Columns

December 14, 2023

As Air Peace seizes my money, By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Air Peace

In my November 16, 2023 article titled, “Air Peace, our misery, their goal,” I narrated my ordeal in the hands of Air Peace Limited, a private airline owned by Nigerian lawyer and businessman, Allen Onyema.

What was the issue? I bought the airline’s return ticket at N148,000 on Thursday, November 2, to attend the 2023 summit of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)  holding in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, two weeks before the event.

        

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. The return trip was to be on Saturday, November 18 at 12.10pm.

My agent didn’t only buy the ticket, he got a seat, 3A, for me. On the day, I arrived at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 (MMA2) at about 6.10am and joined the Uyo queue. That was 50 minutes before departure, and surprisingly I was told I came late.

How could that be? 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. But she didn’t bulge.

When my plea fell on deaf ears and the determination of the airline to deny me a seat on that flight became apparent, I opted to go back home rather than pay more to be given a seat on the Air Peace flight to Port Harcourt and complete the journey to Uyo by road.

Those who know the airline and its pilfering antics advised me to open the ticket rather than asking for a refund which will take aeons to be paid and when it eventually comes may not be more than 50 per cent of the ticket cost.

I decided to ask for a refund, nevertheless because at that point, I had had enough of the airline’s hubris and utter lack of respect for customers. But I also made up my mind that Air Peace needed to be called out publicly, which was what I did with that November 16 article.

Thereafter, scores of people called to narrate their own ugly experiences with the airline. A couple of friends who apparently have relationship with Air Peace promised to intervene to ensure that my money was refunded in full. And they did, leading to the airline, uncharacteristically, reaching out to me same day at 5.20pm. It is not in their character to assuage the hurt feelings of customers.

The caller, Gloria Okungbowa from the Customer Service, said they had read my article and will get back to me after investigation. We spoke for four minutes and 29 seconds.

When I waited for over ten days without hearing from Air Peace, I called Ms Okungbowa on November 27, to know how much longer I had to wait. She apologised but made no commitments.

Then, on Tuesday, November 28, at 5:07pm, I received an email from Air Peace, signed by Gloria Okungbowa on behalf of the airline, disputing my claims, but I dare say, pathetically unsuccessfully.

Air Peace disputed my claim of arriving the MMA2 terminal at 6.10am, putting my arrival time, instead, at 6.16am.

Their letter titled, “Air Peace Clarification on Recent Article Regarding Denied Boarding Incident,” read in part: “We are writing to address your recent publication concerning an alleged incident of denied boarding involving Air Peace. We have carefully reviewed the information presented and would like to provide clarification to ensure an accurate understanding of the situation.

“Contrary to the claims made in your article dated 16th November 2023, our investigation, supported by comprehensive CCTV footage, clearly shows that you arrived at the doors leading to the check-in counter at 6:16 am after the designated counter closure time of 45 minutes before departure. We have to adhere to strict check-in deadlines to ensure the smooth and timely operation of our flights.”

Claiming further that the CCTV footage showed that the counter was closed at the specified time of 6:15 am, one minute before my purported arrival, the airline further stated: “Unfortunately, you arrived at the counter at 6:19 am after passenger check-in had already been completed and the manifest closed. Hence you were denied boarding.”

This is rather preposterous. Assuming, without conceding that I, indeed, “arrived at the doors leading to the check-in counter at 6:16am,” is Air Peace insinuating that it took me a whole three minutes to walk from that door to the counter? Some lies are better not told. On the issue of refund, Air Peace claimed that their policies are fair, transparent, and comply with statutory expectations but disingenuously shied away from the percentage.   “Also, your submission about our refund policy is incorrect. Our refund policies are fair, transparent and comply with statutory expectations. We do not have a refund policy of 50per cent. At Air Peace, we value our customers immensely and cherish their patronage too. Over the years, Air Peace has charted the course as the Airline of choice, providing its esteemed customers with unrivalled travel choices while providing competitive fares to all,” they stated in  a pathetic display of pompous self-adulation.

While it may be true that Air Peace has become the airline of choice for some Nigerians, it will be the height of delusion to think it is because of the qualities claimed above. It has become the airline of choice because Nigerians actually do not have much of a choice.

Air Peace is simply capitalising on its dominance in the industry to ride roughshod over hapless flying public. It has no respect for customers and does not in any way cherish their patronage.

Which was exactly what it did on Thursday, December 7, when it credited my account with N85,000 as refund out of the N148,000 I paid for a return ticket to Uyo. In the process, Air Peace pilfered N63,000 of my hard-earned money. This is sheer stealing by an airline that claims to value its customers.

On Monday, I called Vincent Eboigbe, editor of Saturday Telegraph, who was also a victim of Air Peace’s highhandedness, and who, like me, opted to go home on that fateful day, rather than indulging the airline’s silly whims.

He told me that he was refunded N86,000 out of the N143,000 he paid for a return ticket. So, Air Peace singlehandedly makes the determination of who to refund, how much to refund and when to do so.

Since I got the alert, I have called Gloria a couple of times to find out how they arrived at the N85,000 they paid to me and why they stole N63,000, she refused to pick my call.

Truth be told, Air Peace is taking Nigerians for granted. Rather than being humbled by the success they have recorded, humility being the hallmark of greatness, the proprietors of the company have become arrogant and conceited.

Pilfering from clients in the name of non-existent infractions is outright dubiousness. It is sheer sleight of hand. Adroitness in deception cannot be a way of cherishing the patronage of customers.

I insist that I did not come late to the airport on November 16 even going by the records provided by Air Peace in their letter. And having denied me the opportunity of fraternising with my professional colleagues in Uyo, in any sane society, Air Peace should pay compensation.

But because this is Nigeria where law-abiding citizens have no right, I am not asking for compensation. But the least I expect in the circumstance is a full refund. I won’t let Air Peace steal my money and dismiss my protest with a wave of the hand.