NIGERIA – The incident played out at the Sam Mbakwe international cargo airport in Owerri on Sunday, April 18, 2021, after passengers were handed boarding passes for an 11:30am flight that never took off until 7pm.
At 11:30am, the airport’s public address system announced that United Nigeria Flight U50513 would be delayed for an hour.
After an hour, it was announced that the flight was going to be delayed for another hour.
It was at this point that irate passengers began screaming, protesting and hurling invectives at airport staffers.
At around 4pm, with no further delay announcements from United Nigeria, a group of passengers marched to the United Nigeria Airline check-in counter and began beating up any staff they saw.
A certain Mr. Patrick, a wiry, middle-aged, shrunken man who told Newsmen that the flight was delayed on “operational grounds” and who identified himself as the United Nigeria Airline manager at the Owerri airport, was handed a couple of slaps and blows before he was rescued by airport security.
Stranded passengers kept demanding for answers as aircraft after aircraft belonging to other operators departed the Owerri airport, and as morning soon gave way to afternoon and dusk.
“I have a connecting flight to the United States from Lagos. See how these idiots have cost me my flight and entire life,” an elderly man in a white shirt bellowed to Pulse.
Another gentleman who identified himself as Chidi, said it was embarrassing that United Nigeria, which has only just commenced domestic operations, could start off on a tardy note like other seasoned operators.
“My brother, the reason why we got angry is so that they don’t do it again. We let a lot of things slide in this country and those things have become bad habits and the new normal.
“Imagine an airline that just commenced operations, keeping passengers at the airport all day and ruining their day’s business without remorse. This is unacceptable,” Chidi screamed.
Another man in a black shirt who was one of those who beat up a couple of airline staffers, said he was angry because they were not handed snacks or drinks while the flight was delayed for that long.
“The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should ground this airline now while it still can. United Nigeria is not ready for business. Imagine keeping us here all day and you couldn’t offer us drinks or any snack? Like we are some slaves? C’mon!!,” he said. “They should have sent us text messages about rescheduling the flight before we left our homes and not bring us to this hot airport to sit for hours.”
Newsmen got no response when we contacted NCAA on whether United Nigeria would be punished for keeping passengers at the airport for an entire day, or whether airlines who delay flights in this manner are penalised for what has become a norm in Nigeria’s aviation industry.
Hostesses and captains of Flight U50513 offered grudging apologies to irate passengers when the aircraft eventually took to the skies from a dark Owerri airport at 7pm.
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