Passengers on Arik Air flight W3 308 to Ghana from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja on Monday have accused the airline of treating them in a shabby and disrespectful manner after their 6.30 pm flight was delayed for more than 24 hours.
Some of the passengers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES described how the airline first refused to provide meals and accommodation for them after the flight was rescheduled for 9:30 am on Tuesday.
Officials of the airline, our sources said, initially offered to transport the passengers to a “central location” in Abuja so they can arrange their own accommodation afterwards.
But the passengers insisted that the airline must accommodate them for the night, in line with the Nigerian passengers’ bill of rights.
“They expected that passengers would sort themselves out from there,” said Halima Sogbesan, a passenger on the flight.
The passenger said when the airline later took them to a hotel in Lugbe, in the outskirts of Abuja, they were informed that provision had only been made for five rooms and other passengers should pay for their own rooms if they liked to stay in the hotel.
Again the passengers said they would have none of such arrangement. And the airline buckled and agreed to pay for the accommodation of every passenger after an argument that lasted for 30 minutes, passengers said.
Ms. Sogbesan said the hotel in which they were lodged was substandard and dirty, and that there was no provision for food.
“I had to call the reception downstairs to come open the door for me when I wanted to step out,” one passenger said. “The bathtub was unclean. There’s no Internet. No talk of food too.”
On Tuesday morning, the airline failed to keep a promise to provide a bus to convey the passengers back to the airport.
No staff of the airline was seen an hour before the rescheduled time for the flight departure. The passengers were forced to make alternative arrangements to transport themselves to the airport.
But when the passengers returned to the airport from the hotel, their ordeals simply continued.
Ms Sogbesan said her and her colleagues endured another humiliating 12 hours of waiting at the airport.
The airline failed to provide food or refreshment for the passengers as it repeatedly announced further postponements of the flight.
The flight only departed at 7:30 p.m., passengers said.
Barnabas Ikyo, a lecturer at the University of Agriculture Makurdi, Benue State, one of the passengers who endured the ordeal, said he was on his way to attend a regional workshop of the Africa Centre of Excellence Project in Accra slated to start at 8 am on Tuesday.
He said about 150 participants, including academics from 10 universities in Nigeria and other academics from other African countries were expected to take part in the workshop.
Mr Ikyo blamed Arik Air’s disregard for customers right on the failure of aviation regulators in the country to come hard on the airline.
“This is unfair and Arik has been doing this. We wonder what the airline regulators in this country are doing that they haven’t fined Arik big time,” he said.
When contacted, the spokesperson for Arik Air, Ola Adebanji, said the passengers account of what happened was “half truth.”
He said the flight was delayed due to the scarcity of aviation fuel being experience in the country.
He added that in line with standard practice, the airline tried to lodge all the customers in an hotel it usually used for such purpose but was told they only had five rooms available.
“Hotels in Abuja are always full. you do not tell hotels to please reserve rooms for me. The normal hotel we use was full as we couldn’t lodge them in a single hotel, we lodged 34 of them in three hotels, one in Lugbe and two in Kuje,” he said.
“We cannot take passengers to a hotel and tell them it is only five people we can pay for, it is not possible.”
Mr Adebanji added that the it was not true that the hotel the airline lodged the passengers in was below standard.
“We cannot lodge passengers in five-star hotels. But the hotels we lodged them were all standard hotels. It was late so some of them chose to go home to spend the night.”
Mr. Adebanji also said it was not true that the airline did not come to convey the passengers to the airport in the morning.
He said his airline offered to convey the passengers in two batches and those that took taxi to the airport were those in the second batch who couldn’t wait for the bus to return from the airport.
When Mr. Adebanji’s claims were put to one of the passengers, he simply said, “his comments were public relations gimmick filled with falsehood and should be disregarded.”