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WHY IS ARIK AIR SO UNRELIABLE?

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‘The politics of bombs in Nigeria’ was my topic for this week’s column but just before I approached the keyboards of my desk top in my hotel room in the coal city of Enugu where I had gone to attend the pre-burial meeting of the coalition of South East Human Rights and Pro-Democracy Activists for the assassinated Human Rights Activist Comrade Chidi Nwosu, I changed my mind to write on the current theme to highlight what has become a very common cruel experiences that air travellers undergo in the hands of virtually all airlines operating locally in our country. One clear motivation for this piece was the terrible and agonizing experience I underwent on the 8th of January 2011 precisely on my way from Abuja to attend the meeting as aforementioned. But first let me say that these cruel experiences were witnessed by virtually all air passengers who were checked in to travel in the morning of that fateful day because of the very unpalatable fact that virtually all the flights scheduled by all the private airlines including Aero Contractors and Air Nigeria to travel cancelled their schedules because of the obscure reason of operational difficulties and lack of planes on ground as we were made to understand by the continuity announcer on duty at the local wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.

A majority of people I discussed the problem with were of the unfortunate and unhelpful opinion that it was business- as- usual for a local airline to maltreat their passengers by unnecessarily delaying or outrightly cancelling already scheduled flights with as much a silly reason as late refuelling by the flights under discussion as if to say that it is the duty of the intended air passengers to refuel the planes for these investors in the unwholesomely unregulated and neglected aviation industry in Nigeria.

One of my co-discussants, while we waited for over four hours before the plane heading to Enugu from Arik eventually landed and reluctantly decided to fly us to our destination, told me point-blank that these days, it will be suicidal for a serious minded or committed corporate personality to plan his/her schedules based on flight schedules by almost all the local airlines operating in Nigeria because of the fact that these airlines either were not ab -initio prepared for business going by the unfortunate fact that they do not parade enough flights/planes for the purposes of diligently carrying out their businesses or that they are not up and doing with maintenance of the few available planes so much so that some of their scheduled flights can be redirected to other juicy routes even when these airlines have collected the hard earned resources of the air passengers and even subjected them to the harsh reality of leaving the comfort of their homes and remaining almost stranded in the poorly maintained airport facilities all across Nigeria before announcing to them without remorse that their scheduled flights have been cancelled.

On this fateful day, ARIK Air which prides itself as the ‘wings of Nigeria’ gave us three conflicting reasons for delaying the Enugu bound flight for about four hours before take off from Abuja. This situation is both reprehensible and pathetic and goes to show the level of disrespect the airline has for her passengers. The airline operators in Nigeria must change or be forced to change through series of court cases by some brave Nigerian air passengers.

Another notorious fact is that it is completely unacceptable that when air passengers by circumstances beyond or within their control missed their scheduled flights, they are either made to go through the rigours of coughing out additional payment as penalties for missing these flights but whenever these airlines unilaterally cancels the scheduled flights, the best they usually offer to their bewildered and heavily disappointed but weak passengers are some uncoordinated sonorous apologies rendered by the bizarre looking or rather bemused low rank staff of these airlines who are usually at the receiving ends of some mild verbal abuses poured generously on the defaulting airline by some bold-faced disappointed passengers who may decide to take their own pounds of flesh from those they can readily see and perceive as agents of the oppressors who run these airlines in Nigeria.

Now the challenge for these air passengers for allowing themselves to be subjected to this horrendous maltreatment by the owners of these airlines is that not many persons in Nigeria have demonstrated the much desired passion to pursue genuine cases in the competent courts of law to demand and obtain payment of heavy damages and penalties for the unwarranted inconveniences caused by these airline owners and the management. I was therefore proud of one United States -based student of Nigerian origin that recently successfully pursued and won landmark litigation against one of these funny foreign airlines from the gulf countries. The presiding judge of the Federal High Court in Lagos gave a judgment awarding damages of a little more than three million Naira against the airline to be paid to this brave Nigerian student for missing an already scheduled appointment in Nigeria as a result of the unilateral cancellation of a scheduled flight from the JF Kennedy Airport in the United States to Nigeria.

The defaulting airline was also ordered to refund the student in full the ticketing fees paid by the client and plaintiff in the matter. The moment I read the juicy and wonderful story in some of the national dailies including LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER the question that came to my mind was-Where were the remaining several hundred disappointed air passengers who were supposed to have been airlifted to Nigeria alongside this courageous litigant? It would have been a sweet justice if at least one hundred of these disappointed passengers had teamed up with the now successful litigant and file a class action whereby several billions of Naira or even United States Dollars [USD] would have been claimed as damages from this lazy foreign airline. The possible scenario from this kind of class action is that when successful, the defendant or rather the defaulting airline owners will either be forced out of business because of heavy penalty which they must pay or they will be compelled by the circumstances of the matter in court to sanitize their operations and restore respect for their clients and customers who are traditionally supposed to be treated as kings since ‘the consumer is king’ as the popular adage says.

Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA.

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