Stories by Louis Ibah
Flying on an Ethiopian Airlines from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Lagos, Nigeria took Mrs. Anthonia Ukpeh, about two days. It wasn’t a very pleasant journey for the Akwa Ibom State secondary school principal, considering the absence of direct flights between Nigeria and Malaysia as the stopover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a connecting flight to Lagos took more than three hours. But Ukpeh told daily Sun that if the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Lagos was long and lasting more than two days, it has seemed to her like eternity waiting to get her baggage on arrival in Lagos.
“When I arrived in Lagos, I waited for what seemed to be infinity for my bags to appear on the carousel at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport baggage claim area, but my bags never showed up as every passenger picked up theirs and left except me,” Ukpeh said.
“I immediately reported the case to the airline staff and they gave me a form to fill to assist them track the bag. I left for Uyo and handed the claim form and authorisation letter to a relation to pursue the case. But like I noted earlier, it appears like a wait in eternity as more than six months went by and I cant find the baggage while the airline suggested I take a compensation instead of the wait,” she added.
Ukpeh represents a growing number of Nigerian passengers who in recent months have reported loss of baggage in the country’s local and international airports.
Two ground handling firms, Nahco and Sahcol, exclusively handle baggage loading and offloading in Nigeria alongside security officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) who assist in scanning the items. But with passengers continuously bombarding airlines with complaints of baggage loss, pilfering of contents or delay in their arrival, some top airline officials are now suggesting that the government grant them the licence to own baggage handling firms.
“I am calling on government to allow any airline that can afford it to provide their own ground handling services, so that I will be able to train my staff and I will be able to take my destiny in my own hands. We must be allowed to handle this things ourselves,” said Air Peace CEO, Mr. Allen Onyema.
“When they fail to do what they are supposed to do, passengers take it out on us. They also steal, they pilfer from the luggage they handle. Some times, passengers will call me Allen, we have being waiting for over 50 minutes, we landed from Enugu, we landed from Abuja, and we have not seen our luggage for 50 minutes now, and it is true and when they become restive you don’t blame them, it is the airline they know, the don’t know we don’t have control.
“The other day, these ground handling firms didn’t load a whole cart on our aircraft, a whole cart of load, they thought it has gone and only when the aircraft landed and pandemonium reigned as passengers started protesting that they knew they didn’t load. So let airlines be allowed to run their own ground handling services The monopoly should be broken, if we want to run an effective industry because that monopoly is part of the thing militating against our efficiency.,” Onyema added.
But while airline owners strive to convince the government to allow them run ground handling firms, the following tips could assist Nigerian passengers stop or at least mitigate the problem of lost or delayed luggage.
Check luggage in early
A fire brigade approach to air traveling – where passengers arrive airports with less than 30 minutes prior to boarding – comes with its own disadvantage to luggage handlers. The hurry to get a boarding pass as well as luggage tags for such passengers so they can beat the deadline before the manifest is submitted to the pilot, sometimes leads to mistakes on the part of airline staff at check-in counters. It is not unusual for luggage tags to either be mismatched, sent to the wrong route, or even unable to be loaded on the passenger target aircraft. The rule of thumb is to arrive at the airport at least an hour ahead of the departure time so passengers have the time to check in their luggage and also examine the tagging to validate they are accurate and heading to their ultimate destination. A bad luggage tag can send your bags to the wrong airport. It happens when agents are rushed to pick someone else’s tag from the printer. Passengers should as a matter of necessity also check tag’s accuracy before their bag is placed on the conveyor belt.
Avoid connecting flights
The majority of passengers that experience baggage lose or delays do so on connecting flights, especially those on international flights. Most airlines and baggage-handling officials admit that they usually encounter problems transferring baggage from one aircraft to another for connecting flights. Although airlines globally are taking steps to improve on the handling of baggage transfers, it is however advisable for passengers to book direct, non-stop flights, if possible. Flying directly from airport A to B has been proved to be one sure way of reducing the chances of baggage loss or delays as it cuts down the number of transfers a passenger checked-in luggage or bags will need before getting to its final destination. And it also increases the chance they will arrive safely and on time.
Long connecting flights hours
In some countries where there are no direct flights to some destinations, it becomes inevitable for passengers to use connecting flights. Travel specialist, Mr. Ned Levi, suggests that for such passengers, when booking connecting flights, they should choose long enough layovers to ensure they and their luggage make it on to the next flight. For an example, it is very risky to opt for a connecting flight taking off from Lagos to India via Ethiopia with a transit time that is less than an hour. A transit time of less than an hour creates room for baggage transfer mistakes on the part of ground handling staff who have to put in an extra effort in sorting out and moving lots of luggage from one aircraft to another under a very short duration. Asides, such a probability like the aircraft taking off late from Lagos and arriving Addis-Ababa behind the schedule departure time of the Indian-bound flight should be highly considered by the passenger. Passengers should always go for transit flights that take up to one and half or two hours, and where a travel agent is hired to do the booking such passengers must insist they wont accept a transit time that is less than an hour.
Remove old airline tags
An old airline tag from a previous trip can easily point a bag to the wrong destination. Prior to leaving for the airport, make sure no old tags or stickers are on your bags.
Anything dangling from luggage
Anything dangling from your luggage can get your bag stuck or knocked off airport baggage handling systems, which will likely, at best, delay your bag. Also make it difficult for someone to steal your luggage at baggage claim by making your bags impossible to miss seeing. Passengers should also be vigilant at baggage claims halls, its the least place to be distracted as some baggage do look alike and thus be prone to be claimed by some other persons.
Photograph bag and contents
While it won’t prevent your checked luggage from being lost or delayed, photographing your bag can help you recover it and ensure you are properly compensated within the limits of airline and insurance liability.
The more details about your missing luggage you can provide the airline the better, to help them find it quickly.
Most airlines accept no responsibility for valuables and breakables packed in your luggage on domestic flights, so put them in your carry-on. On international flights, baggage liability is less that that of domestic baggage (about $1,700 to $3,500), but all packed items, fragile or not, are covered.
Even if your checked luggage is only delayed, never pack anything in them you’ve got to have while traveling, such as medications, to minimize problems due to luggage issues.