Occasional delays are part of air travel today. Much as we dislike delays, we cannot avoid them, even in the well-run airlines.
However, airline schedules, all over the world are now incredibly tight, so one late aircraft can cause all remaining flights to run late that day, thus the need to avoid the delay.
Since every rule has an exception, I would implore you not to take it too hard on the Nigerian domestic operator as he or she, as the case maybe, is the exception to that sacred rule of having tight schedules.
In the United Kingdom, flights take of and land in less than five minutes and a fine is issued any airline which misses its slot and that is why most airlines that go to the prestigious London, Heathrow airport run by Ferrovial, understand the concept of keeping to time, even our own domestic airlines.
A renowned aviation researcher and said co-founder and director of Skyscanner, Barry Smith once said, “Telling you a flight will be 30 minutes late, then another 30 minutes late, then another – when they know full well that the plane hasn’t even left its departure airport is extremely annoying and downright dishonest. Passengers appreciate clarity from the start as it allows them to resort to a plan B if needed”
Why do these delays happen in Nigeria? Some delays as a result of bad weather but others can be chalked up to airlines trying to fill their aircraft especially when passenger traffic is low, which, in Nigeria has become the case.
Mr. Ikechi Ukoh, a frequent traveller and publisher of Aviation Travel Quarterly (ATQ), who spoke to our reporter agreed that most airlines like delaying in a bid to get more passengers but said that these airlines were going through trying times.
Ukoh also said that of recent most delays from Nigerian airlines are weather related and thus they cannot be blamed for that but it also serves as advantage for them to hang on the ground and fill their aircraft.
He said,” For me, most delays now are weather related and this helps airlines that have passenger issues. In the past, the delays are caused by airlines who would want to wait to get more passengers to fill their aircraft before take-off, but for now, it is mostly weather related but plays to the airlines’ advantage.”
“But for the small number of airlines and flights they are maintaining, if they have delays passengers should understand with them because most of them are not operating on the right level for now, the level of service is down and they are all trying to survive. It is a trying time for them and no airline is really standing of now,” Ukoh stressed.
An airline spokes person had told our correspondent that, it was not easy especially with fuel, catering and other costs.
According to him, airlines have to do what they must to survive which in a way also includes waiting for passengers who have not booked earlier and would want to come to the airport in search of a flight that would take them to where they want to go.
“There is something wrong with this; it goes to show you that airline business is not thriving at the moment. Airlines are recording losses everyday and even a few have stopped operating because of the harsh business environment they operate. Imaging having to pay cash everyday before we purchase Jet A1 that was given to us on credit in the past.”
Head of Research for Zenith Travels, Olumide Ohunayo told our reporter that the trend, although an annoying one can be corrected or reduced but that will have to wait till the airlines find their feet.
Ohunayo canvassed for the regulator to publish information on flight arrival and departure and rank the airlines to put them under pressure, he argued that once ranking comes in most airlines, who fear to lose passengers, would sit up.
His words,” It is true that Nigerian airlines run late. It can be corrected or reduced minimally if the regulator starts publishing information on flight arrival and departure statistics; thereafter they can start ranking the airlines in the order which will naturally put pressure on them.”
“When passengers read such information they quickly determine airlines to board for last minute departure which is normally a high yield fare down here. The airlines will in turn expose service providers who contribute to these delays or re-jig their operational procedures. I think survivability is the present priority of our airlines if they cross that line we will be able to tackle others”
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) while stating its stand on flight delay said it frowns at unnecessary flight delays and sanction airlines that are found carrying out such unnecessary delays.
Director General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren who spoke through his Media Assistant, Sam Adurogboye said that the airline involved must politely and courteously announce to the passengers to make them aware of what is happening and not get them aggravated.
He also said,” The airline must also make adequate compensation in the event that the passengers have boarded before the need to cancel a flight arise.”
He said however, that there are several reasons that a flight could be delayed or cancelled and the most prominent include adverse weather conditions as witnessed in the country last week or when a snag or fault is noticed in the aircraft and it needs to be fixed.
Flights are delayed due to poor weather like snow, heavy rain, microburst activities in the vicinity of thunderstorms or thick fog. In such situations, aircraft may be subjected to holding in the air for weather improvement or air traffic controllers may impose wider separation between aircraft for safety reasons.
He added,” Lately, fuel scarcity has formed part of the delays”.
Other reasons for delays also include Air Traffic Clearances. In many other regions of the world, especially Africa, air spaces are also getting very congested. In airspaces around the Far East where radar coverage is not available, most delays are attributed to obtaining air traffic clearances along common routes during the peak times.
Here, the air traffic controllers have to sequence their departures at 10 minutes interval to in order to maintain a safe separation. In such situations, delays are almost inevitable as your plane wait at the parking bay, all ready to go, but not permitted to start the engines because the plane has not received air traffic clearance yet.
Passengers themselves often delay flights too. If a passenger with no check-in baggage fails to turn up at the stipulated time, he would be left behind. However, on international flights, passengers who have checked in with bags and failed to show up, either because they were so engrossed with their duty free shopping or got lost in the complex terminal, the flight cannot depart unless their check-in bags are off-loaded. The rationale is that, there are some terrorists who may plant explosives that may not be detected by X-rays in their bags and deliberately missed the flight (Lockerbie incident).
So their bags must be located and off-loaded as a precaution before the aircraft can depart.
If an aircraft has a technical problem, inevitably there would be delays. It would be cumulative because the same aircraft will be used for later flights. The next time you are told of a technical delay, think of safety. Would you rather have the engineers rectify the defects thus delaying your flight, or would you risk your life with a problematic airplane?
With these, I hope the next time you hear the announcer say you are to be delayed, before grumbling or retorting any abuse consider all the options.