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06.01.2024 Featured Nigerian Travellers Paid Over N215m in 2022 for Failed Hajj Trips. Qatar Airways Kept the Money

Published 6th Jan, 2024

By Sodeeq Atanda

Qatar Airways has continued to hold on to several millions of naira for flight tickets belonging to nine Nigerian air travel agencies, a move that is against its own refund policy.

The agencies are in the business of offering travel services to intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah. They are Ashabul Yameen Travels, Amami Global Travels, Meeqat Travels, Light Upon Lights Travels and Albarakatu Travels. Others are Koki Travels, Al-Yusuf Travels, Ashabul Yameen Travels and Olagunju Travels.

In preparation for the 2022 Hajj, the travel firms had booked group flight tickets with Qatar Airways for their respective clients. The travel agencies paid the flight fares along with a list of their passengers, as required by the airline, according to documentation obtained by FIJ.

READ ALSO: Out of N1.1m, Qatar Airways Refunds N973,633 to UK-Based Nigerian Student After FIJ’s Story

THE START OF THE PROBLEM

During an interview conducted via Zoom, the representatives of the companies told FIJ that after they had bought group tickets from the Qatari government-run airline, they encountered a problem with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). According to the companies, the problem stemmed from the fact that the regulatory agency did not secure visas for their clients and remit necessary fares to their International Bank Account Number (IBAN) in Saudi Arabia.

A copy of NAHCON’s letter

The representatives’ account of the development was confirmed in a letter written by NAHCON in August 2022, in which the regulatory agency urged the airline to process refunds to the affected tour operators or find a practical alternative to lessen the losses they might have incurred.

“I have been directed to write to confirm that there were issues with the issuance of visas for some hajj pilgrims in Nigeria due to unforeseen contingencies. This affected a lot of pilgrims of Tour Operators who could not eventually make it to Hajj this year,” a letter by NAHCON with reference number NAHCON/AI/78/Vol.I and dated June 21, 2022, read partly.

“We are aware many have paid for tickets which could not be utilized because of this. We will appreciate your assistance with respect to refund or whatever you can do to minimize the loss.”

‘FORCE MAJEURE’

Following the official communication from NAHCON to the airline, the tour operators exchanged correspondence with the airline to press home their requests for refunds, but nothing changed.

Kazeem Taoreed, the chief executive officer of Meeqat Travels, told FIJ that he believed the airline was intentionally holding on to their money.

S/NOPERATORAMOUNT
1Fatimoh Olabisi TravelsN15,018,014
2Amami Global TravelsN15,650,000
3Meeqat TravelsN19,028,169
4Light Upon Light TravelsN22,200,000
5Albarakatullahi TravelsN43,447,580
6Koki TravelsN20,664,000
7Al-Yusuf TravelsN43,874,024
8Ashabul Yameen TravelsN15,990,727
9Olagunju TravelsN19,865,000
TOTALN215,737,514
Table showing how much each operator has with the airtime

“The situation we have found ourselves in can be likened to a force majeure or an extraordinary circumstance. We did not envisage such an issue would occur, and when it happened, it was outside our control. And we wasted no time in letting Qatar Airways know this, and even the Hajj travel regulator formally notified them,” Taoreed said.

He also said that the affected operators had formed a group for the purpose of making representations to interface with the airline as well as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). All of this, however, yielded no positive outcome, making them frustrated.

READ ALSO: Qatar Airways Fails to Make Full Refund After Cancelling Nigerian Family’s N2.5m Flight

“We have written a series of emails and letters as individuals and as a group to them, yet they seem unbothered by our plights. Some of us are on the verge of going out of business because of debts. We believe the management is deliberately frustrating our efforts at getting our due refunds. How would you say someone who paid N26 million should just forego their money? Money collected from tens of clients?” Taoreed asked.

THE UNFAIR CONDITIONS

The airline stated that the fees paid were non-refundable but the operators could re-use them. The airline also said the tickets could only be re-used by the same sets of passengers whose names were submitted during the process.

On December 21, Ifeanyi Francis Ononuju, senior group sales agent at Qatar Airways in Lagos, emailed one of the operators that group tickets were non-refundable and non-transferrable. His response consolidated his consistent position, which he had made known to the operators since the problem began.

Ifeanyi Francis Ononuju’s image on his LinkedIn profile

“As earlier advised, the option available for these passengers is to use the ticket as a group on or before June 24. We will advise the fare difference if passengers are ready to utilise the ticket on or before the date stated below. As per group terms and conditions, tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable. However, taxes that are not utilised are refundable,” said Ononuju.

“All journeys must be completed on or before June 28, 2024. Tickets will expire by June 28, 2024. The amount for the refundable taxes is NGN147,296 if you opt for a refund. All passengers must travel together if we are to rebook.”

READ ALSO: After FIJ’s Story, MAPOLY Releases Results of 100 Students Who Graduated 5 Years Ago

The airline told one of the affected operators that the refundable tax for a ticket originally purchased at N695,249 was a paltry N155,942. The concerned operators also said that the airline had agreed in 2022 that they could re-use the tickets during the 2023 Hajj processions. But the airline’s management in Lagos deviated from the agreement earlier this year when it said the tickets were not transferrable.

“We have held some meetings with the company to resolve this issue,” Taoreed further explained. “It is incomprehensible to me how the company will be insisting on such conditions aimed at denying us our money.”

The consensus among the operators was that some of the people on the list had died while they had refunded all their clients after some unbearable events. According to them, they were forced to refund their clients after some of them reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the police.

QATAR AIRWAYS’ REFUND POLICY

FIJ’s review of Qatar Airways’ frequently asked questions (FAQs) about group bookings indicated that both group deposits and group tickets, as in the case of the tour operators, are refundable.

FAQ 3: Is group deposit refundable?

Yes, group tickets are refundable with penalty. The penalty depends as to when the seat cancellation is done. The earlier you cancel the lower the penalty. Please contact your local Qatar Airways office for more information.

FAQ 4: Are group tickets refundable?

Yes, group tickets are refundable with penalty. The penalty depends as to when the seat cancellation is done. The earlier you cancel the lower the penalty.

Based on this finding, the Lagos office of Qatar Airways appears to have acted in a manner inconsistent with the airline’s policy.

Even after the operators had agreed that the airline could deduct corresponding penalties from their deposits and refund the rest, the management of the airline in Nigeria turned them down.

However, some operators had the same problem with the airline in Ghana, and the airline refunded their money without much hassle, according to some documents obtained by FIJ.

The Nigerian operators accused the airline of applying its policy selectively. “This same problem happened in Ghana. Some of our friends in the country have collected their refunds since 2022. So why are they (Qatar Airways) using different rules in Nigeria?” An operator asked.

REACTIONS

Musa Ubandawaki, NAHCON’s head of media, told FIJ over the phone on Thursday that the commission wrote to the airline on the issues but got no response. He added that the commission had done all it could and expected the NCAA to do the rest as a body empowered to resolve airline passenger complaints.

An email sent to Qatar Airways Group’s Corporate Communications Department on December 28 has not been responded to. The airline’s office in Nigeria has also not responded to FIJ’s email sent on Thursday.

READ ALSO: 2 Years After Cancelling Flight, Qatar Airways Yet to Pay Nigerian £202 Compensation

Ononuju told FIJ during a phone call on Thursday that he was not at work and could not respond to FIJ’s inquiry. He, however, directed our reporter to contact his office. When our reporter told him he had sent an email, he said someone would respond. But FIJ had not received any response to that effect as of press time.

Henry Ugeh, Senior Sales Executive at Qatar Airways in Lagos, could not be reached at press time. He has also not responded to a text message and a WhatsApp chat FIJ sent to him.

FIJ also called Olusesan Gafar Anifowose, an NCAA consumer protection officer who had been extensively involved in the matter, on Thursday. He said, “NCAA is still reviewing this matter with a view to amicably resolving it. The outcome of our action will be conveyed.”

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Published 6th Jan, 2024

By Sodeeq Atanda

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