At least three passengers abroad an Air Peace 6:30 p.m. flight to Abuja from Lagos on Monday were arrested and charged to court for alleged unruly behaviour and for obstructing the operations of the airline.
One of the arrested passengers, Oluwaseun Akinfolarin, told PREMIUM TIMES that trouble started after he pointed out to one of the hostesses on the flight during the routine safety drill that seats were blocking the aeroplane's emergency exits.
"I told her that there was an obstruction on the emergency exits. Please explain why do we have seats there. She couldn't give us an answer. When her colleague came, she shoved her aside and told her she should not bother explaining anything to us. Then there was an uproar among the passengers."
He explained that the air hostess went in to inform the pilot of the aeroplane that passengers were being unruly. Subsequently, the pilot announced he was no longer going to fly.
Later the chairman of the airline, Allen Onyema arrived and insisted that the flight was cancelled and the passengers were ordered to disembark.
Mr. Akinfolarin and two others were then arrested and taken to a police station in the Ikeja area of Lagos. They were later granted bail and told to report the next morning, Tuesday.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Akinfolarin, he said he and the two other passengers have been charged to court for unruly behaviour and stopping the operation of the airline. He explained he was driving in the company of a police officer to a court in the Ogba area of town.
Though he promised to text further details of his ordeal, nothing has been heard from him since then. He could no longer be reached on his mobile phone, as it has been switched off.
However, Air Peace in a statement signed by its corporate communication manager, Chris Iwara, said security officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria FAAN were invited after several appeals to the passengers fell on deaf ears.
He further explained that the seating arrangement on the aircraft was approved by both FAAN and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
The airline's claim is, however, contentious as Part 8 of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations, which deals with aircraft operations stated that "no person may allow carry-on baggage or other items to block access to the emergency exits when the aircraft is moving on the surface, during take-off or landing, or while passengers remain on board on the ground."
Mr. Iwara further claimed that the flight was delayed for three hours as a result of the uproar.
"The passengers insisted that the aircraft was unsafe and would suffer the fate of one other domestic airline whose aircraft crashed some years ago. The unruly passengers prevented our crew from continuing with the safety briefing. Understandably, other passengers on board the flight became apprehensive and insisted on the unruly passengers being taken off the flight, "he said.
"The pilot-in-command, therefore, had no choice than to request the unruly passengers to disembark. The passengers, however, refused to comply, leading to the captain of the flight calling for the intervention of FAAN security personnel. The passengers also refused to refrain from their disruptive conduct upon the intervention of FAAN security personnel.
"After about three hours delay, two of the disruptive passengers eventually agreed to disembark, while the lady among them was adamant. She only agreed to disembark upon other passengers' intervention after delaying the flight for almost three hours in total.
"The three passengers were eventually taken in for interrogation by FAAN security personnel, who later transferred them to the police for further investigation," the statement read.
"While we will continue to treat all our valued guests with the greatest respect and courtesy, we will never allow a tiny minority of customers jeopardise the safety and comfort of our customers and the overall safe operation of our flights. The unfortunate incident of Monday is now being addressed by the nation's security agencies. We trust the security agencies to resolve the incident without bias," the airline added.
When reached for comments about the incident and the approved seating arrangement on aircraft and whether it was right for seats to be placed in such a manner that they are obstructing emergency exits, the spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, declined to comment explaining that since the matter had been charged to court, any statement by the agency may be cited for contempt.
He, however, suggested that the aggrieved parties may have explored the agency's alternative dispute resolution opportunities.
"The NCAA consumer rights protection is meant to resolve issues amicably without recourse to the court," he wrote in a text message.