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Passengers groan as local airlines use underhand tactics, hike fares

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Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Photo: MEDIABLOGPOST

The peculiarities of the peak period are fast catching up with the local air transport, though in an unusual manner, leaving regular travelers feeling cheated and hard done by.

The operators, apparently in a move to make the most of the season, are staking the odds against customers to make them pay more for normal flights.

Specifically, while ticket fares remain normal on online platforms, some airlines are subtly discouraging the online purchase of tickets for more expensive and least convenient over-the-counter bookings. More so, any attempt to reschedule a normal flight ticket before or after the commencement of travel now attracts almost 100 per cent penalty.

Findings by The Guardian showed that activities at some major terminals are beginning to go full swing as both the Christmas and New Year holidays approach. At the Lagos and Abuja domestic terminals, for instance, the often busy outlook had even turned busier of recent.

At the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos, it is often chaotic as the travelling public slugged it out to buy tickets over-the-counter.

A Benin-bound passenger on Arik Air, Toyin Ojuolape, said for three days she had consistently tried to book via online platform but without success.

“On two occasions, I had called the customer care lines and they kept saying they were working on it. To avoid not travelling, I had to come to the airport all from Epe, to make a booking, which cost N48,000 instead of N32,000. I don’t understand why we are always making life difficult for ourselves. To travel by road is war. Now, to go by air is “another problem”, Ojuolape said in frustration.

Another passenger expressed similar expressed, though alleged that the airlines were restricting access to online booking, just to earn more from the customers.

Johnson Akindele, a systems engineer, said he had tried online booking on both Air Peace and Arik Air lately but in futility.

“I don’t think it is a coincidence that their systems are jammed at the same time, while both airlines use the same network at the airport. It is just a shame that we are always taking steps backward in civilisation. Airlines worldwide rely on digital platforms for customers to make seamless transactions with very minimal interface with officials throughout the journey.

“The reverse is the case among our airlines. Why? Greed and exploitative tendencies. Meanwhile, they don’t even have the capacity to manage the traffic. At Arik the other day, you need to see the queue just to buy a ticket. Yet, the common printer is either not working or in bad condition. That is not customer service,” Akindele said.

A travel agent, who would not want to be mentioned, said such developments are not new “because this is the time for airlines to make their money.”

“Even me, I don’t trust internet booking at this time. I always advise my customers to give me the money to buy a ticket at the counter. It costs more but there is a guarantee. It is not just counter booking that now costs more, even most of the routes are now more expensive as the travel dates draw closer”, the agent said.

Indeed, checks on some of the airlines indicated fares spike on many of the less popular routes. For instance, a one-way ticket to Asaba or Warri from Lagos or Abuja now costs as much N65,000 to N70,000. A 40-minutes one-way flight en route Ilorin also costs between N45,000 and N55,000.

Aviation enthusiast, Dr. Mohammed Aliyu, said the airlines were showing signs of an unregulated industry. Aliyu said in as much as the airlines were operating in very tough terrain, “there should be a limit to treating their customers with disdain”.

“The customer service in our aviation is pathetic, and it mirrors the entire landscape around here. But given the sensitivity of the air travel business, the operators must remember that they will be out of business if there are no customers.

“In that sense, they should show us some respect. If I have bought a normal ticket, why treat it like a promotional ticket that has all manner of restrictions? Why should customers pay as much as N20,000 just to reschedule a normal ticket? Yes, you want to recoup investment, but why should I patronise you next time? These are the issues, which I think the regulatory authorities should begin to address besides their safety core mandate,” Aliyu said.

The spokesperson of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Sam Adurogboye, agreed that several factors are at play, most especially the current high season factor.

Adurogboye said, while he would not make excuses for the airlines, the public must know that the industry is deregulated and not the business of the NCAA to fix prices.

But in cases of alleged infraction and exploitation, the public are at liberty to report to the Consumer Protection Department of the NCAA to get redress.

“Until we receive such reports, there is nothing we can do. We don’t act on hearsay. The truth is that airlines are in business to make money, but it has to be within reasonable limit, “ Adurogboye said.


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