Stories by Lawani Mikairu
Controversy is currently raging among aviation stakeholders on how passengers who occupy Emergency Exit seats on an aircraft should be briefed and treated since Air Peace airline recently announced it ejected a passenger identified as Mr Christopher Aniagboso from its Lagos-Owerri flight to guarantee the safety of its crew and passengers. Aniagboso who was sitting on the emergency exit seat, the airline said, refused to cooperate with the crew during pre-departure briefing.
Passenger Exit seats are “those seats having direct access to an exit, and those seats in a row of seats through which passengers would have to pass to gain access to an exit, from the first seat inboard of the exit to the first aisle inboard of the exit. A passenger seat having “direct access” means a seat from which a passenger can proceed directly to the exit without entering an aisle.”
According to late Air Peace Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Chris Iwarah : “Mr Christopher Aniagboso had missed his morning Lagos-Owerri flight on May 12, 2019. He later showed up for the afternoon flight in good time and was issued an over-wing exit seat on request. Chris issued the statement before he was killed in a motor accident last week. He said:
“After boarding, Mr. Aniagboso was approached by a crew member for the normal safety briefing for passengers on the over-wing exit seats, but he suddenly claimed he could not understand English. Other passengers around him offered to translate to him, but he insisted that the crew must brief him in Igbo.
“When all efforts to have Mr. Aniagboso cooperate with the crew failed, the crew advised him to change his seat as the flight was already running late. He declined the advice to change his seat. The captain of the flight, who was eventually briefed on the development, also did everything to secure Mr. Aniagboso’s cooperation to no avail. At this point, our crew members were left with no other alternative than to advise Mr. Aniagboso to disembark to enable the flight depart.
“It is important to state that only those who are able to clearly understand and express their willingness to perform their safety responsibility are allowed by aviation regulations to sit on the exit row. It is also clearly stated in the safety cards that only those who can speak English are allowed to sit in the exit row.
“Also, all through his interaction with our ground staff, Mr. Aniagboso communicated in fluent English. His claim of not being able to communicate in English at the point of the safety briefing was, therefore, only meant to disrupt and delay the flight.
“Air Peace takes pride in promoting the use of all local languages on board our flights without discrimination. We encourage our crew to speak the local language whenever it is possible to do so. But we do not allow passengers with ill motive to disrupt our flights and endanger the safety of our esteemed customers and crew.
“Conducts with the potential of jeopardising the safety of our esteemed customers and crew are not welcome on any of our flights,” he said.
Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (NCAR) say “ After the initial announcements and safety tip recital on board the aircraft, flight attendant(s)visits the Exit seat(s) to enquire if the passenger can handle the responsibility of sitting there after explaining what it entails.
“If you are seated at Exit and cannot function under certain conditions or you feel you cannot handle sitting there, the flight attendant is mandated to change your seat and bring in somebody who can perform the responsibility .Also, the person sitting on an exit seat must not be less than 15 years of age or lacks the capacity to perform one or more of the applicable functions without the assistance of an adult companion, parent or relation”.
The NCARs also state that “if a person lacks sufficient visual capacity to access conditions outside of the exit or cannot carry out the function without the assistance of a visual aids, then he/ she cannot sit on the seat. Also if a person lacks sufficient aural capacity to hear or understand instruction given by a flight attendant without a hearing aid, then he cannot sit on the exit chair”.
The British Airways , for example, has Exit Seat rules . The airline says “Exit row seats are situated either next to or immediately behind the emergency exit door, so in the unlikely event of an evacuation, you will be expected to assist in the opening of the emergency exit door”. It further said there are safety requirements for sitting in an exit row seat.
“You must meet certain Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) safety requirements to sit in an exit row seat. You must be a non-disabled adult in full fitness and able to understand printed and verbal instructions given in English. You must be willing and able to assist in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation. You will be asked to confirm you meet the CAA safety requirements before you can reserve an exit row seat”, the airline said.
The airline also gave conditions under which a passenger could be moved from an exit row seat.
“ Once you arrive at the airport we will check whether you meet the CAA safety requirements you’ve agreed to when reserving your exit row seat. If you don’t, we will take the decision to assign you another seat and you will not be given a refund”. Also, “If you become sick or injured. If your circumstances change and you no longer meet the CAA requirements you should tell us at least 48 hours before your flight departs to be able to claim a refund”.
Reacting to the Air Peace airline incidence, a former Muritala Muhammed Airport commandant, Group Captain John Ojikutu,(rtd) said new ways should be devised and regulated to pick or get passengers who will occupy the emergency exit seats. Ojikutu said : “The airline,( Air Peace) is not on trial but the method of managing emergency which may not be applicable to it alone but needs to be reviewed. The emergency management method was approved by the NCAA and could be reviewed because of this incident and because in future, the passengers’ lives depend not only on the reported airline but others that are applying this method”.
“ What happened is not about the passenger but about the lives of other passengers who are to benefit from the service of a volunteer passenger, not one you brought to them as being responsible but ended up to be irresponsible. In any case, the airline would stand accused if anything happened to other passengers in the event of any incident where a passenger was so selected by the airline and ended up to be irresponsible”.
“…..The airline gave to him a responsibility that required him to help other passengers on board the flight which cleverly he ‘declined’. There would be many like him if the airline method of selection is continued with; so why should that method not be open for review by the airline and the NCAA? If you continue holding on to the fault of the passenger and not on the possible consequence of his action today and of others like him tomorrow, we are neither helping ourselves nor helping the responsible authority in its oversight functions”, he added.
It is obvious from the reactions of stakeholders; airlines, passengers, etc, that there is need for more education, especially on the part of passengers. Passengers like the emergency exit seats because they have more leg room than other seats.