The plane, which frequently develops mechanical faults, has caused multiple flight delays and cancellations, causing the airline’s passengers to have traumatic travel experiences.
Speaking with our correspondent in separate interviews during the week, the aggrieved passengers rejected what they described as the “old, problematic and inconvenient plane” on the Nigerian route.
“We demand the immediate replacement of this less-dignifying aircraft on the Lagos-Atlantic route. We can no longer entertain disruptions to our flights,” a legal practitioner and business class passenger, Mr. Cosmos Nwachukwu, told our correspondent.
“Nigerian passengers demand better treatment than what Delta Airlines is giving them on the Lagos-Atlanta route. How do you explain the fact that we pay more on the Lagos-Atlanta route and still end up getting the old plane in Delta’s fleet in return for the high fares? There is no equity in that,” he added.
A frequent flier on the Lagos-Atlanta route, Mr. Ademola Are, said he had had 11 delays in addition to six cancellations on Delta, with almost all happening on the Lagos-Atlanta route.
As a Delta Airlines’ Platinum Elite member, he has flown over 500,000 miles on the carrier’s plane in the last four years.
Are said, “The big problem coming from the Lagos-Atlanta route, where almost all these delays have occurred, has to do with the type of aircraft they use. There is a particular aircraft they use among the Boeing 767 aircraft they have; this aircraft is prone to mechanical problems.
“I don’t know the extent of mechanical problems but they have fuel problems, brake problems, hydraulic problems etc. They mention numerous problems.”
According to him, there are times he has had to board Lufthansa Airlines on his return flight to Nigeria from the United States due to flight cancellations by Delta, adding that he needed to take such a drastic decision in order to keep crucial appointments.
Are, a hospitality management expert, who has held senior executive positions in top international hotels, including Marriot International, Hilton Hotels and Legacy Vacations, called on Delta to heed its numerous passengers’ request by replacing the problematic Boeing 767 aircraft with better planes such as the Boeing 777ER or Airbus A330-300 with immediate effect.
He said, “But most importantly, when you look at the revenue per mile flown, Atlanta-Lagos is Delta’s most-profitable route. So, the question is if you are talking of equity, when you have the worst aircraft in terms of cabin layout, service, performance, most delays and most cancellations, you charge the passenger more than what you are charging on other routes. It is not fair. It is not equitable.
“They have Airbus 330-300, which they use on other routes; Boeing 777-300ER, which they use on other routes, whether it is Atlanta-London, Atlanta-Paris, Atlanta-Tel Aviv or Atlanta-Rome. But they use older and less quality aircraft on the Lagos route.
Are, who is currently the Chief Executive Officer, Kakanfo Inn and Conference Centre, an Ibadan-based upscale hotel, scored the US carrier low in its services, including in-flight menu on the Nigerian route.
“There have been complaints about the breakfast. Delta has served the same breakfast for six years. You have these dried-up, heated and hard loaves of bread with meat inside. It is like a Latinos meat pie. They need to have some kinds of varieties,” he added.
An aviation expert and Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Security and Safety Consult, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), who is also a Delta passenger, believes the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority needs to compel the US carrier to replace the old Boeing 767 aircraft immediately.
He said, “Nigerians don’t deserve this treatment with the high fares we are paying. I don’t know why the Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA will allow Delta do this. They should not have allowed this in the first instance; the agreement specifies the type of aircraft to be used.”
Some Nigerian passengers had recently complained of frequent disruptions to Delta flights on the Lagos-Atlanta route.
Some of the passengers, who spoke to our correspondent at the MMIA, included the Chairman of University Press Plc, Dr. Lekan Are.
He told our correspondent how he and a Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA, Dr. Niyi Osundare, had written to the CEO of Delta Airlines, Mr. Richard Anderson, to express their displeasure over the frequent flight disruptions on the Lagos-Atlanta route.
They had also requested Delta to replace the Boeing 767 plane, which was the major cause of the frequent travel disruptions on the route.
Dr. Lekan Are, however, said that the carrier had yet to address the request to replace the plane.
Speaking to our correspondent on the development, he said, “First of all, I want to thank you for the good coverage you gave when you interviewed me and some other passengers of Delta Airlines at Lagos Airport on March 30. Since that time, when people read it on the Internet, people contacted me — Nigerians in the Diaspora.
“One of them, Prof. Niyi Osundare, who is a distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, felt that Delta might not be aware of these complaints because it was only read in Nigerian newspapers.
“So, on the basis of that, Prof. Osundare and I got together, and on April 23, we wrote a letter of appeal or petition to Mr. Richard Anderson, the CEO of Delta Airlines. And he was kind enough after about three weeks, on May 14 to be precise, he got one of his top officials, Mr. Gina Rubino, to attend to our observation and they wrote us a reply.
“Well, in the reply, they said it must have been frustrating to have repeated flight disruptions. But they assured us that they take good care of their planes because they go through regular maintenance and that their first priority is our safety as passengers. But they did not address part of the plea, the essential thing. And part of the plea is that they are using old aircraft on this Lagos route, which they don’t use on the transatlantic routes. Fortunately, I went on Delta Airlines flight to London from Detroit on May 16; it was a brand new plane.
“I have experienced cancellations five times on Delta Airlines. If that happens two times on the European-US routes, they wouldn’t get passengers again. And so, we are pleading that when they started flights on the Nigerian route, they even used the Boeing 777 plane, they should revert to that. It has longer range and of course it is a newer plane. They should stop sending this old plane.
“Why are they short-changing on this route? So they should not wait for a disaster to happen before they will now say we are addressing this thing. This is why we are crying out. Because, in fact, after what happened on March 29 when we left here at 10pm and came back 2am, the very next Saturday, April 4, the Delta flight left here again only to return to Lagos at 2am. It was the same aircraft. If they are being very well maintained, they should not have disruptions so often. If it is only once in a year, that is understandable. But this time now, you are having two disruptions in a week. There must have been more between that time and now.”
When contacted, the General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, Mr. Fan Udubuoke, said the regulator was aware of the disruptions, including that of March 29, and had met with Delta over the development.
He said Delta had promised to address the issue but did not specify whether the US carrier would replace the plane or not.
When contacted by our correspondent, Delta Airlines said it regretted the disruptions.
While arguing that it was not discriminating against Nigerian passengers in its service offerings, the airline said most of the delays were caused by unavoidable factors.
A statement by Delta’s Commercial Director, East and West Africa, Bobby Bryan, read in part, “We’ve listened to our customers and have made adjustments to the services we offer, both on the ground and in the air, such as a generous baggage allowance and special services on the ground. We have also adapted our on board meal offerings to better suit the preferences of customers flying to and from Nigeria.
“Delta has an impeccable safety record for its operations worldwide, including those in Nigeria. When delays occur, Delta deeply regrets the inconvenience this causes to passengers’ journeys when they are flying with us. Such is Delta’s commitment to Nigeria that during the recent fuel shortages at the airport, we put contingency measures in place to refuel in either Accra or Dakar in order to maintain our Lagos operations.
“We know that people’s time is valuable, whether their travel is for business or for pleasure, and operating on schedule is equally as important to Delta. However, these delays currently caused by these refuelling stops cannot be avoided.
“On occasions, other external factors can cause unavoidable disruptions to our service such as changing weather patterns or mechanical faults. In these instances, we may need to make operational decisions that affect our service, because Delta will not compromise on the safety or security of our passengers and crew. We realise that this can cause regrettable delays to our customers’ journeys; however, the safety and security of our passengers and crew remains our number one priority.”