*We have responded to the concerned passengers— Ethiopian Airline
By Lawani Mikairu
ETHIOPIAN Airline, which prides itself as a certified four-star airline for the quality of its airport and onboard products and staff service, could find itself in the eye of the storm following complaints by some of its passengers in Nigeria.
The aggrieved customers are spoiling for a showdown with the airline over the shoddy way they were allegedly treated by staff of the airline. One of them, Rev. Fr. Patrick Chudi Okafor, pointedly told Vanguard that he and other affected Nigerian flyers of the airline can no longer tolerate what he described as the “insensitive and inhuman treatment” they have received from staff of Ethiopian Airline in the last couple of years.
But a highly placed source in the airline told Vanguard that Rev. Fr. Okafor and other passengers who had complaints during the last Christmas season flights were “responded to and their complaints addressed”.
However, while admitting being contacted by Ethiopian Airline officials, Okafor said he declined their “responses and overtures” because the “issues are not about me alone as an individual but several Nigerian passengers who have suffered this inhuman treatment”.
Narrating his ordeal in a statement entitled “The ordeal of Nigerian passengers with Ethiopian Airline and their affiliate ASKY’s”, Okafor said: “Nigerian passengers flying the USA – Lome (Togo) – Lagos route have been subjected to considerable and inhumane treatment at the hands of Ethiopian airline.
“This has been going on for over five years and thousands of Nigerians have suffered untold hardships. Ethiopian Airlines will board passengers going to MMA airport Lagos. At Lome, they will transfer the passengers to ASKY, a smaller plane, which will carry them to Lagos.
“To their greatest shock and surprise, on their arrival in Lagos, they will realise that their luggage are missing. The luggage would often be left behind in Lome. Some were even made to check in their carry-on luggage, which would also be missing, leaving them with nothing.
“It happened to me on December 17, 2020. We boarded Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 513, a big plane; on getting to Lome, we disembarked and were transferred to a smaller plane of ASKY Airline, an Ethiopian Airline affiliate. We were cramped in there without air conditioning, and because of COVID-19, many of us were wearing masks and suffocating. We were told that the pilot will turn the airconditioner on when we are airborne.
“After about 45 minutes flight we arrived MMA airport, Lagos. Having processed through the NCDC for COVID-19 protocol, and the Nigerian immigration, we went straight to the baggage claim carousel, and waited.
“Within a short while, the carousel stopped, it was then that it dawned on most of us that our luggage did not follow us to Lagos, but were left behind in Lome. We were enraged; some screamed and barked to no avail. Some of those whose carry-ons were checked in (because of lack of space in the plane) did not find them, in addition to their checked-in luggage.
“They took down our names and luggage information and asked us to come tomorrow. One elderly woman on a wheelchair could not be consoled. She said she had nobody and could not be coming from Abeokuta to be checking for her luggage, and she had nobody in Lagos to be doing it for her. She had her medication in her luggage.
“It happened that this has been a routine with Ethiopian Airline and their affiliate ASKY. They know the Nigerian psychology; we get mad and angry, we bark, and shout and do nothing. This drama has been going on for over five years.
“It happened to my senior brother years ago; he missed three bags and was in Lagos for four days before he found them, and flew to the East on the fifth day. It happened to him again the following year. While in Lagos he was frequenting the airport by taxi, staying at a hotel, and kept rescheduling his flight to the East, all at his own expense and inconvenience. Ethiopian Airline did not pay for that.
“It also happened to my little sister in December 2017; she found her luggage the following day; my big sister suffered the same fate when she came back from South Africa on Ethiopia airline, she was in Lagos for a week, and had to go back to the East living it at the care of another sibling.
“ This also happened to a nun I know in 2017. She stayed in Lagos for three days and had to leave her luggage at the care of a volunteer. When she finally got her carry-on, a lot of her belongings were missing.
“Well, we were told to come back the next day being December 18, 2020, to check for our luggage. Some of us came back; we were at the carousel with those who had just arrived on board the same airline, ASKY. We did not see our luggage again, and most of those who came back that day did not see theirs, and some were also missing their carry-on on they were made to check in at Lome.
“They were as mad as we were; they barked, and shouted; at the end they were asked to write their names and baggage information like we did. These people are heartless, they don’t care about what they are making their passengers go through. Many Nigerians who will be coming home with Ethiopian Airline through Lagos route will suffer the same ordeal.
“This had been a pattern, it has become customary for Ethiopian airline/ASKY to subject Nigerians to this hardship year after year. So I asked some passengers who were still around if they could put down their names and phone numbers; I collected twenty two names on the spot.
“I stayed in Lagos for two days, taking taxi cab to and from the airport, paying for hotel accommodation and feeding at my expense. I had to go to the local airport and reschedule my flight. I had on only the clothes I wore through it all. It happened that my mother’s insulin was in my missing bag. It had to refrigerated to be good. I don’t know what will happen to it by the time I get my luggage.
“After staying in Lagos for two days and not finding my luggage, I handed my documents over to a friend and left for the East. It was on December 22, that my friend called me that he found one of my luggage; he cargoed it to the East and I picked it up on December 27. As at December, I still had one remaining luggage collect, eleven days after my arrival.
“Our ticket and boarding pass read Ethiopian Airline; we have no business with ASKY. Ethiopian Airline should make sure we arrived safely with our luggages intact. We have lost vacation time waiting for our luggages in Lagos, we have lost money on feeding, hotel accommodation and taxi cab to and from the airport; we have been made to reschedule or lose our money with the local flight earlier scheduled to take us to our destinations and we have lost some perishable items in our missing luggage.
“This inhuman treatment of Nigerians by Ethiopian Airline/ASKY should stop and passengers have to be compensated. They won’t treat Europeans or White people the same way; they don’t even treat their people the same way. I have had a layover at Addis Ababa and they treat passengers well there,” Rev. Okafor narrated at length.
When Vanguard approached Ethiopian Airline to know their position on the matter, a very high source in the airline said Father Okafor’s complaints had been “responded to and addressed.”
According to him: “Appropriate compensation has been paid by ASKY. This passenger has already got a response from ASKY after he sent out a WhatsApp message”.
The source also explained that the matter should have been routed through the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Consumer Protection Unit which is statutorily placed at the airports to handle passengers complaints.
He had queried thus: “Was this reported to NCAA at the airport? I guess that is the right approach if there is a default in service standards.”
Vanguard investigation revealed that Ethiopian Airline has a code-sharing agreement with ASKY. This enables Ethiopian Airline to drop passengers with ASKY Airline in Lome for onward flight to their destinations in the West Africa sub-region.
Codesharing is a normal practice in civil aviation. But it is left to the two partners or multiple partners to make sure the passengers get the service they paid for with the initial airline passengers booked. Airlines are encouraged to code-share with airlines that can deliver same services or standard services to passengers.
There are also some standard laws in civil aviation covering loss of baggage by passengers. There are recommended monetary compensations by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, that regulates civil aviation worldwide. Airlines pay these ICAO recommended compensations and other mutually agreed payments to affected passengers.