Arik Air keeps making its profit while jeopardising the plans of thousands of customers without any meaningful strategy to rectify the situation, and with no hint of compensation whatsoever.
There has recently been an uproar by passengers of Arik Airlines over delayed luggage on the London-Lagos route, forcing some to wait for over a week for their luggage. Plans have been ruined, financial losses incurred, and at least one case of a wedding disrupted due to undelivered items. Comical as some of the stories coming out of this may be, it is an extremely serious issue of ever-falling standards and exploitation of passengers by airlines. It is also an ongoing violation of aviation rules.
Unfortunately, the management of Arik has so far shown no real interest in resolving the issue. The National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), have now waded in and there seems not to be any change still. The urgency of the matter and need for quick and total resolution seem to be lost on the management of Arik and the regulators who issue directives without following up with immediate and effective sanction.
The roller coaster of absurdities on a recent Arik flight from London began for an acquaintance of mine as soon as he arrived at the Arik Air check-in-desk at the London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4. He was promptly approached by an Arik representative who handed over a slip of paper informing “esteemed passengers” about an apparent downgrade of the flight to Lagos, which meant that they would be flying on a smaller aircraft than usual and, as such, some baggage may be left to go with the next flight.
As my acquaintance would later find out, the previous day some passengers had refused to fly without their luggage and they formed the bulk of people on the already long queue, as they appeared to be given priority over the fresh batch of passengers. It stands to reason that the “downgrade” could not have happened overnight, which means passengers should have been forewarned. Also curious was the failure of Arik to inform passengers that similar issues had occurred on several scheduled flights many days before and a backlog of luggage was growing. Most passengers were unaware.
The management of Arik, had, in fact, told an outright lie to its passengers as it became clear that only a handful of passengers from the previous day would be receiving their luggage. This realisation led to a scramble by the passengers to carry as much luggage as possible with them into the cabin, even when the Arik team reiterated the restrictions on carry-on luggage. By the time the passengers had boarded the flight and the crew were preparing for take-off, there was commotion in the cabin. By some magic or incredible oversight by the airline, passengers had somehow smuggled in all manner and sizes of luggage, far above the allowed size and in multiples. The aisle was clogged with scattered luggage unable to fit in the small baggage compartments or the little spaces besides the feet of passengers.
…it appears Arik is merely capitalising on the seeming indifference of Nigerians to sub-standard and mediocre service. Only strict monitoring through frequent and unannounced checks for standards will incentivise our local airlines and international operators to stand up to their responsibilities to their passengers.
To add to this, elderly passengers who could barely stand were kept standing for a long stretch of time and were visibly distressed while the commotion continued. Fights broke out amongst passengers tussling over space to keep their ‘hand luggage’ and this led to a delay of at least one hour before the crew successfully pleaded for some of the passengers to let go of their ‘smuggled’ luggage, as the plane was not cleared for safety reason. Even after that, according to the source, the amount and size of luggage retained by the more stubborn of the passengers and the manner they were kept, could not have met aviation safety standards.
During the flight proper, several passengers, including the source who witnessed all of these, complained of cockroaches and other insects on the flight. Passengers were moved from their seats severally for varying reasons, one of which was the pacification of more than one husband and wife and parents and their children who had been split during the reallocation of seats due to the abrupt change to a smaller aircraft. The food was terrible, the flight attendants were very unprofessional, perhaps, caving under the pressure of having to deal with passengers who were visibly discontented.
The mood in the cabin throughout the flight was tense and passengers who demanded complaint forms were met with cold treatment by the attendants who grudgingly passed them out. On arrival in Lagos, there was a heated exchange between a particularly frustrated woman and the head of the cabin crew. The remarkable thing about their journey was that most of the passengers were oblivious of the fact that several flights before theirs had gone through a similar experience, leading to a backlog of over 1,000 pieces of luggage, with no plan to clear the backlog apart from daily fitting the ones that could hold unto successive subsequent Lagos-bound flights. In other words, Arik Air keeps making its profit while jeopardising the plans of thousands of customers without any meaningful strategy to rectify the situation, and with no hint of compensation whatsoever.
One man had not received his luggage at the time he was returning to London, after a failed trip, for the same reason of unavailable luggage. Perhaps, part of the problem is the propensity of Nigerians to travel with several pieces of luggage. It appears the airline is focused on profit from excess luggage fees without due consideration for how to get the bags across. This way, passengers who have one piece of luggage are forced to suffer the same fate as people with 20 pieces.
This nightmare for passengers could have been avoided had the authorities done a better job of regulating practices and maintaining standards in the aviation industry. Surely now, enough is enough!
However, this is not a new occurrence for Arik, as this has routinely happened in the past. What makes it different now is that entire flights full of passengers are being transported without their luggage, with no forewarning and no useful information on when to expect these luggage. This is beyond absurd, and the audacity of the management of Arik to continue operating this way, without compensation and with the confrontational attitude of its staff everywhere, all smack of disregard and lack of respect for passengers and the Nigerian aviation industry in general. Already, the customer service lines for travellers to make complaints are nonresponsive and the physically present Arik staff at the various desks across the country, only employ deflective tactics when facing enquiries.
It is clear that Arik has not taken all necessary steps to rectify the situation. One would think that an international airline can find a way to charter or obtain a plane to airlift all outstanding luggage as soon as possible. Passengers continually visit Arik desks and make frantic calls at their personal expense, often meeting resistance. The airline should instead have a plan worked out to fly in the luggage. The said plan should be able to organise the order in which the bags come and regular updates about the situation should be provided directly to the passengers from Arik, detailing when and where to pick up their luggage, thereby saving time and expense wasted visiting the airport almost daily and being disappointed.
On the part of the regulators, instead of directives and ultimatums at this time, brisk sanctions ought to be imposed as Arik is already in violation of many aviation rules. The delayed involvement of the authorities says a lot about their efficiency and explains why Arik has not done more. Beyond the present issue, there is a track record of shabby handling and poor service that the CPC ought to have addressed before now. Had the NCAA always followed directives with costly penalties, perhaps Arik would have behaved differently on this occasion.
As it is, it appears Arik is merely capitalising on the seeming indifference of Nigerians to sub-standard and mediocre service. Only strict monitoring through frequent and unannounced checks for standards will incentivise our local airlines and international operators to stand up to their responsibilities to their passengers. This nightmare for passengers could have been avoided had the authorities done a better job of regulating practices and maintaining standards in the aviation industry. Surely now, enough is enough!
Comments (SMS only) to: 08058354382