by Oge Okonkwo
The management of Aero Contractors Company of Nigeria Limited been ordered by the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), on Monday in Lagos to compensate the 39 passengers on its flight AJ132, who were allegedly abandoned at the Abuja International Airport and left stranded overnight on November 8, 2013.
The airline was ordered to pay N41, 000 each to the passengers, bringing the total fine to N1.599 million.
According to the council, after having being found guilty of gross abuse of the rights of passengers on the flight and the compensation must be effected within 30 days.
Mrs. Dupe Atoki, director-general, said in addition to the fine, the airline must refund 25 per cent of the passengers’ ticket value for abandoning them at the airport overnight.
She explained that the compensation is in lieu of the reliefs that should have been provided during the period of delay, in line with the Passengers’ Bill of Rights (PBR), a regulation enacted by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) which is binding on all airlines operating in Nigeria.
“Each of the passengers of the flight should be paid N5,000 for snacks and drinks due to them after one hour, as well as meals and drinks due after two hours of delay,” she said, adding, “the passengers are also entitled to N1,000 for two-free telephone calls, SMS or email, N10,000 for return transportation to and from the airport, N25,000 for hotel accommodation and 25 per cent of their ticket value for the cancellation of the flight without notice.”
Simon Tunba, a spokesman for Aero Contractor, said the airline has not been officially notified and so could not react to the development.
Given a background to the problem, Atoki recalled that the council, on November 14, wrote Aero Contractors after learning of the hardship the 39 who were part of 135 passengers were put through, informing it of plans to investigate the matter and requesting for a report of the incidence within seven days.
The other passengers were put in other flights, leaving the 39 for whom flights could not be found.
Aero however allegedly ignored the CPC’s order, following which public notices were published in both the electronic and print media on November 19, 2013, inviting all passengers aboard the flight AJ132 or anyone with relevant information, experience or loss, or who witnessed the events.
Thereafter, a notice was issued to Aero announcing the council’s intention to begin probe of the possible violation of consumer rights on November 25, after which 34 of the affected passengers wrote the council through their lawyer, four days later, “demanding payment of damages for undue delay and neglect.”
A panel set up repeatedly invited Aero to provide responses regarding the allegations and to address issues relating to the allegations.
“The panel, after three hearings, held between December 17, 2013 and February 6, 2014, substantiated the allegation of the violation of the CPC Act, the Passenger Bill of Rights (PBR) in the Consumer Protection Regulations Part 19 of the NCAR and other extant consumer protection enactments.”
The company was directed to review and submit to CPC within 90 days its Disruption/Crises Management Manual in line with the PBR; set up customer service platform in each airport and other locations for on-the-spot complaint resolution within 180 days; develop and submit within 30 days a prototype statement for passengers regarding relevant compensation when flights are cancelled without notice; among others.
According to the CPC boss, Aero ought to have catered for the affected passengers during the period of the delay as contained in the PBR including refreshments, meals, free telephone calls, SMS or email, hotel accommodation and free transportation to and from the hotel.
The station manager of Aero was said to be unavailable when issues escalated and left the passengers stranded at the Abuja airport.