A flight in Nigeria usually begins in a sweltering terminal that lacks air-conditioning among a throng of sweat-drenched travelers waving cash in one hand holding baggage in the other - all surging toward an obviously overwhelmed ticketing agent.
Just boarding the plane is difficult due to inadequate intercom systems and a lack of signboards and uniformed employees with knowledge of the frequent delays endured by Nigerian travelers, according to the New York Times.
However, the too often harrowing experience of flying Nigerian airlines typically begins after passengers are crammed into aging, poorly-maintained jets flown by undisciplined pilots with lingering musk from bad airline food served over the decades wafting through closed ventilation systems.
While air travel in Nigeria can be a mundane experience, many pilots flirt with disaster, including overflying destination airports and engaging in “eccentric behaviors” having little to do with the safe operation of an aircraft.
Many commercial passenger planes in Nigeria are old, some pushing 30 years.
Decades back, planes crashed so regularly that many Nigerians stuck to the dangerous roads between Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and other destinations. But the government closed all rogue passenger airplane operators and forced its citizens to fly government-approved Nigerian airlines.
Passenger safety improved for some time, however recent catastrophic flights, like the June 3 crash of a Dana Air flight from Abuja, the capital, which killed all 153 people aboard and an undetermined number of people on the ground, have raised anxiety levels in Nigeria and captured the attention of aviation officials globally.
Questions about the safety of Nigerian air travel continued on Friday night, when the runway lights failed at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, averting many flights and leaving passengers stranded in inhospitable terminals.
Recently, at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, a pilot for a leading Nigerian carrier talked about his fear of flying, according to the Times. The pilot described aircraft maintenance as “a joke,” and claimed safety inspectors are bribed and pilots are distracted and poorly disciplined. Immediately after trashing the Nigerian aviation institution, he left to fly a plane.
While many flights proceed without incidence, too often passengers are jolted by odd observations that are glossed over by flight crews. For example, recently a jet operated by a major carrier was approaching its destination, Lagos, under ideal weather conditions. The city’s lights came into view and passengers were preparing for landing. However the plane quickly crossed over the city and soon was flying over fields and swamps, the city receding in clear night air. After a few minutes, the captain’s voice came on the intercom.
“Ah, distinguished ladies and gentlemen!” — this is how Nigerian pilots address passengers — “I’m sorry, but I’ve missed my landing. I’m going to have to try again.”
Passengers tensed and flight attendants froze in their seats, their faces blank. After maneuvering back over the city the pilot tried again, this time hitting the runway without incident.
During another recent flight aboard a major Nigerian carrier, a jet experienced severe turbulence that bounced passengers around for a half hour. After the flight finally smoothed out the intercom sputtered and disheveled, stressed-out passengers perked up, expecting to hear an apology or explanation. Instead, the pilot croaked the following lyrics: “Oh, I love to fly Air Nigeria! Air Nigeria is the best!”
Such events occur too often and go unreported by government-intimidated media in Nigeria.
News reports following the Jun 3 Dana Air flight from Abuja that crashed in Lagos detailed the “accomplishments of various high-ranking civil servants and ingenious entrepreneurs” on that flight’s manifest.” Nigerians want to know how they ended up among the charred wreckage of a jetliner, but many have little faith in government investigative reports.
A fear of flying is not considered phobic behavior in Nigeria – it’s normal.