Passenger traffic slows down after pre-election surge

Muritala Muhammud International Airport, Lagos/ AYODELE ADENIRAN

Air passenger traffic nationwide has recorded sharp decline after last Saturday’s general elections and initial uncertainties over the outcome.

Though the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, was yesterday declared the winner, fears of violent reactions appeared to have forced many travelers to reschedule their trips, after earlier surge in traffic in the buildup to the elections.

Travel agencies told The Guardian that the patronage had been “so low” this week, with some customers cancelling their flights.

An agent, Samuel Olagunju, said the week started rather awkwardly with just an average of three bookings per day, compared to over 20 that are made on a normal business day.

Olagunju said: “It has just been like a weeklong public holiday. Even those that had booked called to have same cancelled until the elections are over.”

Another agent, Olaolu, confirmed that three passengers also cancelled their flights on Tuesday.

“One had booked for Enugu, the other, Ghana, and the last was headed to Kano. As if they had a meeting, they simultaneously requested that the bookings be shifted to future dates. I don’t blame them. People are not sure of what this period holds, with some politicians and their supporters aggrieved about results of the elections.”

Some airlines’ operators also confirmed fluctuations in passenger load factors, describing the week as rather slow for business.

Spokesperson of Air Peace airlines, Chris Iwarah, said flights operations basically remain the same though with occasional variations in load factor.

Iwarah, however, added that it would be difficult to blame the development on elections, citing that low patronage do happen without elections.

Recalled that passenger traffic recorded a sizeable surge some days to the last elections, as passengers explored promo offers of two airlines to travel for election purposes.

The offers, which slashed ticket fares by 50 per cent across all routes, attracted to Arik Air and Aero Contractors’ booking stands more passengers that could had been discouraged by earlier postponement of elections.

The airlines said the initiative was to support the general elections to be successful, as well as motivate voters to travel to exercise their franchise.

The Guardian last week observed a fair turnout of patronage than usual at both the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), and the Murtala Muhammed II (MM2) terminals in Lagos.

Both passengers and travel agents requested for ‘Fly to Vote’ promo, with some displaying their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) for eligibility.

Arik Air, in its ‘Fly to Vote’ promo said the N16,000 fare is the one-way ticket cost to any domestic destination on Arik Air’s network and customers must present a valid PVC at the point of purchase and at check-in to be eligible to fly.

Among the routes voters travelled, as monitored from Lagos, are Abuja, Benin, Kano, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Warri, Kaduna, Asaba, Uyo, and Sokoto.

Communication Manager of Arik Air, Banji Ola, said the patronage had been “encouraging” across all routes, with prospective passengers buying online and at the booking stands.

Ola said the comparative traffic boost was already obvious, though would take awhile to properly measure the differentials.

Going forward, Aviation Security Consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) advised the airlines to consider low-fare flights to certain airports at night, especially to Abuja, Enugu, Owerri, Port Harcourt, among others, to compete with the “luxurious” buses the way Volaris of Mexico does with 40 per cent difference in fares.

“If this is done, without served refreshments with attendant reduction in cabin crew, it can reduce the operating cost by about 10 per cent. The airlines may see the wisdom of continuing with this experience or experiment after the elections.”

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