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April 27, 2024

Air Peace: Patriotism alone won’t cut it, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Air Peace: Patriotism alone won’t cut it, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

Late Chief OluAboderin, the Founding Chairman of Punch Newspapers travelled quite a bit in his days and his preference was for the defunct Nigeria Airways whenever possible. I am a witness to this in a way. We had cause to travel out together a couple of times and he always leaned towards flying with the then national airline. I used to wonder why. There was no advantage that I could see.

On the contrary, the young me only saw rowdiness at check-in and unnecessary noises inside the plane. He tried to explain the need to fly the flag to me but I wasn’t really convinced. I have always travelled light so the impressionable me wanted in quote, ‘more organized, more cultured’ Airlines where check-in would not be rowdy; there would not be unnecessary jostling at the aisle as passengers found their seats, and overhead cabins would not be filled with heavy, over stuffed baggage.

Then I had my own experience…. This was back in the days when the price war among the International Airlines was virtually non-existent, and the travel convenience of passengers was the utmost priority. This meant that one could always hop on another flight if one missed a scheduled flight at little or no cost to one as long as a seat was available even if it was on a different Airline. A leaf would simply be torn off your travel booklet and the Airlines would sort themselves out later. This, in the days when flights were not that many, sometimes saved passengers two to three days wait if they were to wait for another flight of the same Airline to their destination.

This eye-opening experience was to come in the late 70s. I was in the Capitalof a North African country and my assignment over, I wanted to find out when the next flight out of town would be. These things were done largely in person in those days so I found myself with other would be passengers at a ticketing office. To my surprise, many of the Europeans I met preferred to wait, sometimes two, sometimes three days for their respective countries’ Airlines to come. In other words, they were prepared to inconvenient themselves – at a cost- to fly the flag.

Since then, The Nigeria Airways was it for me whenever possible and I soon found myself making friends with some Pilots and Air Hostesses especially on flights that were not busy – I enjoyed the cockpit experience a couple of times. Flying the flag has some advantages. First, there is the feeling of ‘this is our own’ however intangible that feeling is. If it is a long trip and you are on your last leg home, there is a feeling as you sink into your seat, that you are home already even before you step on your native soil; a sort of home away from home. The familiar attires of fellow passengers as they enter the plane and the local languages swirling around you help in reinforcing this feeling.

This is probably followed by the inner feeling of helping the economy in your own little way by patronizing your own. Every Nigerian Airline that fails on the international route is a blight on the country. It is a failure of Nigeria and Nigerians to compete on the international scene.  And the price we have collectively paid for the failure of Nigeria Airways cannot be quantified. Part of it is the extortionate rates we pay on some European routes. Part of it is the implied blackmail whenever they threaten to withdraw their services because of perceived difficulty in repatriating their funds.

The airline business is one of those few businesses that are both capital and labour intensive. Unfortunately, the Airlines that are ripping us off have made very little investments in the Nigerian economy either in terms of capital or of labour. It is therefore a no brainer that we should give our local industries, especially our Airlines, all the support they need from us to make them compete on the international scene. The support could be in terms of tax exemptions, concessionary rates –and patronage, especially by public officials. Many countries do this. The dividends of this support are in our pockets and our psyche.

However, as important as home support is, and no one should deny its importance, the owners of Air Peace must realise that they are engaged in one of the most vicious industries on the planet earth. The Airline industry is a dog-eat-dog industry. Its competitors will do everything they can to undercut it. Unfortunately, Air Peace has quite a few disadvantages, especially on the international route and it seemed to have stirred the hornet’s nest by starting the price war. But it is not without advantages as well and it should play to its strength. Patriotism can only be a tipping point after the necessary boxes have been ticked. Nobody for example, wants to be stranded at an International Airport especially if there is a connecting flight. And very few people will be prepared to pay a premium price for an average service. Air Peace has to get its acts together, tidy things up and be prepared for the long haul. 

Speaking of experiences, I had a bad one with Air Peace this late February. I needed to make an emergency trip to Abuja in the midst of a crowded week. I decided on a day return since what I was going for would take just a couple of hours. Those I told of my intention were skeptical but I felt it was doable. After all, I had done it before in the past. I decided against an overnight luggage just to underscore my resolve. My unease started when the mid-morning flight kept being postponed.

This almost led to a scuffle at some point between desk officials and some passengers. By the time the flight left at around 3 pm, I knew I was in trouble. Fortunately, and by sheer coincidence, my Uncle Sam was on the same flight – I am sorry if you don’t know who Uncle Sam is in Nigeria. He provided transportation, accommodation and companionship – we watched a Champion League match together- and a change of clothes the following morning. What could have been a harrowing experience turned out to be a pleasant one but it was no thanks to Air Peace.

Customers will patronize any business they find reliable. In the airline business, reliability is spelt as safety, punctuality, pricing and service – inflight and off flight. Patriotism is a desirable sentiment which can tip the balance when the scales are about even. Especially given the importance of local industries to our economy and nationhood.