THERE was a mild drama on Sunday morning at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, after two crises hit Arik Air, one of the airline operators in Nigeria.
The operator cancelled the flight it scheduled for Lagos at 8:am ‘without notice.’
Arriving at the airport, the passengers discovered Arik Air had cancelled their flight. They resolved to protest and disrupted the operator’s services.
The protest caused some commotion at the airport as staff of the airline struggled to appease the passengers.
Almost simultaneously, passengers onboard another aircraft belonging to the operator disembarked after crew members alerted them that the plane had developed a fault.
One of the passengers at the airport claimed the aircraft emitted smoke, leading to commotion.
“Passengers could not pick their hand luggage. They had to rush out and settle down somewhere before they returned to pick their belongings after getting assurance there was no fire,” alleged the passenger.
He said though the airline managed the incident well, it could no longer fly at the time.
The ICIR had reported on Sunday how a Philippines military plane crashed, killing 17 initially, but death toll has risen to 45 at 7.53pm Nigerian time.
One of the protesting passengers Sam Eferaro, a health journalist, wrote on his Facebook page that he was supposed to take off by 8:30 am.
“Someone, please save passengers from Arik. I was actually expecting a change from their inglorious past as I reluctantly booked a round trip flight to Abuja and Lagos. Not so. My nasty experience some years back was re-enacted as I got to the airport in Abuja this morning.
“I was told casually that the flight to Lagos had been cancelled. Of course, my fellow passengers wouldn’t take any of that. There was a loud protest. Many wondered why there was no previous information about the cancellation.
“For me, my thought was how I would make my way back to town, get accommodation, appointments that will be missed etc. Then the passengers grew wild. There were suggestions that we should all remain at the check-in counter to prevent further check in to other places.
“Some thought of legal resort but lamented that justice might not come their way early enough. Anyway, after so much shouting, cursing and threats, an official came to address us. We have three options. To join the afternoon flight by 1 pm or the evening one by 4 pm or get a refund. Well, most of us have opted for the afternoon flight. We are waiting. Incidentally, we are just receiving a text message notifying us of the cancellation. I think our protest is working,” he said.
Eferaro also confirmed the incident to our reporter when contacted on the telephone on Sunday afternoon.
He said he eventually boarded another aircraft and got to Lagos after 3:pm.
Arik Air’s Public Relations and Communications Manager Adebanji Ola confirmed the incidents to our reporter on the telephone. But he said there was no smoke on the aircraft going to Port Harcourt as alleged, but a little problem at the cockpit.
He said his company had contacted all passengers already scheduled to travel on Sunday after it realised that one of its aircraft had been declared unserviceable and it would lead to delay or cancellation of flights that day.
Ola mailed a statement Arik Air sent to the passengers to our reporter. But, The ICIR could not confirm the time he sent the message to the passengers.
He said his office gave those travelling to Lagos three options: to wait for another aircraft; get a refund if they wanted, or reschedule their flights for another day.
While noting that Arik Air booked many of the passengers on other flights after the incidents, he said the company would compensate those who had their flight rescheduled for another day according to aviation rules.
Section 19.7. of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation spells out the rights and compensations for passengers on domestic and international flights whose flights are cancelled or delayed except they had been informed of such cancellation or delay 24 hours before the scheduled time of departure.
Section 19.8.1 of the regulation says among others: “Where reference to compensation is made in this section, passengers shall receive at least (i) 25 per cent of the fares or passenger ticket price for all flights within Nigeria. (ii) 30 per cent of the passenger ticket price for all international flights.”
Similarly, Section 19.6.1. details rights and compensations for delayed flights for passengers.
For domestic flights, these rights include: an explanation to passengers on the reason for the delay; refreshments (if delay if more than two hours); reimbursement (if more than three hours); and accommodation if the delay is beyond 10 pm till 4 am the following day, among others.