NCAA Intervenes In Qatar Airways, Agents N296m Ticket Refund Feud

NCAA Intervenes In Qatar Airways, Agents N296m Ticket Refund Feud

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority has waded into the ongoing disagreement between Qatar Airways and travel agents regarding N296m hajj refunds.

The feuding parties have locked horns in the last two years, but the face-off has become more intense lately when clients began to harass the travel agents with law enforcement officials.

The agents claimed to have paid Qatar Airways to airlift hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 2022, but the pilgrims could not fly due to the refusal of the Saudi government to grant the intending pilgrims visas.

The 2022 hajj was the first full hajj after the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the Saudi government with the option of taking fewer numbers due to safety precautions and logistics.

Since the aborted journey, Qatar Airlines has refused to refund airfare, leaving them to different forms of humiliation by their clients, an agent told media.

Media source gathered that some of those agents had secured loans from banks to pay an inconsequential number of clients after they were reported to law enforcement agents.

On June 3, 2024, media reported how the airline had been allegedly evasive with the payment in the last two years.

Our correspondent gathered that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria was informed of the situation through a letter dated June 21, 2022.

Also, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority had waded into the matter on several occasions, but agents claimed their efforts had yet to yield any fruit as the airline remained reportedly adamant over the refund.

The development caused the concerned members of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies to regroup and begin to tackle the matter as they deemed fit.

The agents, through their lawyers, wrote the airline, requesting a refund for those affected, but despite the letter, it refused to pay or respond to the legal request.

Apprehension is, however, mounting on the agents as the tickets will expire this month (June).

Meanwhile, after The media’s report on the matter, the NCAA and NANTA had allegedly warned members to refrain from going public over the matter, but the agents who anonymously spoke with our correspondent stated that continuous pressure from clients could not make them keep calm over the matter anymore.

One of the agents, who does not want his name in print, explained, “We are now more apprehensive because the tickets are expected to expire this month and these people are not yielding at all. They are not responding to us at all, and our own aviation stakeholders and regulatory agencies in Nigeria are looking at them. Who will save us from these people now?”

Another agent threatened to petition the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development if the situation persisted since the regulators had been mum over the issue.

“They are all just looking at us, keeping silent on the matter and clients are dragging us. Some of us went to the bank for loans with interest. We might be left with no other option than to write to the Minister of Aviation.”

Explaining efforts made to our correspondent, the Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of the NCAA, Michael Achimugu, said the airline had been contacted and a reply was gotten “only two days ago” (referring to June 7).

Achimugu, who dismissed the claims of neglect by the agents, stated that the airline was hesitant to refund the said money upon claims that the agencies did not cancel the tickets immediately they knew their clients would not be flying anymore.

The aviation regulator’s spokesperson noted that the agencies did not follow due process, but the NCAA authority was planning on opening a diplomatic discussion with the headquarters of the airline in Doha, Qatar.

“The issue between the agencies and Qatar Airways has been ongoing for about two years now, long before I assumed office. I have read their complaints and heard from the side of the airline, and I have also brought both parties to the table.

“Clearly, the travel agents did not follow due process in the handling of the tickets. If your passengers are not going to fly or if they do not have the requirements to fly, the agencies are supposed to have cancelled the tickets, but they did not cancel. The official position of the airline was that the aircraft had to leave Nigeria empty, meaning that the airline had incurred a lot of costs, and catering had been arranged on flights, among others. Our regulations are very clear and being professionals, the travel agents ought to know what to do.

“The meetings between them and the airline did not yield much because the buck did not stop at the desk of the country manager in Nigeria but in Doha. And Doha said no.

“We received a letter from Qatar Airways only two days ago communicating to us the decision of the parent company in Doha.

“On receiving the correspondence, the NCAA has pledged that we will be opening a diplomatic conversation with them in Doha to see what best can be done on the issue. Aviation is a business and by all evidence available, the agencies did not do the right thing.”

Responding to claims that the NCAA asked the agencies not to go public on the matter, Achimugu said, “Nobody asked them not to go public on the matter. The NANTA president sent the link to a story to me, and I did say that since we have agreed to wade into the matter, there is no need to complicate the issues any further. Because if you are seeking help and resorting to self-help, then you are rendering the person who wants to help you powerless.”

Meanwhile, the agents noted that the Hajj commission notified the airline of the constraint, which made the agents withhold the tickets and thinking that the government of Saudi Arabia would still release the visas.

“In fact, to show that they understand our standpoints, an indemnity form was given to us when we met in January, and all they were saying was that our money would be paid and not any form of ‘they didn’t cancel’ allegation. These people are only looking for a way not to pay our money and this will be rejected in its entirety.

“However, it is also a lie that they have refunded everyone who cancelled,” he argued.

When contacted, the former President of NANTA, Susan Akporiaya, who was in office when the issue started, advised the concerned members to get the services of a lawyer and sue the airline.

He said, “The matter started during my time in office but did not degenerate while I was in office.  If they have not refunded them by now, they should get a lawyer and go to court. I know they won’t like such embarrassment.”

All efforts to speak with the current President of NANTA, Yinkan Folami, were futile, as he neither picked up his calls nor responded to text messages of inquiry on the matter.

When contacted for a response, the Country Manager of Qatar Airways, Ken Chirchir, insisted that our correspondent send a text message.

 After complying with the airline’s boss’ request, he refused to respond as of the time of filing this report.

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