Grounded by COVID, Nigerian diners get a taste of air travel

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by Abraham Achirga
ABUJA, Sept 1 – Missing the thrill of air travel during the coronavirus lockdown? A Nigerian restaurant is now offering its customers the illusion of flight without them ever having to leave the ground.

The diners at Urban Air in the Nigerian capital Abuja sit on plush white seats and peruse a flight-themed cocktail menu beside windows illustrated with blue skies and puffy white clouds.

Some customers take selfies as staff leave the ‘cockpit’ to serve them.

“The environment is really amazing considering this corona stuff,” said IT worker Fatima Garba during her second visit.

“It’s been a while since we’ve all got to sit inside of an airplane and this just reminds us of that.”

Nigeria has suspended all international commercial flights since late March. It also curtailed domestic flights for several months, though they have since resumed.

Restaurant owner Ugo Young said even his partner, who is also head chef, had questioned whether a flight-themed restaurant would work. Undaunted, Young spent more than 10 million naira ($26,281) converting the space to look just like an airplane.

Since opening on August 15, it has served roughly 100 adventure-hungry Nigerians each day.

Young said the eatery provides a safe, affordable experience for nostalgic fliers.

“This COVID period, where people haven’t gotten to travel… they could come here and feel as though they are in the air,” Young said.

For some, the restaurant, whose meals start at 2,000 naira, could be the closest they get to the skies for some time. While international flights are set to resume on Sept. 5, returning to Nigeria will entail pricey coronavirus tests, in addition to the airfare.

Divine Akufu, a 20-year-old student, said her selfies at Urban Air made her look like a first-class adventurer.

“It looks like a private jet here,” she said. ($1 = 380.5000 naira) (Reporting By Abraham Achirga in Abuja, additional reporting by Nneka Chile in Lagos. Writing by Libby George Editing by Gareth Jones)

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