With just a little more than two months to the yuletide, the period around Christmas and other end of the year festivities, airline operators in the nation’s aviation sector are cashing in on insecurity in some parts of the country to astronomically increase their airfare, LEADERSHIP Weekend can exclusively reveal.
Checks by this paper revealed that due to fear of kidnappers, bandits and unknown gunmen, air travellers are already making early bookings for flights, particularly to the south and eastern parts of the country long before December in a bid to get cheaper rates to avoid traveling by road for the yuletide.
The country has been embroiled in a series of security challenges of recent, compelling travellers to abandon roads for air travel.
In the past few months, insecurity assumed an alarming dimension in the five southeastern states leading to the death of many Nigerians, including Dr Chike Akunyili, husband of the late former Information minister, Prof Dora Akunyili, in Anambra State.
To this end, travelers who are planning to celebrate the Christmas and New Year celebrations in the East are besieging airliners to make early booking with the hope of getting a lower rate.
The mass booking, it was gathered, has now led to a sharp rise in airfare, with airlines overwhelmed by the growing number of passengers.
There are indications that by next month, the airlines may have run out of tickets for those who would want to book at that time.
For instance, LEADERSHIP Weekend’s visit to Air Peace airline’s website yesterday showed that a return ticket booking from Lagos to Enugu, Abuja Owerri, Lagos Port-Harcourt between December 23 and 27 is about N100,000.
Similarly, Dana Air, one of the cheapest airlines in the nation’s aviation sector, also has same high ticket prices, as a return tickets during the period under review from Lagos-Owerri, Abuja – Port-Harcourt and Lagos -Port – Harcourt are also in the range of N95,000 – N100,000.
A visit to United Nigeria airline’s website also showed that a return ticket from Lagos to Owerri costs N94,000, while Lagos to Enugu is N91,000 as of the time of visiting the site yesterday.
Aviation stakeholders, however, said the price of a return ticket from the security-challenged states may hit N200,000 for those who will book in November and December due to high demand and the current security situation in the regions.
Passengers are groaning over the price hike, saying as the yuletide draws nearer, it would definitely go up further.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, Chika Onyeka, a businessman in Lagos who travels by air to Anambra State every Christmas, said even though there had been an increase in the price of tickets during the festive period, it has never been this high.
He wondered what would become of the price in December if the ticket price could be high in October.
“If ticket prices for December travel could be this high in October, what will happen in December? And the road is practically not safe for my family and me to travel from Lagos to the East. So whatever is needed to be done should please be done to ensure that ticket price comes down,” he said.
His position is not also different from others who have equally expressed their grievances over the fare spike.
But speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP Weekend, the secretary-general, Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt John Ojikutu (rtd), said passengers planning travels to the South East during the yuletide should be ready to pay more air fare.
According to him, the current air fare is not realistic due to the high foreign exchange rate in the country.
He said: “The current air fare rate is not realistic at the current naira to dollar rate. If at any time since 1990 it is less than $100 for about one hour flight generally, then the Christmas period attracts more air passengers than any period, especially around the major cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Owerri, Benin Calabar and now Uyo.
“So, passengers willing or planning movements within these cities in December should be ready to pay nothing less than $100 or N60,000 for one leg or N120,000 for return tickets. This is a realistic fare in a country that produces nothing for commercial aviation from aircraft to the spare parts, fuel, insurance and sometimes the technical crew that come with lease Airport,” Ojikutu said.
Also speaking, president, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria (AOPAN), Alexander Nwuba, said the ticket price will still increase, even as there will be an increase in the demand for flight seats.
Nwuba also disclosed that selling tickets cheaply in December will amount to loss of revenue to airlines.
He said, “The cause of the increase in ticket price should be obvious because everything is priced in dollars and by December. N96,000 will be about $150. So, it reflects the expected value of money later in the year.
“Also, during the end of the year, there is high demand for airplanes’ seats and airplanes’ seats are considered a perishable item just like hotel rooms and once the night passes, the value is lost.
“Tickets sold cheaply in December are a loss of revenue to the airline that makes most of its money during peak season. You are now looking at advance fares. As the period approaches, you should expect N150,000 to N200,000 ticket fare”.