Frank Meke
Air Peace And The  Debacle Of 6th Of June
By Frank Meke
Are you a frequent flyer and could, from experience,  hazard a guess on the operational ecosystem of Nigeria’s local airlines?  Have you ever been proved right or wrong?  How do you handle the shocks and disappointments when your faith and trust in what you assumably “bank” on about such airlines fail you?
Do you belong to the majority who don’t care and can’t say anything good about the poor operations of our airlines,  from the counters to the cockpits ?  Are you among those who just see the airlines as ” necessary evil” and if all things being equal would have preferred road trips or any more convenient alternate mode of transportation?
Are the airlines doing enough to manage operational scheduling challenges with passengers’ expectations,  faith, and performance perception in view, or are they
 don’t care and abruptly disrupte passengers’ itinerary and goals with an air of ” take it or leave it”?
Is Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority doing its job well in penalising the airlines for flagrant abuse of consumers’ rights and merely interested in portfolio consumer adjudication just to dust the regulation expectations?
Thursday,  June 6th,  was a nightmare that I would never wish again to experience as a frequent flyer.  I have always chosen to fly out of any of my destinations on the early bird flights, and that is my standard travel plans, irrespective of the time of my engagements .
Until Dana went off the scene,  Airpeace, Arik, and Dana are in my category one choice of carries in and out of lagos and Abuja. I consider their first flight departures out of anywhere as near perfect.  Please don’t get me wrong,  I am not by this consumer  feedback process,  anointing Airpeace and Dana  airlines above others. Arik showed me sege years back on a conference trip to Jos. I have since avoided them!
To add, I just simply think that the brand perception of other airlines is not penetrative enough, leaving a deep gap between what and how our airlines sell their services,  including ” timing ” ( adherence to precision scheduling)  to the consumers.
So out there, we all,  if not most of us who must ” fly”, see and perceive our local carries as molues in the air. From the era of defunct, Okada and kabo  airlines, the near suicidal operations of those private airlines still lingers till today despite certain noticeable clean ups and departure from those early days negatively disruptive ecosystem .
Forgive my digression. It is important to lay the grounds to the 6th of June amagedon experience at the Airpeace departure hall in lagos.  As a student and also during my days in vanguard newspapers,  I had the best of what is supposed to be the perfect experience of air travel by Nigeria Airways.
From the departure,  arrival timing, and including onboard service,  you don’t need to  predict the character and delivery mission by Nigeria Airways.  It’s a memory too strong and enduring to forget ( for me), and it’s sad that the Nigeria Airways service delivery to air consumers in all ramifications can not be surpassed or made obsolete by the operators of today’s aviation business.
Indeed,  Nigeria Airways still holds the unbeaten Olympic records on the best operational ecosystem in Nigeria, and that’s why, despite all the shenanigans and deceptive attempts to resurrect it back to life by thieving hands in government, the patriotic  Nigerian spirit which gave birth to that airline, will always  stand against the pretenders to Air Nigeria any day.
Now, back to June 6th.  Against my rules of engagement,  my travel planner had booked me on 1: 45 flight or so. I complained bitterly but was  assuaged by his kind observation that I needed to take some rest after a hectic two weeks of up  and down prior to this trip to Abuja.
As an on-air personality,  I had been away on the beat for a while due to tight deadlines and that Thursday,  June 6th,  provided an opportunity to ” rush” to studio and later head to the airport for my flight.
Driving out from the studio,  the rains came. It was not cat and dogs, but it was scary, and I thought about the impact of climate change on our environment,  particularly on the effects on flights.
I did a minute check on my mailbox, and there it was, like a sore thumb,  a flight rescheduling message from Airpeace.  The 1: 45 flight had been moved to 6: 15 pm, and lots of things went through my mind.
I had promised to attend a service of song meeting   in Abuja , slated for 5pm, and now it can’t happen again.  I quickly informed my friends about my situation,  insisting and praying at the same time,  that I must be in Abuja to pay my last respect to the departed who was like a mother to many of us.
Unbelievably 6: 15, dragged to 8 pm  something, and I lost count of the several delay ecosystems.  I was hungry at a point, and again, unfortunately,  I am careful with the over deodorised ” fast foods ” at our airports lounges and decided to be in a fasting mode.
The flight to Owerri left, and we ( the crowd was unprecedented due to the various flight hiccups on that day) began to hope that flights would resume seamlessly soon.  For where?
Next was the flight to Benin, and that was past seven or eight,  I really lost the sense of timing because I was trying to think out of this Airpeace conundrum.
Suddenly,  the already checked in passengers of the Benin flight were deboarded, and bedlam ensured.  It was a war of angry,  vexatious, and disappointed passengers, and it nearly snowballed into fisticuffs.
I really don’t know why  the young man from the Airpeace who  faced the raging and uncontrollable passengers decided like a human robot to take all verbal bullets and bullying without a word.  He was or made himself like a lamb,  willing to be sacrificed.
The more he tried to make sense of the ugly rowdy situation,  the more the crowd became enraged.  I noticed a pregnant woman on the aborted flight who literally wanted to “die” on the Airpeace guy, and I shivered at the consequences.
I moved to the counter, and by this time,  all the staff of the airline had taken off for their lives and hid behind the barricade after the counter. It was war, and the agent provocateur is Airpeace.
It took the intervention of officers,  two pretty ladies from Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA), to avert what could become any aviation embarrassment. Those ladies were angels,  even though it was very difficult to assuage the angry passengers which had become a mob, It was divine to have NCAA angels around .
I also tried to be a voice of reason by engaging the NCAA staff,  first commending their intervention and rightly requesting that as regulators,  NCAA should hold airlines  responsible beyond mere consumers’ adjudication but to openly reprimand operators who have turned the business in anything goes venture.
I also told the angelic ladies from NCAA that most of the passengers were hungry and worn out with some of them at the airport as early as ten am that same Thursday without any welfare intervention from the airline.
They quickly mobilized, and pronto biscuits, water, and coke drinks were made available for the passengers,  many who just want to get to their destinations or go back home. I had thought of doing the same but decided to see through the mayhem and be in Abuja.
By the past 12 am or there about,  our flight was announced after the first left for Abuja by past eleven in the night.  Like most other passengers,  I was too tired to grumble about the departure time and became worried about my loyal cab man who had been at Abuja airport,  waiting for me since six pm on Thursday.
A lot of things went through my mind as we exited the airport, with insecurity and other challenges of travelling at that  odd time  in the morning.  We arrived some minutes past one am, friday morning, drained and angry.
I could possibly understand why the tourism sector in Nigeria is still far from seeing the light of the day. Imagine if there were foreign tourists on this day of rage , the sad development would have  set us backwards,  in brand perception of our tourism transportation ecosystem and unexplainable damage to the image of the country.
The minister of aviation must address these concerns,  and our airline operators must also realise that there are plenty gains to make beyond just mere moments of passengers.
The aviation industry should not be seen as mere mechanics of flight scheduling and safety ethos. It is a huge driver and enabler of tourism development,  showcasing our cultural diversity and tradition. Airlines and airports also enhance local trade and investments penetration,  oxygenating rural communities’ development and empowerment opportunities.
I have learnt a huge lesson and would try to avoid being lured by my travel managers to try mid day flights.  I believe Airpeace should do better  because of its huge loyal passengers base. I should worry if there’s a very visible competition to Airpeace in fleet presence and reach. Surely, the debilitating delay and cancellation trajectory would change, and the shakara of  you can’t do without me put to end. The posture of the airline will burst like an over bloated ego if it continues to manufacture excuses of ” unscheduled  maintenance ” as its face saving measures.  June 6th at Airpeace departure Hall in lagos was a debacle that should not repeat itself again.
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