Arik Air, An Example Of How Not To Run An Airline

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Chidi Ugwu

For air travelers, if you like unorganized, erratic, unpredictable travel experience, I will recommend Arik Air. If you are to embark on a journey and don’t care whether you get there on record time, I will recommend Arik Air. If it does not matter that you could lose out on a crucial appointment just because the transporter (an airline for that matter) you choose is unreliable, I will recommend Arik Air.

On Tuesday, the 1st of March, I set out for a research residency in Ghana. I was to leave from the Akanu Ibiam ‘international’ airport in Enugu, via Lagos to Accra. Against my gut instinct, because of previous experiences, I chose to go with Arik Air. I made that choice because Arik was the only Airline that had flights from Enugu right up to Accra on 1st March. Others had either Enugu→Lagos or Lagos→Accra, and not both. I then chose Arik all the way so that if there were any delays, I would be sure not to miss my flight since it would be on them to take care of me all the way to my final destination. And how right I was! The Enugu→Lagos flight was slated for 12:25pm. I got there two hours earlier. After the check-in process, we waited until 12:50pm before they announced that our 12:25pm flight had been moved by an hour. But we were not upset because that hour was already far-spent, leaving us with a couple of minutes to go. However, after waiting out that hour plus many more minutes, with no sign of an Arik flight on ground, I made for their desk only to be told that our Lagos-bound air craft was still in Abuja, being held up by a lack of fuel. When I told them I was to connect another 5pm flight from Lagos to Accra, they said I had no problem since I was going with Arik all the way. Indeed, they had two flights from Lagos to Accra on that day, the second slated to depart at 8pm. That gave me a little relief. But I felt pity for one of the passengers, a young man, who was going for a crucial meeting in Lagos, scheduled for 3pm on that day.

He decided to take a flight which was ordinarily a quicker option. To no end, he argued with Arik staff as to why he had not been warned beforehand; as to whether there was nothing they could do for him in terms of any alternative arrangement, to put him in another airline or something. I also recalled that the last time, in June 2015, that Arik postponed, for 4 hours, a flight that I was to join, it was upon my arrival to their desk that I saw the notice pasted – whereupon I had berated them for failing to go with the times, for failing to send an email, or even a text message. Unluckily for that young man, Arik was the last Lagos-bound flight from Enugu on that day; others, Air Peace, Medview, etc. had all gone. He was at his wits end, shaking, almost in tears. I wished him well.

Our 12:25pm flight eventually left Enugu at 4:30pm. On our arrival, they took three of us who were connecting to other countries from Lagos to the international wing of the Muritalla Muhammed Airport. My first step as I made my entry was to approach the Arik duty manager to ask what would be done about my having missed the 5pm flight to Accra. He told me, without showing any regrets, that the 5pm flight was also being delayed until 8pm.

“So, two different Arik flights would leave for Accra at the same time, 8pm?,” I asked him. “We are sorting things out,” he said vaguely. After the check-in ritual, we moved in for boarding, and thence began the confusion. Get ready for it. On my request, I had been re-booked for the 8pm flight with number W3 396. The flight originally slated to depart at 5pm was number W3 304. Around 7:40pm, the schedule announcer directed passengers on 396 to proceed to gate 31 for boarding. But because nothing was said about passengers on flight 304 who had been waiting since afternoon, all passengers on Arik en route Accra proceeded to gate 31. After we had all waited for about one hour, one lanky fellow materialized and apathetically asked all passengers on flight 304 to proceed to gate 52, again saying nothing about those on flight 396. Almost everyone bound for Accra, yet again, like a flock without a direction, proceeded to gate 52, about a 200-metre walk. When I showed my boarding pass to the desk officer on gate 52, she said I was not in the right place. I, as well as other passengers with boarding passes bearing the same number as mine, returned to gate 31 and waited. Meanwhile, the flight schedule display was not of much help to us: it no longer had information on flight W3 304, given that its departure time of  5pm had already passed, without Arik management bothering to inform the airport management that their flight W3 304 had been delayed until 8pm, in which case they would have simply re-written the notice to reflect that change. The airport display was showing flight 396 for departure at 8:45pm. Now, passengers on 396, which was showing on the display, did not yet know their fate but passengers on 304, which was no longer showing on the display, were being profiled for boarding on gate 52. I wish you the best of luck the next time you will use Arik Air. I have seen enough of them to know they are habituated to disorders of this sort.

After a restless while, I rallied other passengers telling them how it would not make sense for an airline which was complaining of lack of fuel to take two Boeing 737 air craft to the same destination at the same time when all the passengers planned for the two different flights were not enough to fill up one. We all marched together to gate 52 and managed to convince the duty manager to put us all in flight 304. For those who had check-in luggage, our next challenge was this: for an airline that had shown itself to be as sloppy as Arik Air had done, how do we get them to transfer our luggage from wherever they were without mixing things up. We again approached the duty manager who, after series of phone calls, front-and-back stairs, and head-scratching, eventually got each of us to personally identify our luggage before we finally made our hard-fought departure.

Some of the staffers were cautious enough to make apologies, begging us to understand. But my response to them was that they were asking us to do what they don’t do for customers. The last time I missed my Arik flight from Lagos to Enugu, I had arrived late owing to Lagos traffic – but early enough to be processed for boarding if I was dealing with a more customer-friendly Ariline – and they refused to let me in. all my pleas were rejected. I spent about 30 more minutes at their desk before the plane buzzed off. Other Airlines they might be interested in copying when it suits them would actually announce any missing customer’s name a number of times before finally shutting the door for departure. I’m compelled to write this at this time because I’m now convinced, after this umpteenth time, that it can only take such an action for Arik to consider improving on customer treatment. It can be anybody’s turn to take a flight tomorrow. This is neither my second nor third experience with Arik’s erratic sloppiness. On one occasion last year, they postponed my journey to the USA by two days without any prior notice. And I was already at their desk at airport before, like a fool, I realized what had happened. I had promised them I would never be back to Arik, but I was somewhat condemned to be back on this (hopefully) LAST occasion. An airline like Arik can only survive in a setting like Nigeria where anything goes – and I told them this to their face.

Clearly, these are troubled times in Nigeria, and one had better focus on matters of grave national concern – such as teenage-girl-kidnap, gun men on the rampage, anti-graft war, budget padding, etc. – and not on such unserious matters as professional misdeeds of a business that only services the elite. I have always restrained myself from writing about this among a population where the suffering majority might find it incautiously elitist to dwell on such matters when there are other burning national questions. I agree. But I am around enough to also know that not a few others have been raising such other graver questions. I have also been doing so myself on different media. However, that the national space is heated up does not warrant that we stop keeping watch on other spheres as well. Besides, my experience with Arik has been so interesting, and I thought that not sharing it with others would be selfish. I am sorry about the length of this post. I hope you enjoyed it, though.


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