Following the pronouncement of the Federal Government that airline operators must refund the full cost of travel tickets to passengers after a two-hour delay, commercial airlines have listed the conditions for such reimbursement.
The airline operators made this known in separate interviews with newsmen.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had, on Thursday at the weekly State House briefing in Aso Villa, Abuja, read out some of the rights of air passengers as enshrined in Part 19 of the Consumer Protection Regulations of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (2015) and charged them to demand their rights whenever they were being trampled upon by airlines.
The minister, who said his ministry had started sanctioning some airlines who defaulted on consumer rights, however, urged passengers not to be unruly at airports.
In recent times, air transportation has become the darling of travellers in Nigeria, no thanks to the rising cases of robbery attacks, kidnappings and killings on highways across the country. According to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, there are over 20 airports spread across Nigeria, with at least three airports in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country, making almost every part of the country accessible by air.
But as the aviation sector enjoys patronage, flight cancellations and delays have characterised inter-city air transportation in the country.
According to recent statistics obtained from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, there are 19 international airlines and nine local carriers currently operating within the country. The local airlines include Azman Air, Overland Airways, Max Air, Ibom Air, Air Peace, Aero Contractors, Dana Air, Arik Air and United Nigeria Airlines.
The NCAA data showed that 1,871 international flights have been recorded within the country’s airspace from January to March 2021 but 562 of those flights were delayed while nine were cancelled.
The regulator’s data also showed that 14,662 local flights were recorded in Nigeria between January and March 2021. However, 7,554 of those flights were delayed while 149 were cancelled.
Operators of airlines in the country had justified the delay and cancellations of domestic flights recently.
The operators, led by the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, had, on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Aviation chaired by Senator Smart Adeyemi, hinged the reason on non-availability and rising cost of aviation fuel, also known as JetA1 and inadequate parking spaces at airports.
Other reasons cited by the operators were non-availability of forex for spare parts and maintenance, sudden change of weather, delay due to VIP movement, inefficient passenger access and facilitation, delayed clearance of spare parts from Customs and inadequate screening and exit points at departure.
Efforts to get the Air Peace Chairman’s comment on the recent statement of the minister proved abortive as he neither took our correspondent’s calls nor responded to text messages sent to his line as of the time of filing this report.
However, speaking with newsmen, Air Peace’s spokesman, Stanley Olisa, said the airline does refund passengers whenever there is flight cancellation due to weather or technical glitches.
Responding to a question by newsmen, he said, “Yes, we refund our customers based on the terms and conditions of our tickets. Refund can be voluntary, where the customer is refunded 75 per cent of the fare and this occurs when they no longer wish to fly on the service paid for. It is involuntary when we cancel the flight and the passenger is refunded the full fare. The refund process takes three to four weeks.”
The spokesman for Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, said what the minister read at the presidential briefing was not new but that airlines would rather delay or cancel flights and ensure the safety of their passengers than fly when it is technically unsafe to do so.
He said, “What he said is not new, it has been in existence in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations 2015. We refund when passengers request for refund, we provide accommodation when flight is cancelled in the night. We transport passengers from the airports to the hotel and bring them back in the morning. We also compensate where necessary after providing all these things.
“Flight delay is a peculiarity of the industry and these issues come up once in a while. No airline can say it has not had one or two hours delay due to bad weather, technical issues, documentation and other factors.
Ezenwa agreed with the minister that when there were issues that necessitated flight cancellations and or delay beyond scheduled time, timely communication and engagement with the passengers could make the difference.