(Picture Credit: aitonline.tv)
By: Isaac Audu-Usman
“Attention please. This is to announce that the departure time for Arik Air W3 744 to Port Harcourt is hereby delayed for 30mins. This is due to operational…Thank you.” Gbam! I knew I was in for it again. For a while now, I had avoided both Arik & Aero like a plague. The latter especially had forced me to do a serious re-assessment of the economics of flying within Nigeria at some point. Aero ‘don’ punish me ‘wella’. You get to the airport 2 hours before your flight time because you are not always sure how the road is going to look like; & you are thinking seriously about not losing the money you have used to pay for the ticket. This is especially true if you like ‘awoof’ (freebies) & you booked it many weeks ahead. The ticket price on the actual day may well double what you actually paid; so, it’s better to sit it all out at the airport than coughing out some very hard-to-come-by cash for a late-minute ticket, you say reassuringly to yourself. But hey, Aero can make you sit for another 4 hours on a bad day. By the time you get to your destination & spend another half an hour trying to get your luggage, ehhmmmm…you may have ended up spending 8hours on your trip:
From your home to the airport = 1hr
Normal checking & waiting time =2hrs
Delay = 2.5hrs
Flight time = 1hr
Waiting time for luggage = 0.5hr
Time from airport to town/destination = 1hr
Total = 8 hours
Imagine this was a flight from Lagos to Warri. It’s approximately 5 hours by road. Someone who opts to travel by road will definitely get to Warri before you while you sit there deceiving yourself that you are flying! Let’s forget all the deception. The reality is that for very short routes, flying isn’t the fastest means of transportation in Nigeria! Anyway, I am not writing about the economics of flying tonight; I will do that some other time. This is about a leaky Arik flight I found myself on earlier today. But before I leave this point, I must say that I have recently found an airline that does all it can to keep to time. It’s Air Peace. I am not here to do a promo for them at all. They are not advertising on levitatenaija.com, so be rest assured that’s not the case. By the way, talking about adverts, we have never even had one before! LOL. But we will get there…
Back to my flight experience with Arik. You may be wondering, if I find Air Peace that good, why did I opt for Arik then? Well, I was in Lagos on an official assignment last week. We normally use a chartered flight service but once that service is full, we are routed to commercial flights. On this occasion, I booked late & the flight was fully booked at the time. So, that’s the head & tail of how I got here. I checked my wrist-watch; it was 2:34pm. This was Sunday, November 15th. That was shortly after the announcement was made. The flight had been for 3pm. So, departing at 3.30pm wouldn’t be that bad, I quietly hoped. I was very hungry. Yet I was too lazy to climb upstairs with my luggage to go eat. If you use the old Local or MM1 frequently, you will notice that there are far fewer restaurants than the more expansive MM2. I could see an eatery just above me but I didn’t have the energy to do the distance. I had been afraid to eat before I left the house because of my ugly experience the previous night; I couldn’t afford being pressed onboard. I mean the marathon type. 3 BIG bottles of Orijin left me squatting mercilessly at an open bar’s public toilet in Egbeda (Lagos) when the medicinal properties of the aromatic beer seemed to have done serious justice to my stuffed tommy by flushing out all the ‘ejekuje’ (rubbish) I had consumed the days before! I love that beer, quite frankly. But it almost made me have small droppings on my boxers unannounced! When I found myself helplessly rushing to this ‘shalanga’-like toilet, I couldn’t stop thinking that this was a curse from my cousin, Obus, whom I was meant to follow to a Smirnoff House (DJ Spinall’s) party at Oniru but I just couldn’t risk ruining my Sunday morning ahead of my trip back to PH & I frantically backed out only at the 11th hour; much to her chagrin. Errrmmmm...I still haven’t mustered the courage to call her ooo.
Why am I digressing too much? I have a lot to write about this short Lagos trip but I really want to stay focused on this leaky Arik flight experience. Okay, back to my story. The fight was delayed for a little over an hour. I was relieved to say the least. Then we boarded. I normally check my seat number before I climb the stairs so that that often-strategically-placed ‘ITK’ air hostess at the front of the cabin doesn’t think I am one flight JJC & start giving me direction to my seat like those annoying computerised voice-only ladies on GPS apps you see in the US & Europe! But hey, this time around I didn’t even have to bother about my specific seat number. As soon as I climbed onto the cabin, she announced it was free-seating. Momentarily, my mind flashed back to those chaotic Aero days when you could find yourself ‘seatless’ even after checking in because of this notorious free-seating conundrum that was very similar in shape & form to the Darwinian survival of the fittest. Thank God those days are long gone! I walked to the tail of the BOEING 737-800 aircraft & found a few empty seats. But something was quite weird. I noticed many of the window seats were not occupied. This was odd, I thought to myself. Nigerians like window seats. You get to know this because they are the first to get exhausted at the checking-in counter!
Well, I didn’t have to wait that long to find out why the seats were empty. The air conditioners were terribly dripping water. I spent the first few minutes redirecting the water away from my jeans. I just couldn’t risk letting it drip helplessly on a sensitive part of my jeans for another full hour. Not when a pretty lady is sitting beside me. Such a site will leave people’s minds wandering amok as to what exactly may have left so much liquid on such a strategic part of my trousers. Luckily, other passengers began bickering as those leaky seats became the only available seats. I overhead one passenger say this was ‘free onboard shower’! Interestingly, even the AC outlet panels were bad; they were very bad & shaky. I began to question the operational state of the aircraft in my mind. Many ‘why’ & ‘what if’ questions began to spring to life. But I quickly dismissed them; this was just an AC issue, not engine’s. But that said, Arik should not allow the AC outlets in its cabin to get to such a deplorable state as to kill the passenger comfort that is supposed to be integral part of the flying experience value proposition. The NCAA should look into this. And with the highly vivacious Rotimi Amaechi set to pilot the new omnibus Ministry of Transport, one would hope that passengers do not find themselves in leaky aircraft cabins in the future. Anyway, the cabin attendants temporarily fixed the issue by stuffing tissue papers to block the leaky outlets. However, the task was so daunting that one of the attendants whispered to his colleague: “O boy, I don tire ooo”. Laugh ‘wan kill me die’ as that cracked me up madly. I quickly brought out my phone whose battery was already red at 12% and took some snaps as we taxied through the runaway. The leaky flight turned out to be a smooth one after all. Who says ‘leaky’ & ‘smooth’ can’t be in the same sentence? LOL! It’s time to sleep. Monday looms!