Over 200 passengers of Arik Air were stopped from entering the departure hall of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Wednesday by angry aviation union members.
The passengers were directed to converge at the crowded ticketing counter of the airline despite passionate pleas by some of the travellers to the unionists.
Some of the angry union members stationed themselves at the way leading to the departure hall for outbound passengers, they checked the tickets of travellers who made their way to the departure hall and those with Arik Air tickets were turned back.
Our correspondent gathered that the union members arrived at the airport early and commenced the exercise of denying Arik Air passengers entry to the departure hall as early as 6.30am on Wednesday.
The situation dragged for several hours, a development that forced the carrier to suspend its flight services on Wednesday.
Most of the affected passengers felt dejected as many of them were seen trying to catch another flight with a different airline, while others left.
“This is painful and I feel dejected already. Must we suffer this much in Nigeria? Can’t unions and businesses in their sphere of operations settle amicably without putting innocent citizens through untold hardship for once in this country? This is sad!,’ were the words of an affected traveller who simply gave his name as Greg.
The unions, it was gathered, were demanding that the airline should clear its about N12.5bn debt owed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
Similarly, the union members also stopped the carrier from carrying out its operations at the General Aviation Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
This was confirmed by the airline’s spokesperson, Mr. Banji Ola, who stated that the FAAN workers’ union on Wednesday morning blocked the operations of Arik Air at the GAT, Lagos.
He said workers of the airline were prevented from gaining access to their duty posts thereby disrupting the day’s operations.
Ola said, “The action by the workers’ union was connected with the long-standing and unsubstantiated claim by FAAN of spurious indebtedness of the airline to the agency which is now before a Federal High Court in Lagos at the instance of FAAN.”
For several months, the management of Arik Air and FAAN had been meeting to reconcile payment accounts between the two institutions.
The Arik spokesman said the reconciliation process was still ongoing until the latest actions by the union.
Ola added that “The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today (Wednesday). This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved.”
The General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees, Olayinka Abioye, also confirmed the grounding of Arik Air’s operations, stressing that it was due to the N12.5bn which the airline owed FAAN.