Flight delays have become a norm in Nigeria. Many air travellers have had to wait for several hours, create a scene at airports or react angrily as the case may be before eventually flying to their destinations or getting a refund. In this report, SEGUN ODUNAYO examines this worrisome trend
On a Friday in December 2021, a tired Bode Oyegoke closed from work and headed straight for the airport to catch a 7pm flight on Air Peace Airline from Kano to Lagos. An old friend was getting married the following day and Oyegoke must be there. Kano to Lagos is a distance of one hour and 35 minutes by air travel and Oyegoke had everything planned. But his plan to arrive in Lagos in good time and get a good rest before going for the wedding would be disrupted by the airline as his flight did not take off till midnight.
The airline, according to him, did not offer any cogent reason for the flight delay while, despite being tired, he was forced to loaf around the airport for hours much against his plan and will. He did not arrive in Lagos until the small wee hours of Saturday and he nearly missed the wedding because when he eventually went to bed, stressed and exhausted, he could not get out of bed until afternoon, after which he dragged himself to the wedding.
But that was not the only time that Oyegoke, a businessman, would have the bitter taste of delayed flight, disrupting his plans.
Speaking with our correspondent, he recalled another occasion when on a morning of July 2022, he got a call from his boss, who told him to ensure to be at Kano Airport by 4pm to pick him up. His boss, who was coming from Lagos, said he had a Max Air flight scheduled for 2.45pm and he expected to be in Kano by 4pm.
“But can you imagine that by that 4pm, the flight had not even left Lagos and, in fact, it didn’t leave at all that day!”Oyegoke told our correspondent.
He said he was at the airport for 10 hours awaiting the arrival of his boss, who eventually called him at 2am and told him to go back home.
“He then later called me at 9am to say he had just arrived in Kano.He said he and other passengers had had to protest in Lagos before the airline provided them with a plane to convey them to Kano,” Oyegoke recounted.
Flight delays have rather become a norm in Nigeria and protest by disappointed air travellers is also becoming a regular scene at airports across the country. Yet, it doesn’t appear that the airlines or the authorities are bothered enough or see the worrisome trend as a big deal.
Like Oyegoke,Ooreoluwa Akinmameji, has her own tale of disappointment too. She was playing the big sister role when she booked a Max Air flight in May 2021 for her brother who was to go to Kano for his national youth service.
Speaking to our correspondent about the experience, Akinmameji explained: “A day to his journey, my brother got a text message from the airline that his flight had been rescheduled by one hour. On the day he was to travel, he got another text message at 12pm that the flight had been cancelled altogether.
“Together with my dad, we immediately left for the airport to find out what was happening. On getting there, the officials of the airline simply told us that they had no plane flying that route for the day.”
Miffed but helpless, Akinmameji said she was forced to book another flight with another airline to take her brother to Kano.
She added that on top of the disappointment, getting a refund from Max Air for the cancelled also became a Herculean task.
“When I asked for a refund, I was asked to come back some days later. When I returned on the given date, they told me there was no cash to make a refund to me. It was not until about a month after that they eventually made a refund,”she said.
Apart from loss of precious time, delayed flight, which has become rampant or habitual among local airlines, has cost many Nigerians business or economic opportunities.
This was exactly the case with Emeka Diwe,a businessman, who mid-2021 booked a flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt to seal a business deal.
His flight was scheduled for 2pm but the aircraft never left Lagos until 9pm. The businessman wasted seven precious hours at the airport and needless to say that he lost the business opportunity.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority keeps record of delayed flights. Our correspondent obtained a copy of NCAA’s record of delayed flights for the first quarter of 2021.
The document, titled, “Executive Summary on International and Domestic Flight Operations (January – March, 2022), immediately shows that delayed flight has reached an epidemic level in the country and the ugly trend cuts across all local airlines.
According to the record, out of a total of 23,619 local flights in the first quarter of 2022, delays were experienced in 14,121 instances. That is 59.7 per cent cases of delay.
A breakdown of the statistics shows that in January, Aero Contractor airline made 675 air trips and had 409 of that number delayed. This amounted to 61 per cent delays in the airlines flights in the month.
Similarly, Arik Air made 1,239 trips and recorded 807 or 65 per cent delays.
For Azman Air, it was 269 or 66 per cent delays out of a total of 403 air trips made.
Dana Air had 684 trips and recorded 509 or 74 per cent delays.
Overland undertook 245 trips with 214 or 87 per cent delays.
Air Peace had 2,183 air trips and recorded 1,351 or 62 per cent delays.
Max Air had 868 trips and recorded 516 or 59 per cent delays.
United Airlines had a total of 736 trips with 460 (63 per cent) delays.
Green Africa made 306 trips with 175 (57 per cent) delays.
Ibom airline had the least number of delayed flights with 285 of their total 1,010 flights representing 28 per cent being delayed.
The February statistics isn’t any better. Aero Contractor flew 601 times and 359 of that number was delayed amounting to 60 per cent delays.
Arik Air had a total of 918 flights with 606 (66 per cent) delayed.
For Azman Air, there was a total of 312 delayed flights out of 396 total which resulted in 79 per cent delays.
The pattern is constant for the rest of the airlines.
Statistics obtained by our correspondent also showed that in 2021, local airlines flew a total of 74, 537 times, recording delays in 41, 333 of that number.
Experiences in other climes
Checks by our correspondent revealed that delayed flights are not peculiar to Nigeria. However, what is different in that the percentage of delays is lower in more organised countries.
In the United States of America, for example, checks revealed an average of 20.1 per cent delayed flights between January to May 2022.
According to Value Penguin study, this is the first year since 2014 that the rate of delayed flights is overshooting 20 per cent in America.
In 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017, the average rate of delayed flights were 11.4 per cent, 10.2 per cent, 18.9 per cent, 17.6 per cent and 19.1 per cent, respectively.
Allegiat Air with 32.9 per cent had the highest percentage of delayed flights from January to May 2022; while Endeavor Air had the lowest with 15.3 per cent delays.
In the United Kingdom, the average flight delay from UK airports in 2021, according to The Guardian, was 14 minutes and 24 seconds. The report identified Wizz Air as the airline with the worst timing while Aer Lingus was adjudged the best, with delayed time not exceeding three minutes, 12 seconds.
Why Nigerian airlines delay flights
In an interview with our correspondent, an ex-commandant at the Murtala Muhammed Airport,Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd.), gave an insight into the worrying trend of flight delays among Nigerian airlines.
He explained that “Delays happen because the airlines are trying to leave the airports at the same time, especially in the mornings, yet there are no sufficient facilities for all of them.”
Ojikutu added that the problem is also partly blamable on weak enforcement of regulations by the NCAA.
“There are regulations for delays; the NCAA has regulations for delays but it’s another thing for them to enforce it.The airlines don’t get audited yearly as they should,” Ojikutu added.
The President, Association of Foreign Airlines, Kingsley Nwokoma,flayed what he described as the arrogant attitude of airlines, behaving as if they owe passengers no apologies for delayed flights.
“If a ticket says one is leaving for 10am, it should be 10am. If one has to wait till 2-3pm for a ticket that says 10am, it’s a problem,”Nwokoma said, noting that there should be consequences for the airlines for delayed flights.
Standard remedies for delayed flight victims
According to the Canadian Transportation Agency, airlines have an obligation to their passengers in cases of flight disruptions; delay or cancellation.
It explained that for situations that are under the airlines control, “the passengers are to be provided with assistance, compensated, re-booked for another flight or provided a refund as the case may be.”
In cases of disruption within the control of the airline that is necessary for safety sake, “the passengers are to be duly informed, provided with assistance and either re-booked or provided with a refund.
In situations that are out of the control of an airline, “passengers are to be kept, re-booked and if the passengers don’t get re-booked within ample time get provided with a refund or other re-booking options.”
In the UK, The Guardian reported that: “Someone on an internal flight from Edinburgh to London is entitled to claim £220 once their flight has been delayed by three hours, unless it was caused by extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather.”
Oyegoke, who is too familiar with flight delays in Nigeria,said the situation is totally different in Nigeria where airlines carry on like they owe passengers no apologies not to talk of compensation.
He said, “Airlines waste our time for hours many times and we can do nothing about it. Yet, once an individual gets late to the airport and misses his flight, you’d have to pay extra to get another flying opportunity.When they delay us, we don’t get anything in return.”
A look at what obtains in South Africa shows that the situation may even be worse than what obtains in Nigeria.
Findings by our correspondent revealed that in South Africa, “passengers’ rights aren’t adequately protected despite the fact that they have rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 2009. Most airlines have their terms and conditions, including meals, compensation, hotels and reimbursement but it’s always difficult to recover.”
What the law says in Nigeria
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Dig. CAR) 2015 (as amended), spelled out actions to be taken,as regards passengers’welfare, in cases of flight delays or cancellation.
Part 19.6 of the regulation, which dwells on domestic flight delays, states that:“When an operating air carrier reasonably expects a flight to be delayed beyond its scheduled time of departure, it shall provide the passengers with the reason(s) for the delay within 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time and the assistance specified below:
“(i) After two hours: refreshments as specified in section 19.10.1(i) and telephone calls, SMS and emails as specified in Section 19.10.2.
“(ii) Beyond three hours, reimbursement, as specified in Section 19.9.1(i).
“(iii) At a time beyond 10pm till 4am, or at a time when the airport is closed at the point of departure or final destination, the assistance specified in sections 19.10.1(iii)and 19.10.1(iv) (hotel accommodation and transport) (should be provided).
“In case of cancellation of a flight, the passengers concerned shall, according to Section 6 of the part: (i) Be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Sections 19.6.
“ (ii)Be offered assistance by the operating air carrier in accordance with Sections 19.9.1(i) and 19.9.2 as well as, in the event of re-routing when the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the cancelled flight, the assistance specified in Sections 19.9.1(ii) and19.9.1(iii).
“(iii) In respect of domestic flights, (passengers) have a right to compensation by the operating air carrier in accordance with Section 19.10 unless they are informed of the cancellation at least 24 hours before the scheduled time of departure…”
But the reality on the ground is far from what the law prescribed.
Passengers can sue –Lawyers
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN),said passengers can go to court to seek redress in cases of unjustly delayed or cancelled flights.
“Airlines are duty-bound to carry passengers who have paid. If for any reason a cancellation or delay occurs, sufficient warning must be given to guarantee the convenience of a passenger. It’s because the regulatory agencies in Nigeria are colluding with the airline operators that they’re fleecing their passengers every day.
“The FAAN, NCAA are responsible for the agony that Nigerians are going through in the hands of the greedy airline operators. There’s no reason whatsoever for people to experience what they’re currently going through where airline operators manipulate by selling tickets beyond the capacity of their airline. They give flimsy excuses of aviation fuel scarcity or operational problems. Everyone who is affected is entitled to go to court for any loss occasioned from such breach of contract,”Adegboruwa said.
Narrating his personal experience, the senior lawyer said he recently had to sleep at the airport because his 6pm flight from Lagos to Abuja by did not materialise until the following day.
He narrated: “Nobody told us anything; we remained at MM2 airport till 10pm and on till 5am the next day when someone came to announce to us that the airline had arrived from Abuja and we were to depart.
“I slept on the iron chair, dozing and waking in a most traumatic way. All of us, passengers, remained there with no apology or refreshment offered by the airline.”
Popular Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Monday Ubani, said but for the slow pace of justice in Nigeria, the airlines would be battling loads of litigation.
Ubani said, “If delay has caused anyone monetary loss in any terms, you can sue. But Nigerians don’t do this because of delay of justice. If you go to court, it can take you 10 years to obtain justice. So, why will you want to waste your time?”
Ubani’s assertion is buttressed by the record of NCAA, which showed that in spite of the 14, 121 delayed flights recorded between January and March 2022, only 45 complaints were lodged. And in fact, the 45 complaints were for the combination of all infractions listed, which are: flight delay, flight cancellation, delay or missing baggage, pilferage and discourtesy.
Of the 45 complaints, the NCAA reported that only 29 complaints were resolved.
Ubani said a situation where airlines delay flights at will will stop when passengers can get expeditious legal remedy in court.
The President, Association of Foreign Airlines, Nwokoma, called on the NCAA to wake up to its regulatory obligations.
He said there was a need for the NCAA to ensure that airlines publish their network punctuality statistics.
He said, “All airlines should be made to publish their network punctuality statistics as Ibom Air does; this can solve the problem. Some may not want to publish it because it’s in the red but it will help Nigerians know what airline is doing well and the ones to avoid.
“Also, the airlines need to have an alliance like it is done abroad because it would help to cut costs on maintenance, fuelling and so on.”
Our defence –Airlines
Efforts to get most of the airlines to react proved abortive, as they either promised to get back or didn’t even pick calls or respond to text messages sent by our correspondent.
For instance, when contacted by our correspondent, a Senior Communication Executive at Air Peace,Stanley Olisa, said he wasn’t in the right position to take the question. He promised to revert when the right person came around but he never did, weeks after and his response did not come till press time.
Similarly, the spokesman for United Airlines, Achilleus Uchegbu, promised to get back to our corresponent, but he neither picked subsequent calls nor responded to a text message sent.
The Managing Director of Azman Air, Abdulmunaf Yunusa Sarina, neither picked calls nor responded to a text message sent to his mobile line.
The Brand Marketing Specialist of Green Africa,Omolara Kehinde,declined to speak on the topic.
Also, Head, Corporate Communications Unit, Overland,Roland Ohaeri, said such questions required writing to his organisation for an interview date to be fixed.
But representatives of Ibom Air and Arik Airlines obliged our correspondent.
The Group Manager, Marketing and Communications, Ibom Air, Annie Essienette, said delayed flights were attributable to many factors, some of which are beyond the control of the airlines.
She said, “For instance, if there’s VIP movement and the airspace is closed, there’d be a one or two-hour delay and we can’t inform the passengers for security reasons.
Also, (poor) weather causes delays. If there’s an unclear weather, the plane would not be landing and flying has to be delayed. Airports in the western world don’t have this restriction because they have equipment that allows them to fly regardless of the weather.
“Sometimes, it might be issues beyond our control where we may be trying to fuel but the truck gets caught up in traffic.
“As an organisation, we go back to the drawing board and see how we can mitigate these issues and we deal with them as best as we can. As much as we want to eliminate it (flight delays) totally, we, unfortunately, get caught up in it once in a while.”
Also speaking, the spokesperson for Arik Air, Banji Ola, said his organisation couldn’t have had up to 50 per cent delay, describing the NCAA report as baseless.
Ola said, “I am not aware of such NCAA report; there is no truth in it. We couldn’t have delayed 50 per cent of our flights. The report is baseless.”
We do our job, says NCAA
When contacted, the spokesman for the NCAA, Sam Adeogboye, said the regulatory agency has not been shirking from its responsibilities.
Adeogboye said, “We’re not pampering the airlines as many say; we fine airlines.We once fined an airline N45m and they’re presently not flying in Nigeria anymore.”
He, however, added that the NCAA tries to strike a balance in the application of sanction, as it’s job is not to make life difficult for the airlines.
“Our job isn’t to sanction airlines out of existence but to balance things. We oversee the qualification of those who work on the aeroplanes, we also ensure the planes are air-worthy and that the environment for landing and flying is right. Also, we monitor passengers’ satisfaction.”