By Okuneye Moyosola
The problem of flight cancellation has become a bane in the aviation industry. This has also led to economic losses in the aviation sector as well as disruption in the plans of passengers. Experts have also said that a minute delay can disrupt an entire operation and cost the airlines dearly. This shows that time is of upmost importance in the aviation sector and should be taken seriously by airline operators. Although some cancellations and delays could be borne out of weather conditions but in most cases, these delays are as a result of negligence of the airlines.
Some airline operators have blamed flight delays on poor navigational equipment in the nation’s airports. Despite the effort of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to improve navigational Facilities through the upgrade of its Instrument Landing System (ILS) at several airports across the country, the number of flight delays has continued to increase.
Domestic airlines operating in Nigeria recorded 36,350 cases of delayed flights between January and December 2018, according to figures released by the Consumer Protection Department of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The report showed that 59,818 flights were operated by nine airlines during this period. The number of delayed fights represents 60.1 per cent of all flights, while a total of 544 flights were cancelled. The figure went down among international airlines as 5,395 international air flights were delayed in Nigeria in 2018.
Recall that recently the Corporate Communications Manager, Air Peace, Chris Iwarah in an interview with MMS Plus stressed that flight delays or cancellations are not as a result of infrastructure.
“I have observed that most of the issues that lead to cancellation of flight are beyond infrastructure challenges; they are natural occurrences. There is no investment in infrastructure or facilities that would significantly change those circumstances. The factors that have to do with infrastructure like runway facilities could be upgraded. Nevertheless, there is no way we can eradicate delays in safety as a result of the bad weather” he opined.
“At Air Peace, safety is our watch-word. So, if the weather is not perfect, if visibility is impaired, we would not risk the lives of our crew and passengers. We value their lives so we wouldn’t fly at such times. Without the harmattan, there certain times you can’t fly to Akure or Benin too early because visibility is poor around that time. We tell our pilots that if flying into an airport isn’t safe; it is better to delay. It is better to delay than to get there with dead people”.
He urged passengers to be calm whenever their flight is delayed, stressing that their safety is paramount.
“People need to be patient when we say we have to delay flights because it is for the good of everybody. As we get into the last quarter of the year, these occasions of delay may become frequent, but we would do everything possible to curb delays that we prevent”.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a flight is considered to be delayed when it is 15 minutes later than its scheduled time. A cancellation occurs when the airline does not operate the flight at all for a certain reason.
In the European Union, Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 states that flight delays for over three hours, cancellations and denied boarding entitles passengers to a compensation from €250 up to €600 per passenger from the airline.
In the United States, when flights are canceled or delayed, passengers may be entitled to compensation due to rules obeyed by every flight company. This rule usually specifies that passengers may be entitled to certain reimbursements, including a free room if the next flight is the day after the canceled one, a choice of reimbursement, rerouting, phone calls, and refreshments. When a flight is delayed, the FAA allocates slots for takeoffs and landings based on which flight is scheduled first. The Transportation Department imposes a fine of up to $27,500 per passenger for planes left on the tarmac for more than three hours without taking off (four hours for international flights). In the United States, passengers are not entitled to compensation when a delay occurs, not even a cut of fees airlines must pay federal authorities for long delays. Airlines are required to pay for lodging costs of passengers if the delay or a cancellation is through their own fault, but not if the cause is beyond their control, such as weather.
However, in Nigeria, most airlines do not compensate if the delay is as a result of neglect on the part of the airline. Some passengers are also not aware of their rights and most times they keep mute about the situation and accept that it is fate.
According to the Nigerian Civil Avaition Authority(NCAA), One of the passengers’ rights and responsibilities includes the right to compensation for flight cancellation, delays, damaged/loss baggage and denied boarding for reasons other than technical, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks and industrial disputes that affect the operation of the flight.
Speaking with MMS Plus, the General Manager, NCAA Public Affairs, Sam Adurogboye highlighted some of the rights of the passengers as well as the process of issuing a complaint in the occurrence of flight delay or cancellation.
“There are local operators that we have written commendation letters to for proper service to passengers. When they delay due to some reasons, they apologize which is the right thing to do. We frown at the attitude exhibited by domestic operators. The authority organizes meetings with them to sensitize them and there are applicable sanctions. When a passenger has an issue with an airline, he or she must first report to the airline and when you are not satisfied with the treatment thereafter, you can call the attention of NCAA. We would address the situation and give necessary sanctions”.
“There is also a natural sanction. If an airline did not treat its passengers well, it will lose the passenger subsequently. For example, I would never board the airline in US that abandoned me in Atlanta except it is the only airline going to my route. It has lost me as a passenger and would also lose all the people I shared the experience with. If you are in business and you are not bothered about losing one customer, you will end up losing all of your customers. We have sanctioned a major airline that is one of the major big 5 because it delayed its passengers and refused to put them in a hotel until we stepped in. we made sure that the passengers were lodge in an hotel and the airline also paid a fine of about 300 dollars with an apology letter attached to it the envelope” he said.
“The operation in international scene also differs to the one in local scene. Some people have delays in an international flight and would want to be lodged in a hotel; however this is not the policy. In international flight, you pay more the law governing it differs a little to the requirement of the local. You would not be lodged in a hotel if you board a flight to travel within the country, however, reverse is the case for those board a flight to travel outside the country. If someone is travelling on international flight with any foreign airline, after you have been checked in as a passenger, you become the responsibility of the airline. Unfortunately, if the airline cancels its plan, it has to accommodate, feed you and bring you back to your destination. If it’s a local flight, you would not be accommodated because it is presumed that you came from the area and you should be able to go back home unlike international flight where you came from a far place. There are other remedy that you can give to the passengers such as apology, compensation, refreshment and manner of approach”.
Narrating his ordeal with an international airline, Adurogboye said that flight delays are not limited to domestic airlines. “If you have ever travelled on an international airline that delays your flight, you would know that some are worse than the ones we classify as domestic. Although, I am not commending the domestic airlines that delayed their passengers but I have flown on a very big global carrier from US to Lagos that abandoned us at the airport in Atlanta for about 2 days. The airline did not lodge us in a hotel and I was stranded. I made sure I protested when I came back”.