In this piece, YETUNDE ADETOKUNBO IYAPO writes on a case of alleged theft in which a Nigerian passenger’s luggage was allegedly compromised in an Ethiopian Airline flight from the Middle East. However, despite several complaints lodged by the hapless passenger before the airline’s seemingly nonchalant staff at the airport, she has yet to obtain redress several months since the incident…
Abuja-based Mrs. Farida Umar, 38, is at once a wife, mother and entrepreneur.
Recently she shared with INDEPENDENT her traumatic experience whilst travelling abroad using Ethiopian Airlines, saying: “In the past I’d heard many horrific stories about traveling with Nigerian airlines where passengers’ rights and even privacy had been violated repeatedly.
“In fact, it was common occurrence, but now things have changed. No longer do we have problems with our own airlines, but now with international airlines.
“When you hear of these horror stories you will never imagine it can ever happen to you or your loved ones.
“It is quite unfortunate that now this problem still occurs, only that this time around it’s not with Nigerian airlines, but Ethiopian Airlines.
“I don’t usually travel with Ethiopian airline. I travel with Emirates, but unfortunately, on this one occasion, Emirates was unavailable, so I was left with no choice but to opt for the former.
“I booked a return trip to Dubai from Abuja, so we had to stop over at Addis Ababa for one night. Everything seemed okay travelling. Unfortunately it was on my return trip to Abuja a week later that I experienced the worst ordeal ever.
“We landed safely back in Abuja and I was beginning to think that Ethiopian Airlines is not a bad airline; in fact I was contemplating filing a customer review and handing it back to the airline for a job well done.
“I walked out of the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport without a glitch until I finally got home. I usually don’t unpack until I’m well rested. But for some strange reasons I decided to unpack the moment I got home.
“To my utter astonishment I realised that my vintage wrist watch, perfumes, and gifts which I had bought for my family members, as well as my Canon digital 650D camera and about the sum of $800 were missing.
“I thought there might have been a mistake with my luggage, perhaps I had accidentally taken someone else’s bag until I looked at the tag and realised it was my bag which had my name tag attached to it.
“I almost had a panic attack. I felt like I was suddenly being suffocated. I immediately went through my belongings again and checked again. Possibly somehow I did not unpack well enough or searched through my things properly.
“There was no mistake whatsoever; it was certainly beyond doubt that my valuables had been stolen and it was only Ethiopian Airlines that was fully responsible for my luggage.
“I was annoyed and disappointed. I felt as though I had been violated.
“I would rather be robbed at gun point than to be robbed by professional thieves who work for an international airline such as Ethiopian Air.
“This was the last thing I expected from such a popular international airline. I wasted no time. The following day I drove back to the airport to confront the Ethiopian airline staff.
“But to say that I am highly disappointed with the airline staff’s reaction and nonchalant attitude is an understatement.
“Initially I reported the incident to the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCo) where a member of their staff, who appeared indifferent to my problem, said I would need to approach their Ethiopian staff directly.
“I am aware that there are procedures to be followed by passengers like me, but it seemed that even the staff themselves failed to follow those procedures.
“I was so distraught not only by what happened but also by the way I was treated. It is obvious they just didn’t care.
“Apparently, there is a procedure I was to follow through, which was to make a formal complaint directly to the airline first.
“The only way to do so was to approach their staff that were unavailable.
“I was determined to get to the bottom of my dilemma. It felt as though the airline’s staff saw no personal gain in helping me resolve my issue, after all I might not be their first passenger to fall victim in this particular way.
“However I saw a member of the airline pass by; so I approached him to explain what had happened to me.
“I had expected him to have shown some form of sympathy and even offer assistance. Instead what I got was the opposite.
“Never have I seen such blatant disregard. I could have sworn he muttered something under his breath but I was not entirely sure.
“His attitude implied he had more important issues to attend to.
“Even a blind man could tell that the man felt he had better things to attend to and that my problems were clearly not one of them. I doubt if Nigerian aviation staff would ever have behaved that way.
“I become even more infuriated, but I had to maintain my composure else people would think I’d lost my mind.
“I have heard so many stories similar to mine, but I was determined to seek redress by every means.
“I was told by a Nigerian staff at the airport that theft of passengers’ belongings is common and happens most especially following a scan of a passenger’s.
“Some of the officials involved in the process tend to find a way to manipulate the bags and help themselves to passenger’s valuables.
“It is therefore important that more passengers like me, who have fallen victim to the nefarious activities of the urchins at the baggage handling sections, should come forward and share their experience.
“More pressure needs to be mounted not only on the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, but also on the international and domestic airlines.
“I approached another official from NAHCO who insisted I should fill out a form and have it submitted to the airline in question directly.
“I was told someone would get back to me in due time. I was however, not told how long the entire process would take.
“I had a terrible feeling that I was only being told to fill out the forms and leave my details just in order for them to get rid of me, just so I would not create a scene.
“I knew there was nothing further the NACHO staff or any of the Ethiopian Airline staff would do.
“I went back to the airport three more times only to be told to fill out forms which I already did and wait for a member of staff to get back to me.
“It has been more than four months since I filled the form, yet I haven’t heard anything either from NACHO or Ethiopian Airlines.
“I wrote several emails to the airline giving them details of my trip and a list of my personal belongings that was stolen.
“Till date I have yet to get a feedback from them. I wish there was some other way in which the airline could be targeted.
“It is unfair for them to get away with theft such as this. More regulation and enforcement needs to be applied in the aviation industry in Nigeria.
“I am sure if this had happened in any part of the advanced world, the airline would have resolved my issue with prompt attention in order to avoid public embarrassment.
“I hope this media outlet along with other online fora can do more to expose these airlines that abuse and violate passengers’ rights and privacy.
“Fundamentally more attention is needed in the area of customer service overall.
“Tickets do not come cheap and personal belongings are entrusted with these so called professional staff.
“Indeed more needs to be done to protect passengers like me and others who have also been through the same type of experience.
“I am using this opportunity to appeal to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to pay more attention.
“More needs to be done, I would have instructed a lawyer but the whole process would be long and tedious.”
Ethiopian Airline’s Claims
INDEPENDENT was unable to extract any response from the Ethiopian Airlines in respect to the foregoing narrative.
However, information from their website reflected their general policy as applicable to customer service.
Ethiopian airline claims they used to respond quickly to their customers complaints. This has however not been the case with Mrs. Umar.
The airline claims they would write back to the customer with a complaint within thirty to sixty days.
They also claim that they work hard to ensure they comply with all the regulations that meet their customers’ need and that they do not discriminate against their customers.
Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, contains the fundamental rights of all citizens and persons in Nigeria.
These are the rights to life, right to dignity of human person, and right to personal liberty.
Others are: right to fair hearing, freedom of thought, right to family and private life, right to conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and the press, freedom from discrimination and the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
These rights can be said to have many affinities with consumer rights and protection. Some actually have direct bearing on consumer protection regulations and policy.
Consumers must however, keep in mind that the enforcement of their rights and protection of their interests is not a simple process in Nigeria, because it demands tenacious resolve on their part to pursue redress with a readiness to follow through to the bitter end.
We live in a globalized world where consumers are increasingly realisng their power and their potential to act upon such powers.
In many countries, this heightened consumer consciousness that marries consumer right to sustainability issues, has been greatly helped by dynamic consumer’s protection policies.
However, Nigeria is challenged in many ways than one, including in areas of leadership and governance, security, and property rights; hence given this state of affairs the wellbeing of consumers has remained in jeopardy.
The aviation industry in the country is not exempted from this malaise when it comes to protecting the rights and interests of consumers. So there is plenty room for improvement in the sector.
Hitherto, Ethiopian Airlines is regarded by many as the pride of Africa because of its accumulated growth, expansion and success in the aviation industry. But if Mrs. Umar’s story is anything to go by, one might have to question its credentials and claim to excellence.
Some have argued that foreign airlines are exploiting the Nigerian passenger because the country can hardly boast of a world class international flier.
Nigerian passengers are thus at the mercy of these foreign airlines including the Ethiopian Airlines as Mrs Umar’s experience indicates, thereby putting its integrity and transparency right under the microscope.
The question that needs urgent response against this backdrop is whether or not Ethiopian Airlines is a bad recruiter given the questionable characters they have as staff who allegedly filch passengers’ belongings?
It is hoped that with more consumers coming out to expose their experiences in the hands of some of the foreign carriers like Ethiopian Airlines, they would have to work harder to sustain their hard-won reputation.
Source: The Independent- Nigeria