Arik Air, according to Wikipedia, is a Nigerian airline operating a domestic, regional and international flight network. It operates mainly from two hubs at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. What this doesn’t tell you is the nature of this “operation” – lack of it.
One unfortunate Arik customer had to be in the UK urgently last week and described his experience on the Cybereagles website: “I couldn’t pay online due to the closeness of the date of travel. I called their customer care centre on Tuesday, made a reservation and was sent an account number where I promptly paid the ticket fare. My departure was Thursday. I didn’t get any ticket despite several calls to them until Wednesday night.
“At the airport on Thursday, I saw a notice that due to some reasons they will be using a small aircraft (one of those used for local flights). I didn’t mind that until we boarded (of course three hours late) the sham of an aircraft. Dirty, unkempt and of course no entertainment (audiovisual).
“On the return journey on Saturday, we were handed leaflets at Heathrow that due to their usage of a small craft, they will not be carrying any luggage. Our scheduled 9.30 flight eventually took off at about 11.45.
“On arrival [in Lagos] on Sunday morning, we were asked to come this Monday morning for the luggage but I noticed that they did not bring those of passengers of the previous day. Anyway, I called them this morning and the guy at the other end asked me to call again tomorrow.
“For me, it is OK because I live in Lagos but so many passengers were continuing their journeys outside Lagos like to Ondo, Ekiti, Warri, Benin etc and I could feel their anguish”.
Another commentator wrote: “Very correct, friend of mine was on the same flight back to London, similar narration of the shambles of an airplane. The truth of the matter [is] we all know the sorry state of Airk (I know it’s circumstances that makes most of us use them as last option). Therefore my advice is just to prepare your mind for the worst. And at the end of day if your trip happens to turn out smoothly just thank the Lord – and plan to avoid them next time – for example I’d rather do a 1 stop flight [flight with a stopover] with a reliable airline than the direct with Arik”.
Complaints about the Arik experience have become part of Nigerian folklore. Two days ago, Arik passengers staged a protest at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja. In October 2013 pictures of Arik passengers fighting to board a plane in Port Harcourt, after the airline sold more tickets than they had plane seats, were flashed across the world.
In 2012, blogger CIC Old Boy argued that he should have known not to give his custom to Arik. It appears things have become worse since then.
I should have known better
Posted on February 22, 2012
I had to visit the motherland for a wedding in Abuja early this month. I usually patronise airlines that fly direct to Nigeria from Heathrow. So my choices were limited to British Airways and the Nigerian-owned Arik Air.
My default position is to support Nigerian businesses because their investment in the country should create employment, which contributes towards a reduction in the social tensions that have plagued us for ages. But previous experience, for example with some Nigerian travel agents, has left me with serious misgivings about the cavalier attitude towards customer service by some Nigerian businesses.
Anyhow, following the pisspoor service I got from BA when I last visited Nigeria, I had decided to always boycott them as long as I had an option. So Arik it was then, and I arrived at Heathrow for a flight scheduled to leave on a Thursday night, arriving in Abuja the next morning, which should have given me enough downtime before the wedding on Saturday. I should have known better.
I found out at the airport that the flight was cancelled. I thought to myself: “Not the Nigerian Airways experience again, when you had to keep going to the airport for several days before you finally boarded a plane”. I then discovered that despite routes from London to Nigeria being among the most lucrative for airlines, Arik didn’t have any staff at Heathrow and possibly none in London.
Their business at the airport is contracted out to an airline services company. That company’s staff first told me that I should wait till 6pm before they could deal with my inquiry. No one seemed to be able to provide any cogent explanation for the flight cancellation, apart from a female official mumbling something about aircraft maintenance. Afterwards, I was told they couldn’t log into the Arik computer system to rebook my flight and couldn’t get hold of Arik IT staff to resolve the issue. After standing in front of the desk for about half an hour, they finally logged into the Arik system and informed me that my requested option to get on the Lagos-bound plane was not possible because the plane was full.
I was then rebooked for the flight scheduled the next evening and due in Abuja on the day of the wedding. I originally intended to return on Sunday, but was informed that that flight was also cancelled. So they rescheduled my return for the following day, messing up all the plans I had made following my return. As I traipsed out of the airport, I considered myself lucky because I live in London and could get back home with relative ease because I had left the car at the car park. Some others were not so lucky, including a young woman that came down from Birmingham and a family from Cambridge. The woman from Birmingham said this was her first experience with Arik and would be her last.
My brother-in-law later said I should have told him before I bought the ticket and he would have informed me about his woes flying with Arik. He said it was a “miracle” whenever they took off on the scheduled day.
I thought Arik would have upped their game following the diplomatic row late last year between Nigeria and the British authorities over the cancellation of slots for Arik into Heathrow from Abuja (possibly done to favour BA by crippling their competitors). The Nigerian government threatened to reduce BA flights to Lagos in retaliation and this forced the Brits to back down and allow Arik to fly from Abuja to Heathrow seven days a week. Instead of taking advantage of the huge customer base on the London to Nigeria route and cultivating their patronage with better deals and a more efficient service that would shift Nigerian travellers away from competitors, Arik has chosen to offer the same shoddy customer service, chronic inefficiency and unreliability that plagued Nigeria Airways. This has given mileage to stuff I heard on the grapevine about the airline being in the throes of bankruptcy. The flight to Abuja was only about a quarter full and the return flight was even emptier.
I have always argued that Nigeria’s private sector is just as bad as the public sector, mirroring each other with the same ills. This is hardly surprising since there is an incestuous link between both. There are some indications that Arik is actually owned by an ex-president and former governor of a state in the Niger Delta using fronts. They seem on course to bring to corporate governance the same maladministration that bedevilled their rule.