Travellers in the country are currently weighing the options of either travelling by air or road amid 100 per cent increase in air fares.
Air passengers heading to the eastern and northern parts of the country during the festive season by air have lamented the scarcity and high cost of air tickets for their trips as virtually all airlines have sold out major routes to these parts of the country.
LEADERSHIP learnt that intending travellers who had not already bought tickets by yesterday may have to embark on their trips by road or suspend their trips during the festive season as most airlines are already fully booked and those who managed to purchase tickets had to pay more than double their previous costs.
Travellers had besieged the airlines with early bookings and those who had not booked can no longer do that as flights to Owerri and Enugu international airports have from the 23rd to 26th of December have been fully booked.
LEADERSHIP checks revealed that passengers who booked their flights this month paid higher for one-way tickets than what those who booked two months ahead for their December flights paid for return tickets
For instance, Air Peace airline’s website in October showed that a return ticket booking from Lagos to Enugu, Abuja-Owerri, Lagos to Port Harcourt for flights between December 23 and 27 were about N100,000.
Similarly, Dana Air, one of the cheapest airlines in the nation’s aviation sector, in October charged in the range of N95,000 – N100,000 for return tickets from Lagos-Owerri, Abuja-Port-Harcourt and Lagos-Port–Harcourt.
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 when the site was visited.
However, while a return ticket in October 2021 was between N90,000 to N100,000, a one-way ticket now costs between N95,000 and N110,000, in December, 2021.
Few airlines who are not fully booked, however, have astronomical flight prices to the Eastern and Northern parts of the country.
A visit to Airpeace and Dana Air websites showed that flights from Lagos, Abuja to Owerri and Enugu between Friday 10th December, 2021 to Tuesday 28th December, 2021 had been fully booked.
Also, available flights on Airpeace to Owerri cost a whopping N95,400 and that’s on Sunday December 19th and Saturday, December 25th.
A visit to United Airlines website also showed that the economy class to Enugu on December 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th had been sold out while the Business class and economy Flex are sold for N110,750 and N68,750 respectively.
Also, the airline has sold out its Lagos to Owerri tickets for December 25th, 2021 while the economy seats for 24th, 26th, 27th and 28th December, 2021 had also been sold out.
United airline has sold out all its ticket from Abuja to Owerri from 20th to 28th December, 2021. The only available ticket out of Abuja to Owerri is from Wednesday 29th December, 2021 at the rate of N68,750.
Abuja to Enugu tickets had also been sold out from Thursday 16th December, 2021 till Thursday 30th December, 2021.
Also, in the Northern parts of the country, banditry, kidnapping as well as terrorism have taken new dimensions, thereby, making air travel an alternative to the northern elite.
An Air Peace ticket from Abuja to Gombe on Monday, 20th December, cost N60,000 while the same ticket cost N70,300 on Sunday, December 19, 2021.
A one-way ticket on Max Air from Lagos to Katsina on Friday, 24th December, 2021 cost N128,000. It was N109,000 on Saturday, 29th December, 2021 and N77,100 on Sunday 26th December, 2021.
A Max Air ticket from Lagos to Jos cost N84,500 on Wednesday, 22nd and Friday, 24th December, 2021, while Lagos to Sokoto on Arik Air on Saturday, 25th December, 2021 cost 79,869 and Lagos to Maiduguri on 24th December, 2021 cost N81,668.
Speaking on this development, an air passenger, Stephanie Nwanyieze Okereke, said the risk on the road made all airlines operating the route sell out their tickets.
According to her, despite tickets’ sellout, there is still a lot of demand for tickets from travellers.
“The risk on the road is much. They sold out since last month, all of them operating that Eastern route. There’s still a lot of demand.”
Another passenger, Obed Etobe, urged airlines to create additional flights to meet the demand on the Eastern route.
He, however, advised the airlines not to cancel or postpone flights during the festive period.
“Most airlines on that (Eastern) route are fully booked into January. I still don’t understand why those airlines are unable to create additional flights per day. And by 20th December and upwards, most of those flights would be delayed, diverted, postponed, canceled because of the harmattan haze,” he said.
On her part, another traveller Patience Nwannu said since the road had become increasingly risky, travellers now resort to air travel.
“What do we do? Plying road is fifty-fifty chance due to insecurity,” she said.
LEADERSHIP had in October reported that airline operators in the nation’s aviation sector were cashing in on the insecurity and the festive period in some parts of the country to increase their airfare astronomically.
Checks by this medium had revealed that due to fear of kidnappers, bandits and unknown gunmen, air travelers had made early bookings for flights, particularly to the south and eastern parts of the country long before December in a bid to get cheaper rates and avoid travelling 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 has assumed an alarming dimension in the five southeastern states leading to the death of many Nigerians and burning of shops and houses.
But speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP, the secretary-general, Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt John Ojikutu (rtd), said passengers planning travels 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,” Ojikutu said.
On his part, the president, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria (AOPAN), Alexander Nwuba, said the ticket price increase was due to increase in the demand for flight seats.
Nwuba also disclosed that selling tickets cheaply in December will amount to revenue loss by 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.”