The last couple of days (actually several weeks ago) have been pretty interesting. I had a meeting in Abuja for which I had a 9AM flight from Lagos to Abuja on ARIK Airline. I decided I would wake up at 6AM and leave the house at 7AM. It started raining heavily at 5AM or thereabouts, and that was when I should have been smart and drastically changed my plan. But instead, I stayed under the cover sheet and enjoyed the sound of the rain (which I always do) and finally got up at about 6:10AM. The rain had stopped a little when I left the house at about 7:10AM but started again soon afterwards. Getting out of the Island was pretty cool as the traffic was on the opposite side of the highway – but by the time I was approaching Surulere, I knew I was in trouble. The traffic was literally bumper to bumper. I was in traffic more or less all the way from then on. I kept looking at the time on the dashboard and thinking about the fact that I was supposed to check-in at least 45minutes before the flight and there I was at Maryland at about 8AM. On the stretch of road to Ikeja possibly around Sheraton Hotel, some stupid fellow in a beat-up old Mercedes Benz actually bumped into me twice. He was struggling for space with a bigger commercial bus and trying to be sure he got in behind me on the queue. I put the car in park, got out and went to look at the car. His bumper was in contact with mine, but there didn’t seem to be any damage. I looked at the fellow and he raised his hand to indicate he was sorry. I didn’t say anything but just went back into the car. A few stops and starts, and there was a second bump. This time I was angry. I don’t think he heard anything I said, but definitely he saw me pointing to my head to indicate he had some screws loose. I insisted he backed away – his bumper was still resting against mine.
I was rapidly losing time. By the time I was looking at the Ikeja bridge in the distance, the time was about 8:30AM. I tried not to panic but I had heard of the airlines selling people’s seats at the slightest excuse. The traffic was so slow I knew it would be after 9AM before I got to the airport and I was already late. And then I would have to find a place to park the car as well. I started looking at the buildings on the right side of the road for a suitable place I could park but I was passing in front of a couple of car sales company with their compounds full of cars. Then I noticed the NIPOST office. I just drove in there and parked. I put on my suit, took my laptop bag, then went inside the building as if to send a mail. I could hear the staff talking in some backroom but no one was at the counter. I waited a minute or so and made my way back. As I came out and made for the gate, the guard/gateman approached me and asked “May we know you?”
I was caught! I laughed and said “hey! I am a customer now.”
He said I should just have explained to him that I wanted to park my car there. He asked where I was going and I said down the road (God forgive me, though not strictly a lie). He didn’t actually ask for anything but I know it was expected. I told him I may take a little while but made it worth his while as I went out the gates. I started jogging with my bag on my back. Stopped a couple of commercial bikers but they weren’t interested once I mentioned I was going to the airport. Then I saw a biker on the median actually asking “airport?”. I frantically waved at him and I was soon at the old local airport. The short trip cost me N500. Another round of jogging got me to the tent which was serving as the check-in point (the main airport terminal was undergoing renovation). The place looked like a market. The queues wound all over the place. I asked about the flight and one of the official suggested he can help with the boarding pass as they had closed the “counter” on the 9AM flight to Abuja. He said the staff that will assist charge a standard price of N2,850. I tried to haggle but paid up when he returned my ticket to me and said he was only trying to help me (I know I was probably being played, but looking at that queue …). I soon had my boarding pass and was soon in the boarding area – about 8:50AM or thereabouts. I went a couple of times to ask some of the airport staff if the boarding call had not been made – it would be crazy to make it all the way there and then miss the flight because I wasn’t paying attention or it had been announced before I got there.
Well, after 9AM, we were told to proceed to board the plane. Phew! I made it!
* * * * * * * * *
Landed in Abuja about an hour later than planned. The driver and car from my company’s travel agency was waiting already. So I was soon on my way to Abuja town. Went to the hotel of one of my colleagues, then we took off together to meet the rest of our team (they had flown in to Abuja the day before). Had a light lunch of Pizza and Maltina and then it was on to the meeting. We had assumed we were going to make a presentation (actually I was) to the client only to get there and find the place full of friends, foes and competitors from the I.T. industry. It turned out the client (a government parastatal) had invited everybody for more briefing on what they expected from us going into the competition to get a piece of the business on offer. The only refreshment that was served was hot bottled water – I guess the bottles were sitting outside in the sun.
I had dismissed my own driver, since all my other colleagues had cars as well, so I went with a colleague that was staying at the RockView hotel where I had a reservation. I checked in, dropped my bag and we went out again. Some ATM withdrawal, and conversion to Dollars (by my colleague) from one of the men offering bureau de change services by the roadside, then we went hunting for lunch.
Had pounded yam, snail, shaki and cow leg (I always ask for one without bones if I can get away with it) – was basically following the lead of my colleague on the choice of meat – but I was the one that made the decision to eat pounded yam though. Got back to the hotel at about 7PM. Planned to go out on the town at 8PM but it soon started raining heavily. I wasn’t feeling too up to it anyway. And since we didn’t even have a car, I guess that was probably why my colleague didn’t even bother to come around at 8PM. The rain went on for several hours. I think I ordered room service at about 9:30PM. Ate the food at about 11PM or so.
Next day, I checked out at 12:30PM but waited at the hotel lobby. Called the driver to come for me at 3PM but he showed up around 3:30PM. He had to go to the mosque so I didn’t give him any grieve on the issue. Made good time to the airport. Got in just before 5PM and went to get a boarding pass from the Arik desk for my 6:45PM flight. The staff punched my details into her computer and told me they had “closed” the flight. What! Closed a local flight almost 2 hours before the flight take off time! Well, I wasn’t having any of it and let her know immediately. She responded by asking me if I was going to listen to her tell me how I could solve my problem or not – rude – but I let her get in her explanation because I it was looking like I had more problem than just a ticketting officer giving me attitude. She told me to make my way to the back office and ask for the manager who will be able to help me.
I went to the backoffice and at first I thought a free for all was going on. The place was packed full and several voices were raised angrily. All addressing some man in the middle who turned out to be the manager. It immediately dawned on me that things weren’t looking good. If all those people shouting and screaming had issues with their tickets …
I was able to get in a word to ask the man if he was the manager. I think he must have pushed one of the female clients and there was a verbal altercation going on between the client and an elderly woman who was also a member of staff of the airline. I think the client must have abused the manager or strongly demanded to be treated with respect as both a lady and a paying client (because of the push) and the elderly woman must have joined in on the side of the manager (of course!). The older woman made allusions to the client not having home training or no parents to which the client responded that the woman should not address her “anyhow”, that she’s got a child in the University (I was tempted to ask her whether that was actually true later on, because while she was probably older than me, I would have thought only be a few years) and also tagged on a few well-chosen nasty words to put the older woman in her place.
The manager then went to sit down and continued watching the passenger screaming and yelling. Of course his action drew more condemnation as to his lack of respect for paying clients who were all on their feet and having ticket issues through no fault of theirs. Some gentleman who was sitting quietly there supposedly had had all his luggages misplaced by the airline and he must have been there for several hours. A couple of FAAN staff came in and tried to pacify the clients. There was some back and forth between them and the manager. The manager then said we should all go back to the front desk but an elderly lady (a client) blocked the doorway and most of the clients insisted our reservation documents should be collected first as the manager had been dodging them for quite a while – spiriting himself away from place to place when clients are looking for him. Finally, all the documents were collected and we then followed the manager back to one of the agents who was then instructed to handle only the bunch of clients that accompanied the manager. She started issuing tickets to us one by one.
Once we were all checked in, some of the affected clients became impromptu acquaintances – discussing the fracas we just went through.
And while we sat there waiting for our flight (which I think was ultimately about 2 hours later than the time on our tickets), every so often we could hear another hapless client screaming and yelling at the agents’ desks. Most were women, but at some point, some burly young man who had a similar issue took things one step further by grabbing what we though was a bunch of boarding passes off the table of one of the agents. The agent (a lady) tried to retrieve it from him with no luck (the guy just stretched the hand holding up the passes in the air while warding off the lady with the other). The manager joined in as well. Some security operatives were called and came along as well. I was not sure if it was because they were reasonable officers or because of the size of the man, but rather than get physical, they were just attempting to reason with the chap. This went on for quite a while. He finally handed the documents back and we watched as he checked-in, so I guess they must have sorted him out.
Of course in such situations, people were bound to think along other paths. One of the client suggested that not being successful at getting ones boarding-pass may not always be a bad thing – I told her I knew where she was going with what she said – and we all sort of smiled – the idea of course was that it may be providence preventing one from getting on a flight which may be doomed.
Ultimately, what we found out from our back and forth discussions, was that it appears some so-called “VIPs” with no ticket were streaming into the airport earlier in the day, and some touts and their representatives were securing seats (that were already sold to clients) for them.
Since you are reading this, we got to Lagos alright.
I then went to where I had packed my car, walked part of the way, then flagged down a commercial bike rider. Went in and apologized to the man on duty – he said I should just have told the other man that was on duty the previous day that I would be not be coming back that day (but I wasn’t going to risk being told I couldn’t park there when I was already late for my flight). Gave him “something” as well and asked him to pass on part of it to the man from the previous day.
That was some journey!
Forgot to include the following bit 🙂
Arik flight (continued) . . . .
The refreshment tray stopped by my seat and the hostess asked the lady by the window “water or juice” she said juice. The next gentleman to my right chose water. I chose juice. She looked at me and said “water”. I thought she didn’t hear me first time so I repeated juice, then she said, “sorry only water. Juice has finished.” The airline couldn’t even stock enough juice to serve a planeload of passengers! (I can understand if one type of juice runs out – say maybe Coke is no longer available, but Fanta or Sprite is still available – but to say only water is left? …)