By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Domestic air travel on the Lagos – Abuja/Abuja -Lagos route is in disarray due to an unprecedented surge in passenger traffic as international travellers abandon the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, for the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja to beat differential fares introduced by foreign airlines, Business Hallmark can report.
Flight delays and cancellations from Lagos to Abuja and Abuja back to Lagos have been on the increase in recent times with many air travellers forced to wait for several hours before being called for boarding.
There have also been reported cases of some passengers deplaned for angrily demanding explanation for the delays or demanding refund.
The chaos is not only felt in the aviation industry but also in the hospitality industry with many hotels and guest houses now fully booked for several weeks and unable to cope with the deluge in demand for accommodation.
The ongoing chaos, BH findings revealed, is largely fueled by a massive differential in airfares for passengers traveling to Heathrow Airport, London through Lagos and those going through Abuja.
For instance, intending passengers flying British Airways on one-way economy ticket through the Murtala International Airport Lagos, pay as much as $2,700 (about N1.2 million), while those traveling through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on the same airline and ticket class only pay $501 (about N230,000), a massive difference of about N970,000.
In the same vein, passengers, who chose to travel with Ethiopian Airline and (one-way economy) through Abuja pay N700,000, while those traveling through MMIA on the same Ethiopian Airline and ticket class pay as much as N2.8million.
Aviation experts, who spoke with our reporter on the discriminatory airfares blamed it on the law of demand and supply.
However, BH checks revealed that despite the massive difference in air fares, the distance between Lagos to London and Abuja to London is almost the same.
For instance, while flights from Lagos to London take six hours and 25 minutes, a journey from Abuja to London take six hours, and 20 minutes, a difference of just 5 minutes.
On the other hand, other airlines such as Air France and Lufthansa maintain same fares from both routes. For example, Air France offered our reporter a one-way economy ticket (Lagos-Paris-London) at the rate of $2,141, about N1,020,000.
When the process was reversed with Abuja chosen as the departure point, the same $2,141 rate was given to him by the airline.
Meanwhile, owing to the massive differential price regime operated by British Airways, the airline and its Abuja route have become the preferred choice for many intending travellers.
And as expected, the huge demand for BA’s Abuja to London tickets is causing a huge shock in the aviation and hospitality industries.
Industry operators informed our reporter that passengers, who before now travel to London through the Lagos route are now forced to travel through Abuja to London.
“Every action, as you know, has its consequences. These people (travellers) will need to get to Abuja before they can board their flights to the United Kingdom.
“This simply means that the demand for Lagos -Abuja, as well as that of Abuja back to Lagos by air will rise. And I doubt domestic airlines have the capacity to accommodate the excess.
“Intending travellers should prepare for disruptions in their flight schedules. This scenario will subsists as long as the price differential lasts”, declared Adewale Ojo, a ticketing officer with an airline in Lagos advised.
Some frequent air travellers, who spoke with our correspondent at the weekend shared their bitter experiences at the airports while waiting to board their flights.
According to the respondents, they started noticing the disruptions some few weeks ago. However, they said the situation had worsened in recent weeks.
A journalist with a media house in Lagos, who did not want his identity disclosed, claimed he and other passengers who booked Ibom Air flight QI 0316 from Lagos to Abuja were stranded at the Murtala Muhammad international airport in Lagos for six hours on Thursday, December 8.
According to the source, the flight was initially scheduled to leave for Abuja at 5:50pm, but he received a message around 3pm which read: “Dear Valued Customer, we write to notify you that there will be a 1 hour 50 minutes delay on your flight, QI0316, Lagos-Abuja today, scheduled to depart Lagos at 05:50 pm. Your flight will now depart at 06:55 pm”.
He lamented that the flight didn’t takeoff until an Ibom Air aircraft touched down at the airport at 11.45pm to ferry them to Abuja.
“Even with that, the plane didn’t take off until12.05am on Friday for the 55 minutes journey. We touched down in Abuja around 1.00am. It was quite hell”, the journalist lamented.
BH gathered that the pilot of the plane, who identified himself as Captain Dunmola, while apologising to the passengers, explained that the flight was delayed because of an unserviceable plane.
“This delay was caused by the breakdown of one of our planes in Abuja. That one can carry 150 passengers, while this one can carry only 80 passengers.
“So, there’s no way we could airlift everyone at once. Once again, we are very very sorry for this inconvenience”, the pilot had apologised to the passengers.
Meanwhile, while the unfortunate drama was going on, two Abuja-bound flights belonging to Ibom Air departed the airport MMIA2.
“What this shows is that the Lagos to Abuja route has become very lucrative for Ibom Air to have deployed three aircraft in its fleet to the route.
“Already, local airlines don’t have the capacity to meet the demand. So, if there is any hitch or technical delay, flight operations will remain largely grounded”, claimed a top airline executive.
Apart from the aviation sector, another industry affected by the upsurge in traffick for the Lagos to London route is the hospitality industry.
Findings revealed that it is now practically impossible to get accommodations in top and medium rage hotels at a very short notice, as most rooms are already occupied or booked ahead by intending travellers.
A travel agent, Gbenga Idowu, told BH that his firm started advising her clients to travel ahead when several of them were missing their international flights due to unplanned delay often experienced by domestic flight delays.
“What we now do is to charge clients the full package, which include their original international flight tickets, local tickets from Lagos to Abuja and back, as well as a night stay in an Abuja hotel to prevent them from missing their flights”, Idowu stated.
However, a recent traveller who travelled on a BA flight from Abuja to London, told our correspondent that he was forced to sleep over in the house of a family member after failing to get hotel accommodation on landing in Abuja.
“I made a very big mistake of traveling to Abuja a day to traveling out, hoping to get a decent hotel accommodation as usual.
“But I was shocked when I was turned back by all the hotels I approached in Wuse and Asokoro, which informed me that they didn’t have vacant rooms. I even begged and offered to pay double the price for the night, but they couldn’t help.
“Thankfully, I know a few people in Abuja and one of them came to my aid. I would have been stranded”, the passenger shared his experience with BH.
Speaking on the differential air tickets, BA’s spokesperson, Josephine Simmons, explained that airfares can differ due to availability, airport taxes and other factors.
“Prices differ by airport due to numerous factors including customer demand and fare charges – including airport taxes.
“Most customers book their flights in advance, benefiting from competitive fares,” she explained.