Buoyed by the success recorded in previous battles to ensure Nigerian companies meet international best practice in service provision, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), on Monday in Lagos, ordered the management of Aero Contractors Company of Nigeria Limited to compensate 39 passengers on its flight AJ132 of November 8, 2013.
Investigations, CPC said, showed that the Lagos-bound passengers were abandoned at the Abuja International Airport and left stranded overnight be compensated.
Briefing newsmen, CPC's Director-General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, noted that under the Passenger Bill of Rights (PBR) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation (NCAR), each affected passenger who were stranded for over 15 hours between 6pm and 9am during the period, be paid N5,000 due to them after two hours of delay. They are also to receive N1,000 each for phone calls, SMS or email; N10,000 for return transportation to and from their hotel in Abuja; and N25,000 for one night of hotel accommodation.
The CPC directed Aero Contractors, the nation's oldest private airline, to also pay each of the 39 affected passengers within 90 days, 25 per cent of ticket value for cancelling the flight without notice, as required under the PBR.
Aero, Atoki continued, "is to report to the council within 90 days," failing which the company's managing director risks jail-term for poor consumer protection issues.
The CPC boss said the PBR was enacted by the Federal Government "to assuage the abuse of consumer rights in the aviation sector which include undue delays/cancellation of flights without proper notice and compensation, mishandling of passengers luggage, poor customer relations and lack of redress for aggrieved consumers."
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.