Passengers including hundreds of Nigerians on board Air France flight from France to Lagos and Abuja have since Wednesday been stranded at Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Paris.
Many of them have slept at the airport since Wednesday owing to what the management of the airline described as malfunctioning of their planes and lack of aviation fuel.
According to NAN, some of the passengers had left Lagos and Abuja for various destinations while many were returning to Lagos en route the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Many of the passengers, who in their bookings had about three to five hours layover in Paris, were left stranded.
Some, who were lucky to get the seats in the allied airlines were re-routed and had to spend additional hours to get to their destinations.
Many of the passengers complained of ill treatment and alleged flouting of standard aviation regulatory operations.
More pathetic were the vulnerable passengers – the elderly, women with children and some with disability, who went through harrowing experiences.
ELDERLY WOMEN COULDN’T REACH FAMILY MEMBERS
Olagunju Ojo and Afolake Arikewuyo, who are in their late 70s, said they left the US for Lagos en route Paris on Tuesday only to be left stranded at the airport.
The women, who could barely speak English and do not understand French, were in the long queue unassisted while struggling to get their cancelled flight to Lagos re-routed.
They said they arrived the airport 12 hours earlier only to be told that their flight to Lagos had been cancelled and there was no alternative arrangement for the day.
Ojo, who spoke in Yoruba language, said: “We cannot go to Lagos today and there is no Schengen visa to take us outside the airport to sleep.
“They said we will sleep at the airport here and there is no way to communicate with my people waiting for me at the airport at home and those I left in the US.”
Another passenger, Theresa Fashida, also an elderly woman, said she left Ireland for Lagos en route Paris and had been at the airport for eight hours struggling to see how her cancelled flight could be re-routed.
GOING HOME THROUGH KENYA
Fashida said the airline later succeeded in re-routing her flight through Nairobi, Kenya from where she would travel to Lagos with Kenyan Airways the following day.
“The flight from Paris to Nairobi is tomorrow, that means I have to sleep at this airport because there is no hotel accommodation provision for me and I do not have Schengen visa,” she said.
“I did not book Nairobi flight; I don’t know why they should make me to pass through these pains with my age.
“You can see, this is the only pack of food given to me since I arrived at this airport and even their airline officials are not friendly at all.”
Some other Lagos bound passengers were rerouted to South Africa.
Some of the passengers, who left Lagos for official engagement in Washington DC, were also left stranded at the Charles De Gaulle Airport.
NO HOPE AFTER 48 HOURS
The passengers, among whom were journalists, had departed Murtala Mohammed International Airport around 11 pm on Tuesday aboard Airbus 340-800 Flight AF109 and arrived in Paris around 6:30am Wednesday.
With a scheduled flight from Paris to Washington at 12:30pm on Wednesday, they were supposed to have a layover of about six hours before departure.
However, after eight hours of waiting at the departure hall, the airline officials announced a technical fault on the Airbus A380-800 Flight Number AF0054 prepared for the journey.
The operators announced that their team of engineers and other staff were working on the aircraft and also expected to overcome the challenge of fuel before take-off.
After several more hours of waiting at the lounge, the officials announced a cancellation of the fight owing to “technical fault and shortage of aviation fuel”.
They directed the passengers to a point for possible flight rescheduling which they said could not accommodate the 500 passengers on board the botched flight.
At the flight rescheduling counter where passengers had converged, there were many Nigerians with series of complaints, with a few number of the airline staff to attend to them.
After hours of waiting, some of the Washington bound Nigerian passengers including the journalists were re-routed for Thursday flight through Heathrow London on board Virgin Atlantic operated Airbus 330-300.
The flight from Paris to Heathrow airport was scheduled for Thursday 7:30am. while the Virgin Atlantic Washington bound flight was for 11am also Thursday.
All efforts to convince the Air France officials for an earlier flight to enable those scheduled for a conference to be held Thursday at 3:30pm in Washington did not yield the desired result.
SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR
Many of the passengers had to sleep on the floor and few available seats at the resting lounge of the airport and there was no provision for dinner.
At the lounge, Niyi Oginni, who slept on the floor with his wife, narrated his ordeal after spending 17 hour at the airport.
He said their Air France’s Abuja to Atlanta flight was delayed from Tuesday to Wednesday only to get to Paris and there was no connecting flight.
“Our stop over was supposed to be for five hours but we have spent 17 hours here waiting to connect a flight to Atlanta,” he said.
“You can see what they subject us to after paying so much, no food, no place to lay our heads. It is so embarrassing. I saw a woman also from Nigeria at the other lounge sleeping on bare floor with her four children.”
Oginni said he had gone through the internet to find out redress option left for him and other passengers.
“The EU Complaint Form on Air Passenger Rights provides compensation in the event of overbooking and cancellations of flight and I am going to explore it,” he said.
Solomon Chung, a Voice of Nigeria correspondent among the stranded journalists, said Nigeria was long overdue for a national carrier to protect her citizens from the recurrent embarrassment.
He said the news of the launch of a new national carrier; “Nigeria Air” in London by the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Serika was a welcome development.
Meanwhile, attempts to get official response from the airline did not yield result as those approached said they were not authorised to speak on behalf of the organisation.