Femi Ajayi's Outlook

When Nigerians are not drunk, the tone of their voices and physical gestures, body languages could be deceiving to anyone not familiar with Nigerians. Nigerians are very frenzied when it comes to discussion among themselves. Not spoiling Nigerians with alcohol by Delta could be justified.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dr. Femi Ajayi


hen the Atlanta-based Delta Airline finally made its debut flight to Nigeria late 2007 most Nigerians Abroad, especially in the South East of the United States of America, breathed sign of relief that they could fly directly, at least from the Georgia catchment areas to Nigeria without going through the hassles of the European routes. What is more relieving is the Delta management decision to make the flight daily. It is more tantalizing to note that passengers could fly from Lagos, Nigeria, within one-day to Los Angeles, California.

The Delta direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria, might still not very much known in the Nigerian community, especially those in Nigeria who have been conditioned to believe that the only time you could travel in and out Nigeria to America or Europe is at night. Most Nigerians are still confused about 'your mission in Delta State' if you told them that you came through Delta Airline.

I won't blame them because I had similar experience of the mixed up during one of my Medical Missions to Nigeria, while discussing about air tickets that some Doctors would take Delta Airline to Atlanta for the group take off to Nigeria. The Nigerian official at that end bluntly told me that no one would pay for any of them to fly to Delta State. Assumed that the official knew, I got angry until I was rescued by another official who knew about Delta Airline.

Within a short flight schedules, much negative reports have circulated about the Delta Airline direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos. Absolutely nothing is wrong for anyone to voice his or her opinion on any issue. Such voices are voices of making improvements on customer services in the corporate world.

Some of the complaints from those that have flew on this advantageous direct-flight are about food and drinks served on the flight, the age of the airline, the excess baggage, and most especially Customer Service. Looking at the food served on the 10-hour plus direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos, and about 12-hour direct-flight to Atlanta from Lagos, could be inadequate for some. Unfortunately the more comfortable areas, like First and Business Classes, are limited in the aircraft, and could be too expensive to some. Within this period of direct-flight, passengers are expected to get at least two full meals to keep them 'alive and well'.

In line with the food are drinks served. Some complains are unfortunately what European Airlines use to spoil Nigerians with assorted drinks during their flights from USA to Nigeria especially. Unfortunately, Delta Airline is not allowing anyone to get drunk on the flight. On several occasions during my trip through KLM, British Airways, I have witnessed the behavior of some Nigerians on these flights after taking some glasses or bottles of alcoholic drinks. There was an occasion when an individual got drunk that he threw up on some passengers that were sleeping quietly around his seat. It was a shame to have a Nigerian behaving that way on the plane. In addition to that some Nigerians, on top of their voices, especially on the Europe-Nigeria flights, argue on some irrelevances due to alcohol inducement.

When Nigerians are not drunk, the tone of their voices and physical gestures, body languages could be deceiving to anyone not familiar with Nigerians. Nigerians are very frenzied when it comes to discussion among themselves. Not spoiling Nigerians with alcohol by Delta could be justified. I am not saying that Delta Airline should, and must not, offer alcohol beverages, which they do, to those that would need them, but should be in moderation.

I doubt the knowledge of the complainants about the size of the aircraft which could be tied to the excess luggage of the passengers. Let us face it, Nigerians are noted for this practice of wanting to carry 'the whole world' on any of their trips. Would you blame Nigerians for this? I don't think so.

The extended family system of African culture; sons and daughters of their relatives are their brothers and sisters. They would love to get each of them something from their trips. This manifests even on the road transport in Nigeria with commercial vehicles overloading its capacity with goods and passengers. That is one of the main causes of accidents on Nigerian roads, trailing behind poor condition of Nigerian roads.

I remember during the maiden direct-flight of World Airways by Ritetime, the man that opened the opportunity for Delta that has been hesitant to fly directly to Nigeria, the abuse of excess luggage by Nigerians traveling on the airline. I was at the airport in one of the flights where a single Nigerian has 16 excess luggages traveling to Nigeria. I wondered then whether it would be better for him to spend the excess luggage costs to buy other things in Nigeria for his people. It is best known to him his reasoning for that number of 16 excess luggages.

I believe that is also an advantage to the airline, because the Airline is making its money because it is not free. That is another source for the airline to make more money. But what about the safety issue, the capacity of the aircraft in addition to the weight of the fuel for the long journey of over 10 hours. Given the fact that the airline could not have enough fuel for the trip, as a result of the weight from excess luggage; it has to stop over another country to refuel so that it could get to either Atlanta or Lagos, whichever way you were coming from. That would defeat the purpose of the direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria. World Airways experienced refueling before folding up its services to Nigeria. The European Airlines fly shorter distances for refueling and at night for lesser fuel consumption.

I believe Delta has suspended any excess luggage for the time being considering some issues around the fuel, distance and the size of the aircraft. Hopefully things would change for good in this area. Nonetheless, Nigerians should be mindful of the excess luggage, and the weight of each luggage checked in. Since the luggage weight would eventually depend on the baggage crews that have to load and off-load the luggage from the aircraft.

One of the crucial complains is the customer service. According to my Business Professor, Customer is always right, regardless. The customers keep the business growing in any set up. One of the reasons Nigerian Civilian Servants are less productive is lack of good customer service. Power is not adequate, roads are in shambles, clinics are being taken over by goats, rams and chicken in some places, and most Nigerians do not pay taxes. If the people do not see what the government is doing with their taxes, why paying. I believe Nigerians would pay for the services received, just like in the United States of America where you pay for every single service you receive.

In essence, Customer Service is the corner stone of any establishment as used in the corporate world. Even the Government agencies in advanced countries are now using Excellent Customer Service to make the civil servants more responsive and productive in their responsibilities. In my place of work, the Secretary of State corner stone is Excellent Customer Service. If any customer walks into any of Secretary of State's agencies, despite the fact that most services could be provided on-line, that individual must be attended to immediately. Letters from Customers must be attended to within a reasonable time, while e-mails need immediate response.

What I am saying in essence if that Excellent Customer services are the corner stone for Delta Airline success direct-flight to Nigeria. People need to be happy about the services they receive.

While traveling on the Delta airline from Lagos to Atlanta, February 23, 2008, based on the previous complains about Customer service, I observed most of the services provided by Delta Airline staff on duty in Lagos. I understood that because that Saturday was an environmental day in Nigeria, Nigerians were at the airport on time. That means a long queue to check in. Other days, I understood, Nigerian passengers are always coming late, hence rushing to check-in.

Realizing how impatient Nigerians could be after waiting for a while, at the end where the Security and the Customs would check the passengers luggage, a young lady walked up to me when I was asked to take some stuff out from my over weight carry-on bag. She jokingly told an individual that was checking my luggage "I hope you are not showing the dirty stuff to everyone". When I looked at her with a long face she quickly rebutted "oga I think say you know wetin I dey talk now, no one wants to see that dirty stuff". I got the joke and reciprocated. Other passengers were on the happy trail of laughter. That was a kind of relief for those who have been on line for some times.

We joked throughout the period of my waiting time. I turned around to see Peter Otueh, the Station Manager, Airport Customer Service, for Delta in Nigeria, so also Customer Service Supervisor, Ogechi Adigwe. At a point I realized that all those traveling with Delta have left the counter, even though we still have time to chat. I was just very inquisitive about Delta services.

Most of Delta Airline staff I spoke with have, at least, College Degrees and have worked for some airlines before they crossed over to Delta for better pay. Some of them have no jobs before Delta came in and got them recruited. Some were full time home makers making babies, and some are artisans, which they have to learn to make a living.

Most of Delta Staff, Male and female, beamed with smiles as they did their job. The in-flight services are adequate as well. The frowning faces I used to notice in my previous services at Lagos Airport were not so with Delta staff on ground. In most of my previous traveling, right from the weighing station, to the ticket counter, checking-in your luggage and at the terminal is always as if you killed their loved ones.

In the United States when you receive satisfactory services you tip an individual for doing that. In the past, with other airlines in Lagos especially, those that provide you with services would be expecting something from you, like something for breakfast, or dinner depending on the time you are traveling. They are 'professional beggars' that would ask you to "treat your sister right now", "oga, wetin you bring for your brother now".

With the services that I received for the little logistics challenge on my trip ticket, I offered tips to some of them that assisted me and they bluntly REFUSED, with the responses as "oga it is against our policy". When one of Delta employees was piloting me to another service location, at the outskirts of other staff, I tried again, she told me politely, "Sir I appreciate it, and I am just doing my job." I breathed the sign of relief that this is happening in Nigeria.

Customer service is not perfect and there could be no pass mark for any customer service. If a poor service is rendered to a single customer it could affect the services of Delta Airline. Excellent Customer service, as a norm, is absolutely necessary for Delta Airline.

Nigerians' complain about the maltreatments on the European airlines, like spraying the aircraft, as if to deodorize the pigs' waste products on the plane, is very offensive. Unfortunately, behaviors by some Nigerians on some of the European flights are very disappointing. In addition other atrocities suffer on most of the European Airlines by Nigerians traveling from the United States especially is the long waiting time in Europe of up to six hours. The airlines could fly directly to Nigeria as soon as it gets to Europe, but they rather wait for the sun to go down so as to safe on fuel consumption. Technically it is cheaper, per fuel, to fly at night due to the lower temperature, because the aircrafts consume less fuel while flying at night. For that reason the European airlines would rather inconvenience their passengers, poor customer service, to save on the aircraft fuel consumption.

The other area, especially in London, is the changing from one airport to another and you have to carry your luggage, not that the airline authority would transfer the luggage to the next station. Imagine the pain some elderly people or those with children have to go through in this process.

These are some areas Delta direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos, and Lagos to Atlanta should not repeat. I do believe that with the home grown individuals at the base of Delta Airline in Lagos, Nigeria, Peter Otueh, who understood Nigerians, would be of assistance to the success of Delta Airline direct-flight to Nigeria. Nigerians are good people but you have to understand them, and be very patient in dealing with them.

Nigerians as well have to make some adjustments in their ways of handling issues. When they get to foreign lands, either residing or visiting, they follow the norms of their host countries. It would be better for them to copy good things from these foreign countries for a better Nigeria.

I know that it would take a while before Nigerians could get over the Military fever that has plagued Nigerians for decades. Now that democracy is getting on track and things are taking shape, I believe Nigerians would get there before long. Years of Military mentality would fade away with "Mr. Servant Leader" taking the right steps to adjust Nigerians frame of mind, or mind set.

I applaud those that called the attention of Delta Airline Management to those areas that need improvement. However, going directly to the source, just like I mentioned in some of the discussion on the subject, complaining on the pages of the internet, without getting it directly to the concerned, would be like shouting in the Desert where no one would echo or even hear the shout regardless how loud.

I believe that a formidable Nigerian Organization in Atlanta, Association of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia, ANOG, has taken up the challenge to positively advocate for excellent Customer Services on Delta Airline direct-flight from Atlanta to Lagos. Positive criticisms, with the objective of improvement on Delta Airline services would be ideal for Nigerians.

Nigerians should give Delta Airline the opportunity to improve on its services to Nigeria. Delta Airline would need all passengers to make it a huge success. Then Nigerians could tell European airlines to go to hell with their inhuman treatments on their airlines, the 6-hour waiting in Europe, spraying the aircraft, and other not too pleasant treatments of Nigerians on the Nigeria-Europe-America routes.

Delta Airline, in giving the best customer services, good food, dodo/plantain, joloff rice, moinmoin that any one eats, assorted drinks not only wine, Heineken, Guinness, Star Larger Beer, Goulder, but don't get them drunk, are other ways of promoting Nigeria culture through Delta Airline, at least for both sides to gain from the direct line. The food served could be made more acceptable to Nigerian culture. Visitors traveling directly to Nigeria, where they would be treated to some of these food items would get familiar with the menu. At least there are some basic universal food items, as mentioned above, that Nigerians love. That would not be too much for the Delta to serve.

The world is getting smaller by day. Some Nigerian Movies could be shown, even though some of them could be too long, but those that are not more than two hours could be encouraged. Of course not the violence or fetish ones, but family oriented movies from Nollywood. Delta could even play some Nigerian real music on Delta Airline Radio wave. Some of these would get the best out of Nigerians. They want to be treated as human beings. The days of the Military are over.

Nigeria economy is already teaming with Delta Airline. Delta Airline is serving made in Nigeria drinks. Served on February 23, 2008, Lagos to Atlanta was Apple Juice, Fumman, 100% pure. The drink is produced by FUMMAN, Agricultural Products Ind. Ltd., P.M.B. 5068, G.P.O. Ibadan. Factory at Lafia Canning Factory, Moor Plantation, Ibadan, Nigeria, NAFDAC Reg: No: 01-5415.

I might request "Mr. Private Man", "the Calculator" Dr. Bukola Saraki of Kwara State to start negotiating with Delta for some of his mechanized agricultural products, especially cashew. Since Nigerians have been traveling on the European Airlines, if I may ask, how many times have 'Made in Nigeria' goods been served?

Nigerians should give Delta Airline a chance to get on the ground.