By Okuneye Moyosola
In Nigeria, air flights have become characterized by delays resulting from numerous factors. It is the norm to see passengers waiting at airports several hours after the scheduled departure time. However, flight delays not only annoy air travelers and disrupt their schedules, but they also incur costs to the airlines when flight connections are missed.
Flight crews and aircrafts need to be reallocated due to maintenance problems or crew duty time limits. Flight delays can have consequent effect on those onboard and the operation of the flight and other scheduled flight at an arrival or departure at the airport.
Air travelers in recent times have complained variously about flight delays and cancellations at times. Figures from the Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) estimated that no fewer than 3,476 local flights were delayed by eight airlines in month of November, last year. About eight flights were cancelled, four made air return, 56 luggage were either missing or delayed out of about one million passengers that traveled both inbound and outbound direction.
Therefore, Nigerian airlines needs to adopt this interline agreement in order to reduce these delays and minimize the effects on air passengers. Interlining, also known as interline ticketing and interline booking, is a voluntary commercial agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers traveling on itineraries that require multiple flights on multiple airlines. Such agreements allow passengers to change from one flight on one airline to another flight on another airline without having to gather their bags or check-in again.
Interlining, also known as interline ticketing and interline booking, is a voluntary commercial agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers traveling on itineraries that require multiple flights on multiple airlines. Such agreements allow passengers to change from one flight on one airline to another flight on another airline without having to gather their bags or check-in again.
Interline agreements were developed to provide convenience for customers who could only get to their destination via a connection using two different airlines. Agreements cover fares where both carriers agree to publish a fare from the origin to the final destination and then internally divide the revenue between them. The customer would not have to pay two fares based on each carrier’s flight and could be issued one ticket with two flight segments. The agreement allows each airline to accept the other’s ticket and covers baggage transfers and liability. Often cargo shipments are included in the agreements. Both international and domestic airlines traditionally participate in the agreements. Many low-cost carriers do not participate or have limited agreements.
The Director of CPD, Adamu Abdullahi, said last year was a watershed in terms of customers’ dissatisfaction, as the NCAA recorded an unprecedented number of complaints from domestic air travelers, arising from flight delays and cancellations.
Abdullahi attributed the complaints to in adequate aircraft by operators, adding that most of the aircraft were due for maintenance almost at the same time and had to be flown out of the country for the approved mandatory checks.
“We have gotten plenty of complains from passengers. The problem is, we don’t have enough aircraft operating in the country. Most airlines are down. Arik that used to have over 20 aircraft as at today can only boast of seven or eight. Aero Contractors that also had something in the region of 12 is now down to two or three. The same is true of other airlines,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Director noted that an Interlining agreement between airlines could reduce delays and hardships faced by passengers as a result of the delayed flights.
However, he noted that airlines are not interested in the agreement adding that the authority has been trying to ensure that the airlines act on the suggestion.
“The best that can happen to Nigeria aviation is to have an interlining agreement. Most airlines if you have noticed have belts that they operate, early morning, towards afternoon, evenings. If they have this interlining agreement among themselves, you can use a ticket to fly on another if the main airline develops a technical problem. You can be endorsed on another airline to solve the problem.
“But somehow, the airlines are not interested. We have been fighting over this for a very long time. I know that during the time of some past DG’s, we have even got to getting reassurances that we are going to get to that but nothing like that has happened.”
Passengers benefit from interline agreements from a cost and convenience standpoint. Many small and medium-sized cities feature air service but often only offer flights to a larger hub airport where a connecting flight takes them to the final destination. Fares between the smaller airport and the hub city can be high, but an interline ticket to the final destination is usually considerably cheaper than the sum of the two local fares. Additionally, airlines automatically transfer baggage at the connecting airport. Agreements also cover irregular operations where customers may be transferred to other airlines at no cost. Other irregularities include baggage damage, delay or loss where the customer deals only with the final delivering carrier regardless of which airline was responsible for the irregularity.
Similarly, the airline would also benefit from this agreement as there would be increase in revenue. The two airlines may offer a highly competitive joint fare that attracts customers to their particular routing. Long-haul carriers add incremental passengers to their flights. Cash flow also benefits the airline that issues the ticket since ticket revenue for both airlines is collected by the issuing carrier. Internal accounting procedures process tickets via industry clearing houses, and the issuing carrier then pays other airlines for travel over their routes based on the interline prorate agreement.
Despite the advantages embedded in this interlining agreement, experts are of the opinion that the agreement may not curb flight delays. Why are the airlines not interested in this idea? Are there facilities or Infrastructure that must be in place for the agreement to produce desired results? How can airlines be encouraged to partner in line with this agreement? These are some of the questions that needs to be answered.
An aviation expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu while speaking with MMS Plus newspaper disclosed that there are other problems that need to be solved for the agreement to be effective.
He stated that domestic operators need to understand their mode of operation to be able to know where their problems lye and how to address them.
“Is it because there is no interline Agreement that they are having delays? The answer is no. There is an unhealthy competition between them. Long ago, we talked about them merging. Why is it that an airline will be operating with only two aircraft?”, he said.
“I will rather say that if you can’t have 5 aircraft, don’t do domestic operations. Rather, get involved in charter services and look for smaller aircraft. Interline agreement is not the reason. Firstly, there are inadequacies in fleet. Even those that claim they have more aircraft than others, run delays. Both Arik Air and Air Peace run delays despite having a lot of aircraft. Even those who have more aircraft would not want to get involved in interline agreement because they think that they have more aircraft. Why are they still running delays with the number of aircraft they have?” he added.
Ojikutu highlighted inadequacies in fleet, fuel hydrants, boarding gates as issues that needs to be addressed before the agreement is introduced.
“Air Peace has about 30 aircraft today which was around the same size of fleet Nigerian Airways had at one time. Even if they do the Interline Agreement, they will still run delays. Those that have more aircraft probably don’t have enough crew. MMA2 has about 8 boarding gates, while the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) has about 3 boarding gates and they have more aircraft than the other side. We also have the issue of parking area. If there is no space for aircraft to park, there will be delays. If there is no enough bowser to refuel aircrafts, there will be delays.”
“There are hydrants in some of these areas but you cannot get fuel from it, you have to use bowser from one aircraft to the other. If aircrafts are parked well and there are sufficient hydrants, then things will go smoothly. There used to be a time that we had 10 hydrants but they are no longer operating. Between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning, you are going to have about 10 aircrafts air borne and when they announce the boarding, you are going to see about 3 or 4 aircraft going in about the same time.”
“Their passengers are passing through just one gate. It is only when they come out from the boarding gates that they can start separating themselves to their various aircraft or to the various buses that will start picking them. These are the issues that needs to be addressed first before we start talking about interline” he stressed.
The Chief Executive Officer of Top Brass Aviation Limited, Roland Iyayi, however, stressed that the standardization could be the reason why some of the airlines are not interested in the agreement.
“The interline is possible, however, there are a lot of issues at stake. The airlines need to be operating on the same standard because what they are trying to do is to get the passenger to experience the airline that they can compare with whatever product they bought. So the issue of standardization comes to play. Now the reluctance of airlines in Nigeria may not be unconnected to this issue of standardization and in some cases, the issue of revenue. If they have sold and they now have to be paying the carrying airline whatever it is they have sold which maybe not agreed at a particular rate, that to them would be a loss of income. If they have the capacity, they would be reluctant to that type of suggestion”, he said.
Iyayi noted that the agreement would be beneficial to the domestic carriers as it will help improve customer’s confidence and provide better travel experience for them.
According to him, interline is the way to go because the consumers can be given a better experience knowing that irrespective of the airline ticket they buy, they would always travel. He argued that it would gives the consumers confidence that they would travel and given that level of confidence, it means that they will always repeat the purchase which is good for Nigerian domestic carriers.
He urged the NCAA to properly introduce the idea to the airlines adding that this will help them to understand the concept.
“Unfortunately, because of the lack of proper understanding of the concept, they do not want to take up this idea. I don’t know if the NCAA has properly sold this idea to them. Muting it and selling it are two different things. The Director, Consumer Protection could have muted , I am not sure he has sold the idea as a policy to the airlines because if he has, it would mean that the NCAA would write to the airlines and tell them it’s a policy they would want them to consider. But by just saying it, then nobody would take it seriously” he opined.
Also speaking on this issue, a former Director of Operations of Defunct Nigerian Airway, Captain Prekeme Porbeni noted that the best way to ensure that airlines adopt this agreement would be to introduce a regulation that support such agreement.
“Reluctance of the airlines can be managed with regulations that bind them to a common goal beneficial the consumer. This initiative should be triggered and pushed by the consumer protection department of NCAA. In fact, it is this unit with all its paid “experts” that is reluctant or unable to find the solution” he said.
Airlines use interline to serve origin to destination markets that they would otherwise not be able to serve alone. This allows airlines to access new markets and new customers. They could also use interline to build network reach, and to secure the loyalty of customers, increasing their market share with individual customers or corporate clients. Finally, interline relationships often allow airlines to participate in markets where they are prevented from operating due to bilateral air service agreements and foreign ownership restrictions. All these are benefits that could be enjoyed by domestic airlines if they consent to this agreement.