November 16, 2023

Air Peace, our misery, their goal, By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Air Peace

A payoff line, as a sentence that reinforces the positioning of a brand in the market, is a fundamental identity element, which communicates the personality, style and values of the company.

When Nigerian lawyer and businessman, Allen Onyema, founded the Air Peace Limited, a private airline, in 2013 with an alluring payoff line – Air Peace … your peace, our goal – Nigerians were seduced.

A decade after, Air Peace may well change its payoff line to “your misery, our goal,” and it will be a true reflection of their utter disdain for customers and sleight of hand business practices.

No doubt, as at the time the airline was founded, the country’s aviation industry was in dire straits. So, it was a great relief. Today, the airline which began operations with Dornier 328s and Boeing 737s not only has the largest market share in Nigeria’s domestic airline market but is also West Africa’s largest airline. It has a fleet size of 29 aircraft and flies to at least 20 destinations across the world.

Though not much has changed in the aviation industry, but many still wonder what would have happened to the travelling public, particularly with the near-total collapse of road infrastructure and the dire security challenges across the country, had Air Peace not debuted the time it did.

But as it is always the case when most Nigerian businesses strike gold, as Air Peace, no doubt, has, hubris sets in. Air Peace has gone from taking its customers for granted to their outright maltreatment. Many a time, the airline will cancel scheduled flights without the courtesy of informing customers beforehand. An intending passenger only gets to know that the flight has been cancelled at the check-in counter. No apologies.

Many Nigerians have missed out on important businesses, interviews and medical appointments and even examinations because of the shortcomings of Air Peace. When they decide to explain why a fight initially scheduled for 12 noon, for instance, won’t fly until 3pm, it will be attributed to the “late arrival of the operating aircraft”.

But why is the operating aircraft arriving late? Is it due to bad weather or any serious issue? Most times, mum is the word even when many know that these delays are often orchestrated by the airline in trying to get full complement of passengers before take-off.

Despite all this, Nigerians have kept faith with the airline because they have no room to manoeuvre with severely limited options and they had hoped that the airline will start treating its customers as kings which they, indeed, are in saner climes.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, because there are no consequences for Air Peace’s bad business buhaviour, the airline has upped the impunity ante. This time, it whimsically refuses letting passengers come on board, even when they arrive the airport on time.

They did that to me and many others on Tuesday in Lagos.

As I write, Nigerian editors are in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, for the 2023 Annual Editors Conference, ANEC, but I am not there, not because I didn’t want to be there to fraternise with kindred spirits but because the almighty Air Peace threw a spanner in the works.

When the leadership of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, announced the date for this year’s ANEC, I quickly bought Air Peace return ticket at N148,000 on Thursday, November 2 through my agent who has reliably done that for me in over a decade.

I was duly issued a ticket with PNR no 15P7RR to fly to Uyo from Lagos on Tuesday, November 14, at 7am on Flight Number P47140. I was supposed to arrive Uyo at 8.10am. The return leg of the trip was to be on Saturday, November 18 at 12.10pm.

As my agent always does, he didn’t only buy the ticket, he got a seat for me. This time it was seat 3A to and fro. I am always conscious of time whenever I am flying. When it is domestic flight, I make sure that I am at the airport at least one hour before departure and I travel very light.

On Tuesday, I arrived at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2, MMA2, at about 6.10am and duly joined the Uyo queue. That was 50 minutes before departure, and surprisingly I was told I came late. How could I be late when the flight was still 50 minutes away from departing? I explained to the lady at the check-in counter that I didn’t come late and the portal couldn’t have been shut down as she claimed. I also told her that I already had a seat assigned to me and I don’t have any check-in luggage.

My plea fell on deaf ears. She said I should talk to her manager and there was really nobody to talk to. And I wasn’t the only one that Air Peace willfully refused to board that aircraft. There were about six editors and a dozen other people that the airline threw into the predicament.

I called my agent to lament and he was nonplussed. To make matters worse Flight 47140 was the only Air Peace to Uyo from Lagos on Tuesday and the second for the week; the next flight being on Saturday, November 18. Flying Ibom Air, the Akwa Ibom State-owned airline, which was the only alternative, was not an option. Though it had a 9am flight, one-way ticket was as high as N200,000.

Some of my colleagues who had specific roles to play at the conference opted to fly to Port Harcourt and then travel to Uyo by road. Air Peace was selling its ticket there and then for over N180,000. They wouldn’t even simply re-route the stranded editors to Port Harcourt at no other cost since it was not their fault.

Apparently, Air Peace overbooked passengers on the 7am Uyo flight. And when they had the requisite number on board, they simply shut down the check-in portal without any consideration for the “peace” of its short-changed customers. But how was it our fault that the airline didn’t know the capacity of the operating aircraft? If it knew, which is the case, and yet continued selling tickets to hapless customers, that is OBT – obtaining by trick.

About four of us who decided to take the Port Harcourt option were forced to pay extra charges ranging from N20,000 to N50,000 depending on the cost of their Uyo ticket. I opted to ask for a refund of my N148,000 and go back home rather than flying to Port Harcourt.

I was given a refund form to fill which I duly completed before leaving the airport. As at the time I left MMA2 on Tuesday, Flight 47140 was yet to take off.

When I asked the lady who gave me the refund form when I will get my money, she was non-committal. “After 35 days, you can call the Customer Service and know the status of your request,” she said. But she also said it would have been better if I opened the ticket and use it later since it will still be valid for one year.

I have been told that I may have to wait forever before I get my money back. Even when they pay, I have also been told not to expect a refund of more than 50 per cent. Why would Air Peace defraud me N74,000? That will be stealing, and Allen Onyema, a lawyer, should know better. It will be unfair for Air Peace to deny me a flight which I duly paid for and for which I arrived the airport on time and at the same time sit on my money.

In all this, who protects Nigerians from the unethical, sharp practices of business octopuses like Air Peace? Sadly, customers who are deemed kings in other climes are at the mercy of shylock businesses here in Nigeria.

Air Peace cannot claim to be promoting peace when in its sheer impunity, it is spreading misery with reckless abandon, without regard for convention.