By Chinelo Obogo
While domestic airlines have recorded a spike in ticket sales as a result of the festive season, passengers have been complaining about flight disruptions and the extraordinarily high cost of airfares.
A source in Air Peace confirmed to Saturday Sun that the airline experienced up to 50 per cent spike in over-the-counter sales of tickets and almost 100 per cent load factor for many of its routes especially in the South East.
“Our sales during this period so far have been really impressive. We had about 50 per cent increase of over-the-counter ticket sales and most of our flights have been filled to capacity. It is expected for sales to be good during the festive period and by the first quarter of next year, there may be the usual slump. However, the major challenge that we are facing now is the cost of Aviation fuel – Jet A1, which is over N800 per litre. It is really eating deep into our operating costs,” the source said.
Spokesperson of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa also confirmed the increase in passenger traffic, but acknowledged that such increase is usually expected during the festive season. A one-way economy ticket which used to cost about N70, 000 from Lagos to Owerri, now costs between N100, 000 and N120, 000, while a 6.50am one-way flight to Enugu from Lagos costs same amount for an economy ticket. A one-way ticket from Lagos to Anambra costs N100, 000 on an Air Peace flight for Saturday, December 24, while the same class of ticket costs N100, 000 to Asaba.
For Ibom Air, the cost of a one-way economy ticket from Lagos to Enugu for 8.50am cost N130, 000, while for United Nigeria, a one-way economy ticket from Lagos to Anambra cost N110, 000 for Monday, December 26.
Economy ticket from Abuja to Akure on Air Peace for Monday, December 26th cost N100,000 , while Lagos to Kano for same day cost N65,000.
Economy ticket from Lagos to Gombe, for Sunday 25th costs N100,000, while Abuja to Ibadan costs N85,000. Ilorin to Lagos for Sunday 25th cost N100,000, Lagos to Yola cost N100,000 and Lagos to Sokoto cost N85,000.
Mrs Patricia Onyenso, who was travelling to Oweri from Lagos, told Saturday Sun that travelling by road is not an alternative. At the airport, she was with three of her kids and her assistant. She said the first kid is seven, the second five and the third 18 months old. She paid over N500, 000 for herelf, her kids and her assistant. “For me and my assistant, we paid N80, 000 each to Owerri.
“My two oldest kids paid 70 per cent of what we paid, that is N112, 000, while the youngest paid 10 per cent of what we paid, which is N8, 000. If you add up the total cost for a trip to Owerri and back, you would see that we are spending half a million only on flights alone.
“We are not flying because we have all the money, we are flying because of the insecurity on the road. If, God forbid, you are kidnapped, the amount you are trying to save by going by road will not help you,” she said.
Another passenger, Mr. Okoye, told Saturday Sun that he paid N80, 100 for a one-way Dana Air economy ticket from Lagos to Owerri for his colleague and N93, 000 for a two-way United Nigeria Airline economy ticket from Lagos to Anambra for himself, while another passenger, said she booked a flight from Lagos to Enugu for December 28 and paid N80,000 for a one-way economy ticket on United Airline and paid the same amount for her son. However, what many of those who spoke to Saturday Sun mentioned was that their tickets were bought two to three weeks ahead, as most flights fare to the South East now cost between N90, 000 and N130,000, depending on the airline and the departure time.
At the Murtala Muhammed airport, Lagos, Air Peace, United Nigeria and Ibom Air on Thursday announced flight delays over the speaker and some passengers looked agitated and restless.
A travel agent, Mrs Kehinde Olubi, says, even though it is normal for the cost of transportation to increase during Christmas and New Year celebrations, the cost of flying this year is far more than it was last December. “Last December, we didn’t sell economy tickets for N120, 000. Most of what we sold were N70, 000 and even N65, 000. But this year, it has skyrocketed, and I think it is because people are afraid to travel by road, so they don’t mind the cost,” she said.
However, it is expected that the high prices will not continue. After two weeks into the New Year, airfares will come down. But there are other factors though that will keep the cost of ticket high. There is the cost of aviation fuel, which has been on the increase since few months now. There is also the issue of security challenges, which have forced those who hitherto travel by road to resort to air travel.
An aviation expert, Chinedu Eze, who just returned from a trip to Port Harcourt narrated his experience to Saturday Sun, saying that most of the flights were delayed due to scarcity of aviation fuel.
“I arrived early and my flight was 6.30am and I arrived Port Harcourt around 3pm. My observation was that all the flights were delayed and none of them kept to the flight time because of fuel scarcity. As soon as I got to the airport on my way to Port Harcourt, Air Peace announced that there would be flight delays and I believe that it is because of scarcity of aviation fuel. It is when you get fuel that you prop up your flights.
“Besides the fact that there is scarcity, carrying fuel from Apapa to the airport is another herculean task because of traffic. Even if the fuel is available and the tanker has been filled up, it would take about two hours to bring it to the airport and this also contributes to the delays. You cannot actually blame the airlines for it, you blame the poor infrastructure at the airport. There is a pipeline linked to the airport from Mosinmi that has broken down for 20 years now and has not been repaired.
“‘Also there is what you call hydrants stationed at the airspace. When hydrants are filled with fuel, the aircraft can get, that is what is done in other countries. You have to blame fuel scarcity on the government. Also you have to consider weather, which is a natural phenomenon. In Owerri yesterday, there were flight delays because of the harmattan haze.
“However, at the Port Harcourt Airport, passengers showed understanding even when it was announced that there would be delays because of fuel. It was only at one of the airlines that I saw people shouting at a booking counter and asking why they were causing delays,” he said.
Airlines had earlier warned passengers to expect flight delays and cancellations during the Yuletide as scarcity of aviation fuel has worsened.
Prof Obiora Okonkwo, who is the spokesman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), said the impending disruptions in scheduled flight operations was due to the scarcity of aviation fuel, otherwise known as JET-A1, which worsened in the past few days. He said the scarcity would force airlines to reschedule flights leading to late operations and cancellations.