The Nigerian Online Newspaper

Looking beyond Arik staff violent beating, by Israel A. Ebije

I have suffered countless schedule flight cancellations, lost money in cash and in kind. The cost of flight cancellation may not be quantified in terms of cash alone. Some people may never recover from one single flight cancellation. All the money in the world and the best crafted apologies may not be able to compensate.
I have personally avoided some airlines ostensibly on account of numerous excuses, impunity against passengers. After careful analysis I discovered some airline operators are too expensive, very insensitive to plights of customers and remarkably inefficient in service delivery. My solution is simply to cross to a better, cheaper alternative every time.
When I read about the “mob action” taken against a staff of Arik Air, I felt deeply concerned. I wasn’t concerned about the mob action mentality of Nigerians (a culture that may have come to stay), but the failure of looking at the main issues. The victim of the attack wasn’t the right person to receive the weight of passenger’s frustration. Sadly, he is the ambassador representing all the perceived flaws of the airline operator he works for.
My concern on the matter, which is certainly beyond the attack, forced me to ask questions over the conduct of the staff in question on that fateful day. I was more curious when witnesses intimated that the man was not rude or negligent on his beat. His only offence was that some passengers were over the limit with the more than frequent calls for cancellation of delays of flight.
When I listened to an eyewitness account on the way and manner passengers descended on him, his life was just on a fragile rope of survival. He would have been stumped and or bludgeoned to death. Thankfully, a kindhearted police officer and some of the victim’s colleagues who dare not disclose their identity rescued him.
Using the Arik Air victim of last week beating as a symbolic representation, it is instructive to intimate on the fact that all is not well with most staff working in some airlines. Besides the fact that they are only following orders, which must reflect on service delivery, they are indeed working for incompetent, self-centered, sadistic owners operating under an unfavorable government policy.
It is important to note that most of the aviation workers in identified notorious airlines are not paid salaries as at when due. That man who was mercilessly beaten may be owed more than seven months salary arrears. It is possible he just managed to transport himself to work, skipping meals and constantly pondering on how to pay fees/bills, while waiting for salaries that is as elusive as the services provided passengers.
When I pictured the victim in my mind eye pacing like a pendulum, tying to answer barrages of questions from angry men and women, the thought of him getting frustrated, regretting his life remained constant in my vision. He must feed his family, he must hope for his several months’ salary outstanding’s. I am very sure he took the beating, hoping to come to work the next day to continue the vicious circle.
He is more fortunate than others before him who had to be hospitalized for several months. We must dig deep into our conscience to consider the pains of those working in service centers. Sadly with the availability of security cameras, no arrests were made. Tact should be deployed to identify and appreciate the enormity of challenges facing the aviation industry.
We must understand that the aviation industry is in a state of crisis. Aside self-induced problems caused by some airline owners, it is important for us to understand that negative government policies also contribute against smooth operations.
Ordinarily the aviation sector is facing global challenge of making profit. The Economist reveals that the more than 60 year old industry has generated more than 50 Trillion Dollars, yet airlines have nothing to cheer about. The Economist further intimated that profit per passenger for operators is pegged at 4 Dollars as at 2012.
One can appreciate the level of challenge our operators face. They take aircrafts for maintenance, checks outside the country and pay in Dollars. Pilots must also train and retrain. Crew must be lodged properly and paid travel allowances, etc. They are however responsible for poor services. Most of them are controlled by greed and not reality of their tools of operation.
The exchange rate of Dollars against Naira is incomprehensibly too much. Domestic airline operators use dollars to manage operations, and their source of revenue, which is airfare or cargo charges are in Naira. Many aircrafts are down already and some that are still in service are not properly functional. Beside the sloppy services provided, fears of imminent plane crash cannot be eliminated on account of shoddy maintenance.
The best we can expect from the sector will only be manifest once there is a marshal plan to drop the escalating cost in operations, engage one or more airline operators to partner with government as temporal national carrier (with immediate effect) to mitigate the suffering of travellers and save the lives of aviation workers.
Foreign airlines affected by government policies are closing shop. Sadly, over 300,000 jobs will be lost. Government can play the smart card by reducing cost of aviation fuel. Good thing they are planning to repair Abuja airport, but the acquisition of other facilities to ease operations is very important.
. Ebije writes from Abuja and can be reached via Ebijeo5@gmail.com.