Dear Mr. Brunner: First of all, I want to thank Mr. Dele (Supervisor in Arik Airways New York office) who took my call on 09 August 2010 . Per our conversation, I am following up that phone call with a formal letter of complaint regarding my recent experience on Arik Airways.
I have included with this letter a copy of my ticket on your airline, flight 108 and 107, flight cancellation notice given to passengers at Lagos International Airport. Also included with this letter is a copy of my New York itinerary with appropriate email confirmations from orbitz and Delta Airline Ticket & Invoice. Below is a written account of my experience as explained to Mr. Dele over the phone:
On 5th August 2010, my daughter (3 years old) and I arrived Lagos International Airport from Calabar (local airport in Nigeria) at 1730hrs to board a scheduled return International flight to JFK New York with Arik Airways (Arik Air 107). We were informed (alongside other passengers) that the flight was canceled due to aircraft technical issues. We were told to return the next day for a tentative flight that was scheduled to depart by 1800hrs. The Arik Airways Airport Manager, Ms. Adaobi Molokwu then told us that Arik Airways will not provide accommodation & feeding for passengers and will not be liable for connecting passengers who will miss their connecting flight in New York JFK due to the flight cancellation. Ms. Molokwu was extremely uncooperative in assisting passengers or addressing our concerns. The same attitude was exhibited by other Arik Airways staffs that were present. One pregnant Arik Airways staff member said “when we the passengers were tried of complaining, we will return home”. They ignored us, while they all stared at their computer screens. They would not respond to many of our questions. This lack of concern from Arik Airways airport management and staff, angered the passengers greatly and resulted in several heated exchanges. Due to all the frustration from them ignoring us, I became vocal and demanded answers to our concerns by turning the computer monitor away from the closest Arik staff. This led to the staff member jumping to his feet to start a fight with me and the other passengers. In the process I was shoved into a 3ft wide X 4ft long window, which broke and injured me. I was bleeding heavily from my right hand. The commotion inside Arik Airways office alerted the Nigerian Aviation Authority, so they came to find-out what was going on. Arik Airways did not provide any medical treatment for my injuries, the Aviation Authority were the ones that called in a paramedic to clean my cuts.
The Aviation Authority on arrival calmed all of us down and moved all passengers including Ms. Molokwu, to their office and we commenced dialogue for the first time since the ordeal began. During the meeting, Ms. Molokwu still insisted that Arik Airways will not provide accommodation but the Aviation authority reminded Ms. Molokwu that it is the responsibility of the Airline to provide accommodation for all passengers in situations like this. Ms. Molokwu was forced to oblige and agreed to make accommodation available. However, once we were outside the Aviation authority’s office, Ms. Molokwu decided to provide accommodation to passengers that could prove that they entered Lagos airport via a transport mode that originated outside of Lagos . This decision further infuriated the passengers. After several rounds of another heated argument between passengers and Arik Airways Staffs, some of us were finally taken to a sub-standard hotel at about 2200hrs. We were reminded that our flight would depart the next day by 1800hrs tentatively.
The next day 06 August 2010, a bus picked over 30 of us from the hotel, and we arrived the airport at about 1500hrs. When I tendered our U.S. passport (my daughter & I) to the check-in staff, he turned it over to another man that was standing with Ms. Molokwu, who confiscated them. He walked up to me accompanied by Ms. Molokwu and introduced himself as the person in-charge of Arik Airways security. He commanded us to hand over our luggage to him and then follow him. At that point Ms. Molokwu looked at me and my daughter and said “I am going to teach you a lesson”. They took us away from other passengers to a secluded room. While there I was informed by the Arik security officer that a compliant was filed against me for damages to the company’s property. He then told me that I had to pay the equivalent of $1,200 USD (180,000 Naira, Nigerian currency) before we could fly. The Aviation authority official present reminded him that this case was settled yesterday during the meeting we had but the Arik Airways security staff insisted that Ms. Molokwu had lodged a fresh compliant. We were detained for about 3hrs without access to food, or water. Our luggage was taken away from our sight, our passport was held as ransom for us to pay the alleged damages to Arik Airways property.
For fear of my 3 year old daughter becoming too traumatized from the stress we were going through, I offered to get a guarantor for them but Ms. Molokwu accused me of trying to run away by playing tricks on her, she then said she will not let us get away. The Aviation Authority personnel then pleaded with her to be merciful and understand that we are still her customers and that she was making a mountain out of a mole hill. Seeing her rigid position, I then offered to pay her with my credit card but she outwardly laughed at me and said that Arik Airways ‘does not use credit cards’. She said she will only receive cash from me. I reminded her that I used the same card to buy my ticket but she replied by saying that it was done on the internet and not in the office. I scrambled and came up with $700 USD and offered it to her but she turned around and said I was wasting her time. I looked down to my daughter and I could see the pain she was going through. She was uncomfortable throughout our stay in the hotel the previous night, she refused to eat any food offered, and now we were under detention for daring to ask for our right as air passengers.
Out of compassion, Mr. S.M Mamman (Aviation Authority Secretary) gave me $500 USD of his own money (as a loan) just to free us from the abuse Ms. Molokwu was meting out to us. Mr. Mamman however made Ms. Molokwu promise to put us on the flight leaving by 1800hrs for JFK as a condition for receiving the money. She agreed but after her security officer took the $1,200 USD, she then said that It was no longer possible for us to make the 1800hrs flight. I requested a receipt of payment for what she claimed I had damaged but I was told that the agent that gives out receipts was not available. She (Ms Molokwu) then said we had to stay behind and join another Arik flight on Sunday 08Aug10. I requested to be put on a Delta flight that was leaving in 4 ½ hrs but they just ignored my daughter and I. Ms. Molokwu walked away and left us behind with her security officer. I then enquired if it was okay now to release our passport to us which he did. They left us to cater for our transportation and lodging needs. Not one staff of Arik management apologized for all the trouble they put us through; rather we were treated as criminals.
I then took my daughter to Delta booking office and paid $4,397.43 USD (with the same credit card Ms. Molokwu refused to take) for a one way ticket from Lagos – New Orleans . I was reliably informed by another passenger Mr. Verem Turugty who was also a witness to our ordeal at Lagos, that the Arik flight that left Lagos at 1800hrs, arrived JFK by 2330hrs on 07Aug10. Most of the passengers on that flight including him ended up sleeping at the airport due to the arrival time and the lack of out-going flight from JFK at that time. This was further compounded by the lack of Arik Airways representative at JFK to attend to passengers needs. Mr. Turugty told me that he could not find one passenger on that flight that was pleased with the treatment they received. On his part he is willing to testify to the accuracy of the account of event I have narrated.
This is the first time I have flown with Arik Airways. Our departure Flight on 19Jul10 was about 2hrs late to depart JFK, which meant that, our flight was late in arriving Lagos , Nigeria . We ended up missing our local connecting flight with Aero contractor to Calabar. We were stranded in Lagos that night and had to pay $233 USD to acquire another flight the next day for Calabar. The cancellation of the return flight on 05Aug10 meant that our connecting flight from New York – New Orleans was missed, which cost us $299.80 USD to purchase. The stress and strain this ordeal has taken on my family is unimaginable; my wife was on the phone all night & day on 05Aug & 06Aug and was forced to take 2days off from work (losing over $750 USD in revenue plus cost of local/international calls), talking with different travel agents trying to arrange flights for us. My parent’s in-laws and parents in Nigeria were very worried about our fate especially when they couldn’t reach me by phone while we were under detention. Financially we are at a loss of over $7000 USD plus the pain and suffering we have experienced. My 3 year old daughter told my wife on our return that “she does not want to visit Nigeria again”. Her statement broke my heart because she was very excited to see her grand parents before our departure. I don’t know what my wife and I will do to help her get over the psychological damage she went through, we are also at a loss reggaerding how to recover financially and emotionally from this sad event. I will never wish this experience on my worst enemy.
For my aforementioned troubles, I expect, at a minimum, that the Management of Arik Airways will do the right thing by complying with Article 19 of the Montreal Convention, governing international flights and credit me back for my financial losses immediately. If this matter is handled properly, It will help start healing the wounds this ordeal has done to my family.
I appreciate your attention in this matter.
Mr. Akaninyene Inyang
VP Marketing, Arik Airways U.S.
One Penn Plaza
New York, NY. 10119