It is 7.30 pm. I am still at the Port Harcourt Airport. I have been here since 4.30 pm. I finished my business in town earlier than planned. So I headed to the Airport for my 6.30 pm flight. I was the first person to be checked in and immediately headed for the boarding gate to wait for my 6.30pm flight, which is supposed to be the last flight of the day for Air Peace. It is now 7.30 pm, an hour past when my flight should have taken off, I am still sitting at the Airport.
There has been no single word from Air Peace on what has happened to the 6.30 pm flight. I am not certain how much longer I have to wait for the flight. It is the boredom of the endless wait that made me bring out my laptop to write about my experience sitting here and just waiting for Air Peace.
It is 7.41 pm and they just announced the arrival of Lufthansa from Frankfurt. That plane must have been closer to Germany than Nigeria; just about the same time I left BusinessDay office in Port Harcourt for the Airport. They are here and I am still waiting for Air Peace.
A lady has just come to stretch out on the long chair a few metres from me. She has turned her long head tie to some form of emergency covering so that she can sleep. Like me, she has been waiting for quite some time and has decided to have a nap. She is now rearranging the chairs so that she can sleep a bit more comfortably.
Another lady is with a one year four month old baby. She arrived at the airport not too long after me. I know because I saw her come in with her baby. I overhead her saying she is also travelling on Air Peace. The baby has been running around the airport. She has fallen down twice and the mother has had to pick her up and console her. I can see she is tired as she carries her baby walking around the departure lounge trying to console the crying and uncomfortable baby.
Some good news. The cable TV just came back on in the only decent restaurant at the Port Harcourt airport. It has been rebooting for the past two hours apparently because rain was falling in some part of town even though it was not yet raining at the airport.
It is 7.51 pm and there is an announcement involving Air Peace. No it is not that the flight is here. A passenger on Air Peace is being asked to contact the counter for an urgent message. I am wondering if passengers are being called one by one to tell them that Air Peace is not coming in today because there was still no word on when the flight would be coming in.
Now my laptop’s battery is about to go down. My two phones are also less than 10 per cent charged. They are going to die soon too.
7.54 pm, Air France passengers are being asked to check in. There is still no sign of Air Peace yet or any indication of when it is coming in. I am thinking that Air France would properly get to its destination before Air Peace gets to Port Harcourt.
7.56 pm. The first announcement that Air France passengers should start boarding was wrong, the announcer says. The plane is just arriving. So, I wonder, who passed on the wrong information to the announcer?
I over hear a passenger saying that the Aero flight that was supposed to come at 4 pm is yet to arrive. It is 7.57 pm. He says he has been here since 3 pm. He is saying that he wished Nigerian roads were good, he would have preferred to just fuel his car and go by road.
It is 8 pm. The arrival of Aero Contractors is announced. You could feel the relief among passengers waiting for the flight. My phone rings. It is my wife asking if she should leave dinner for me. I tell her not to worry, that I already had my dinner at the airport.
8.05 pm. Boarding announcement for Aero Contractors is announced. A young lady asks if the boarding announcement is for Air Peace. She is disappointed when she is told it is not. I hear the lady sleeping on the “make shift bed of chairs” complaining to her travel companion that mosquitoes are biting her. I hear another person looking for the owner of a phone that has been left charging. Everyone seems to be looking for a charging point for his or her phone or laptop.
It is 8.07 pm, still no sign of Air Peace. Boarding announcement is made for Medview, another flight that has been delayed for at least 45 minutes.
Now the departure lounge is getting empty. It is just Air Peace passengers left. I hear someone ask why Air Peace would have the problems of Arik when they do not have the size of Arik yet. It is 8.12 pm and still no sign of Air Peace and there has been no announcement of when it is coming in.
At about 8.35 pm, without any announcements, passengers start running to board an Air Peace aircraft. Apparently, two air peace aircrafts have been on ground. I did hear anyone announce their arrival or that Air Peace passengers should start boarding.
Nonetheless, I ran with the other passengers towards the make shift boarding gate, only to be told at the gate that the only passengers on the 2 pm flight were boarding.
That left those of us waiting for the 6.30 pm to start wondering when we will be boarding if passengers on the 2 pm flight were just board at almost 9 pm. Some passengers were already asking that the flight should be cancelled. But that would have meant that those of us not resident in Port Harcourt would have had to go and search for a hotel at about 9 pm to stay in. At about 9.25 pm, we were eventually called to board our flight. It has been more than three hours of uncertainty. The pilot apologised on behalf of Air Peace for the delayed flight but that was three hours late.
Cancelled and delayed flights have become a culture for domestic flights in Nigeria. The question that comes to my mind is: whether this is a symptom of poor regulation or even lack of regulatory capacity in the sector? The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) apparently has no capacity to check this trend. In what other areas are they lacking capacity? The government should not wait for the planes to start falling from the sky before dealing with the issues.