Domestic airline operators have frowned on the failure of security operatives at the nation’s airports to rein in unruly passengers who react violently to flight delays and cancellations due to the Harmattan haze that affects flights at the end of every year.
Many operators that spoke to media anonymously said over the years such incidents repeat themselves and security operatives allegedly seemed indifferent to such agitations, which also disrupt flight operations to other destinations not affected by unfavourable weather.
Since December 23, 2017 Harmattan haze has reduced visibility to many airports in the southern part of Nigeria, which witness passenger surge during the Christmas festivities.
According to the operators, Enugu and Owerri passengers in particular have been extremely unruly and uncontrollably violent that some of the travellers in their midst were miffed by their excessive reactions.
Recently, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) issued a statement warning passengers to desist from violent reactions when flights are cancelled or delayed because such actions were taken to ensure safety and directed airlines and pilots to always abide by weather reports, which are critical to safe flight operations.
Aggrieved air travellers who spoke to THISDAY, however, urged the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and security agents at the nation’s airports to check the excesses of passengers, especially those on the services to Owerri and Enugu who often prevent others from boarding their aircraft in protest against alleged delay of their flights.
Speaking with newsmen in Lagos on Tuesday, some of the passengers alleged that they were prevented from boarding their Air Peace flights in Lagos and Abuja for hours by their counterparts scheduled to fly to Enugu and Owerri.
One of the affected passengers, Mr. Peter Akpesiri, said he was prevented from boarding his Abuja-Lagos flight for hours by those travelling to Owerri whose flight was delayed.
“It is quite shocking that some set of passengers could actually prevent others from flying simply because their own flights were delayed. While it is their right to seek redress where they feel dissatisfied, it is totally out of place for them to prevent others from flying. Our airports, as a high security environment, should not be a place for people to exhibit such condemnable act of lawlessness. It is high time this worsening development was checked to prevent others from resorting to self-help,” he warned.
Another affected passenger, Mrs. Rose Waziri, told reporters that her Lagos-Abuja flight was prevented from boarding by Enugu-bound passengers, who barricaded the boarding gate for hours.
She wondered why a set of passengers should prevent others from flying because of the alleged delay of their flight, charging security agents to check the trend to prevent a clash at the nation’s airports.
Corporate Communications Manager of Air Peace, Mr. Chris Iwarah, confirmed the Lagos and Abuja incidents, describing them as unfortunate.
He explained that the Enugu and Owerri flights were delayed because of weather and technical challenges, insisting that Air Peace would only operate a flight when it would not endanger the lives of its passengers and crew in line with its uncompromising stand on safety.
He disclosed that visibility went as low as 400 metres in Enugu, Owerri and even Akure, which is far below the 800 metres minimum accepted in most of the airports in the country.
Iwarah said the airline regretted the prevention of its passengers from boarding their flights by Owerri and Enugu passengers, assuring them that the carrier would continue to do everything within its control to provide quality service and prevent acts of lawlessness against its guests and staff.
He said: “Air Peace would from henceforth refuse to do a flight where such an incident occurs, besides seeking the enforcement of the law against such passengers.
“While other passengers flying to other destinations would readily cooperate with the airlines in difficult moments, it is not the same with Enugu and Owerri passengers. During this period, passengers on the Enugu and Owerri routes travel with a lot of luggage, some with as many as 20 suitcases each! At the check-in counters, such owners would take over 30 minutes of our check-in time arguing on why they must not pay for excess luggage, citing how they travelled from Atlanta with those suitcases without paying a dime.
“At the end, we waste over two hours checking in just one flight. The time the aircraft would have used in getting to its destination and back to its origin is expended on addressing the difficult passengers. At the end, it brings about serious delays for other routes.”
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