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Flying Scared Onboard Local Airline in Nigeria
The seed that deepened my fear was planted before I got on the plane. It was last Christmas, and my trip was to Owerri, Eastern Nigeria.
At the ticket counter, I paid for extra luggage and checked my bags. Further down the lobby and to my right was the elevator, which took me to the second floor. There, on the second floor, my handbag went under the scanner and my body was searched. The security clearance was over, I put on my shoes, my belt, my hat, took my handbag and walked a short distance to sit on one of the shiny metal seats.
Since I arrived early, an hour before my flight, I started reading a book. Thirty minutes into my reading, I heard my name announced over the megaphone, along with two other names. The announcer told us to go down to the check-in counter.
Still in my seat, I waited and looked to see who my friends would be. A tall, thin man stood up from the crowd. He got up. After a while I followed, ten steps behind. We passed the small corner near the security post and went down the escalator, then walked straight to the counter, behind which was the baggage room.
“I was told to get off,” said the young man to one of the flight attendants standing in front of the baggage compartment.
“Don’t worry about them,” the guard replied to the civilian. Suddenly, and without further explanation, the thin man turned and walked away. For a second I was tempted to agree with him since he invited us together, our destiny joined at the hip, I thought. As I wondered whether to follow the tall man or not, curiosity took over. It would be good to know the purpose of the call. I ignored the guard’s instructions and instead went into the back room.
Inside the room were three men, two of them moving bags on a conveyor belt and the third sitting on a small wooden chair. On the side were boxes and belongings of other travelers.
“Is this your bag, sir?” Said the man who was sitting down pointing with his finger.
“Yes, it’s my bag,” I replied.
“What are you?”
“My stuff – you can open it if you want.”
“No, Oga, Merry Christmas.” In addition to the weather greeting, the man started to smile and continued to wish me well. If there was anything illegal or dangerous in my bag, the staff didn’t let me know. Therefore, neither my property nor I deserved extra attention. However, any prolonged argument would escalate the situation so, with a flash of a thousand naira bill, I got my freedom.
Back on the escalator, I went back down to the top, ready to go through security again. The security staff asked me, “Have you been through security before?”
“Yes,” I said, and was ushered in, back to the waiting area, without repeated checks or pats. Terrible, I swore to myself. It was during this time that the seed of fear began to grow and take root. Any villain who wanted to wreak havoc would have used the safety breathing system.
I couldn’t help but think how this sneaky mentality is spreading throughout the local air traffic.
Right now, my mind was alert. Where cockroaches roam, there are many more. I looked around me, and the passenger waiting area was in an uproar. Every five or ten minutes, a large number of people in the waiting room would run up to each person in uniform to ask about the status of the plane. What is the announcement about the trip to Abuja, Enugu, Owerri, people may ask? Chaos was everywhere. Future announcements were unclear. Information about flight delays did not come immediately – in fact, there was no urgency to notify passengers at all. Not knowing whether the disruption was limited to property and security or spread to the entire system worried me.
My concern is that the wrong person’s view of how these planes work can be light compared to what a person doesn’t see. Yes, there have been changes over the years, but these changes are not enough in a life or death struggle. Gone are the days when passengers picked up or returned their suitcases directly to the plane, but the progress made here is not enough.
Why would the flight attendants announce that the passenger should come to the counter, and someone opposes the announcement? Perhaps lack of supervision, the extent and depth of which no one knows.
Nigerians do not want to know about the health of the local air force unless the plane falls from the sky. Now is the time to ask questions and ask for strict policies to be followed. Who are the experts who keep the planes running smoothly at all times? Just because an airplane takes off and lands doesn’t mean it meets maintenance standards. There is nothing stopping the authorities from delaying the maintenance of the aircraft in order to make a profit. A system that allows one thousand naira to avoid checking assets can allow one million naira to delay or avoid routine checks. Public access to these aircraft maintenance documents is permitted.
My experience on board was, however, different. Getting on the plane calmed my nerves. The drivers were professional, and the passengers respected them. A voice from the airport apologized for the delay and promised a pleasant flight.
The seat I was given was near the window, but when I arrived there was a man sitting there. When he saw me, the man tried to run outside but because fear took hold of me, I stopped him instead he sat on his seat which was in the middle. From where I sat, my eyes searched for signs of a system that didn’t work. I found a crack in the back of the chair across from me. The floor of the corridor was clean but dusty. All these to me are further signs that Nigeria’s aircraft and equipment may not be as good as it seems.
My mind began to drift back, and I remembered the chaos I had experienced before boarding the plane, the unnecessary announcement to return to the counter, and the failure of security to check me again when I asked. he returned.
It only took forty five minutes for the plane to land in Owerri. The plane ride, the drinks, and the snacks took my mind off it for a while.
After seven days in Eastern Nigeria, I was ready to fly back. At the Samuel Mbakwe Airport where I waited for my flight, the power went out twice in one hour. After that, I got on the plane, I don’t know if the light will go out on the plane in the same way.
Halfway to our destination, at a very high altitude, the pilot began to make an announcement, but the voice was muffled and hard to hear. I turned to my neighbor on the right and asked him what he thought about the mysterious announcement.
“It’s because the plane is traveling at a high speed,” he replied. My heart started to skip a beat, and I looked as pale as the inside of a banana.
The man told me: “Don’t worry, we will get there safely.”
Wake up, fellow citizens! There are many concerns about Nigerian airlines. It is my wish and my prayer that all those who travel by many planes arrive safely where they are going. For this reason, flight attendants and flight attendants must be trained repeatedly every week with refresher courses. Personnel and flight training records must be published for public inspection. Let’s prevent accidents before they happen.
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