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Saturday, 15 August 2015 15:38

AERO FLIGHTS NO LONGER FOR THE COMMON MAN Featured

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I still clearly remember that day in 2009 when a colleague left  an item in the printer & I stumbled on it in error. I turned it over & saw that it was a flight booking from PHC to Lagos. I wanted to drop it but something caught my attention momentarily. I wasn't sure if it was a joke or probably I was seeing a wrong figure. The total cost I saw on the flight booking was something around N5,999. To put this in perspective, even in those days, a PEACE MASS or Cross Country bus fare (with air-conditioning) from PHC to Lag was over N3,000 & the standard air fare among the big airlines then was something around N18,000 - N25,000. So, to see N5,999 to board a flight from PHC to Lagos  made me feel something wasn't quite right. Worse still, I had never heard of this airline - AERO - before.  What was ringing alarm bells in my head was that my colleague had fallen into the hands of online scammers!

 

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Without further ado, I picked up the printed booking & darted straight to his desk. I was already ready to switch on the gears on my knowledge of online scamming when he told me this was even costlier than the flight he had booked & flown the previous weekend for the same route! I was stunned beyond speech & reason. I just couldn't rationalize it in full. Where was I all this while that I was naively oblivious to this info? So there was a new low cost airline in town offering the craziest airfares Nigeria had ever seen & I was there 'dulling' myself still contemplating whether to fly or save money & join Ifesinachi or PEACE MASS! That was how my romance with AERO began oooo. I had thought I had a phobia for flying until I saw invitingly tempting flight offers I couldn’t resist!

 

 

Fast forward it to 2015 & AERO clearly no longer fits the bill as a low-cost carrier. In fact, its fares are increasingly doing the sprint with the league-of-the-rich ARIK. I guess something had to give at some point during its struggles. It just couldn't sustain that low-cost carrier tag over a long period of time. No, it couldn't. It almost went bankrupt at a time. Then its management tried some crazy ideas that went just too far: from illogical to outright bizarre. They tinkered with the highly unpopular idea of not switching on air-conditioning until taxing or even take-off time to cut down on Jet A1 fuel costs, leaving passengers soaked with sweat & bringing out assorted brands of smelly body odour that would ordinarily be kept quiet & tucked away in clothes in a well-chilled cabin. Unlike in buses, the windows could not be opened to assuage the excruciating ordeal temporarily. It was crazy! Then they started the unscrupulous practice of over-booked flights, with more passengers than available seats, as a way of collecting extra cash to keep its liquidity afloat as it teetered helplessly on the brink of imminent bankruptcy. What's more, passengers on supposedly different flights were crammed into a single plane with checked-in passengers being more than available flights. Seat numbers lost meaning totally. That was the advent of the concept of FREE SEATING. Again, it was crazy. It reminded one of the notorious molue buses from Oshodi to Abule-Egba. If you didn't queue to board on time, sorry. No seat for you even when you had a valid checked-in boarding pass. You either waited for the next available flight which could be the next day or go join the group of unlucky folks who would fruitlessly have a wrestling bout with the lackadaisical & thick-skinned AERO staff...

 

 

They allegedly even tried the notorious strategy of turning back customers who were doing BOOKING-ON-HOLD option under the guise that their payments hadn't reflected! NA DIE those days ooo. Kai. See war of words at AERO counters/desks across the nation. There were rumours then that such seats (if available at all) were sold on the spot to the highest bidders who were willing to pay through their nose to get into a late minute flight. In fact, there were many more of rumours! LOL. Then they started with NO FREE FOOD on board. Cabin crew became in-flight food vendors! They had aprons well kitted around their waist & developed very sharp eagled eyes & ears in order to not miss a potential sale opportunity! There were endless haggling over the prices of in-flight items on sale. Then arguments over CHANGE/NO CHANGE (balance). I often sat in those flights wondering if I was boarding an Ifesinachi bus from Abakaliki to Lagos. What a site to behold 33,000 feet up in the skies!

 

 

Anyway, the good news is that AERO didn't go bankrupt. They survived. And they are still here. Though still beset with numerous challenges, chief among which is the fact that whenever you book an AERO flight, always, without fail, make allowance for delays. It's ALMOST AS CERTAIN AS DEATH & TAXES. Well, in Nigeria, you can ignore the taxes part as most people don't pay tax anyway & will never pay; so, maybe not so certain. But one thing is now clearly certain: AERO is NO LONGER CHEAP. They tried cost leadership, it wasn’t just sustainable as a business strategy in the long-run. They couldn't just shift fully to a full-blown DIFFERENTIATION STRATEGY like ARIK. They just don't have the distinctive clout or history to pull that off for now. So, they have found a middle ground that works like fireworks: stay behind ARIK in terms of ticket pricing but stay pricier than newcomers like AIRPEACE & co. Looking back now to the AERO I first discovered & the one whose booking fares I am checking out right now, I can safely conclude that indeed, AERO Flights  ARE NO LONGER for the Common Man...

 

 

PICK OF THE BUNCH from the LVNSpehere by Atutupoyoyo

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