieging the airline's office demanding to know their fate.

From 5.30pm to about 11pm, no flight was on ground for the PHC-Lagos route.

FAAN security personnel and some officials of the State Security Service (SSS) were said to be on ground to forestall the breakdown of law and order

The General Manager, Public Affairs of FAAN, Akin Olukunle who spoke with Daily Sun on phone over the matter said the passengers were deeply aggrieved that the airline did not airlift or check them into a hotel.

This, he said, forced them to sleep in the airport under uncomfortable conditions.

'The matter was later resolved on Monday morning when the passengers were flown to Lagos,' he said.

However, the Media Officer of Arik Air, Banji Ola, said there was no quarrel or fight between the airline's ground staff and passengers in Port Harcourt, adding, 'it's all a campaign of calumny against the airline.'

He said: 'Our evening flight to PH from Lagos had a technical problem and the aircraft departed Lagos late and due to crew time limit, the Captain could not operate back to Lagos leading to the cancellation of the flight. The aggrieved passengers were pacified and they went home.'

As I write, the flight bringing the passengers from PH should be touching down in Lagos shortly (it departed PH at 9:20am). We have another aircraft on ground PHC now boarding another set of Lagos-bound passengers, while another flight is leaving at 11:00am.

We have not less than six daily flights between Lagos and PH and there should be no reason for our guests to be stranded in PHC', he explained.

Ola's claims were punctured by one of the affected passengers, one Emmanuel Nnomah.

According to him, Arik Air's Duty Manager in PHC worsened the passengers' plight as he gave them false hopes which made them wait endlessly to be airlifted, thus shunning other airlines who could have been better alternatives.

'We were there when Air Nigeria and Aero came in and left, but we still waited for Arik because of the assurance from the Duty Manager who swore that the expected airplane would arrive and we would be airlifted. When this did not happen even at 11pm, some passengers started fighting the staff around, but we urged them to behave maturely and take the Duty Manager by his words. Nobody gave us drinks or snacks or something. Children were crying for food. A pregnant woman's case was even pathetic. She was cold because it rained that evening.

When an airplane eventually
at about midnight, the pilot said he could not fly the airplane back. People slept in the airport and no one cared for them. Even in the morning, the airline wanted to sell tickets and check-in people on the 7am flight, but we all resisted it. We swore that they cannot sell tickets unless they airlift the stranded passengers. When they saw our seriousness, they did as we said', he explained.