Monday, June 09, 2008

Losing My Virginity

By Dele Olojede

On the evening of Monday June 9 I left my hotel in Abuja for the airport to catch an 8:25 flight on Virgin Nigeria to Lagos. Having been burned repeatedly by this hopeless airline, this was not my choice at all.

Earlier in the day I had received an sms from Aero, saying for technical reasons they regretted to inform me that the 7 p.m. flight I was scheduled to take to Lagos had been cancelled. What was more, Aero had followed up with a phone call, at least eight hours before the flight, to express their regrets and offer me a full refund.

I was expecting the worst from Virgin, and I got it.

I arrived at the airport at 7:10, a full hour and 15 minutes before departure, only to be told that the flight had been closed and I couldn’t get on it. Dumbfounded, I asked how that was possible. The hapless little lady at the check-in counter kept mouthing a meaningless “sorry, sir; sorry sir,” before coming up with the quite incredible explanation that the flight came early, so they checked in early, and now I couldn’t fly.

I had a choice to hit the roof and perhaps make a terrible scene. But as part of my on-going education regarding my re-entry into my native country, where anything that can go wrong is guaranteed to do so, I willed myself instead to ask, in my most even-tempered voice, how it was possible for her to wake up in the morning and go to work for a company that is so demonstrably hopeless.

She turned away and kept saying, in that lifeless, resigned sort of way, “sorry, sir; sorry sir.”

Soon enough some “supervisor” came by and said she could squeeze me into an economy seat, though Virgin had taken my cash for business class. I kept haranguing the staff how they could possibly be proud of a company that treats its customers with such contempt. Of course, there being no possibly defensible answer, they kept quiet. One said, again, “sorry sir. We will refund your ticket sir.”

So I walked to the aircraft to board. One fellow ran up to me with a hurriedly handwritten ticket—just as the boarding pass and the baggage tag had also been handwritten—as proof that Virgin owed me a refund.

I boarded and settled into Seat 5D, economy class.

We prepared to take off. The pilot apologized over the PA system for the more than one-hour delay of the flight. A-ha! So the flight was not early after all. It was late! And so, quite capriciously, the bright sparks at Virgin decided to combine the earlier flight with the 8:25 flight, with no further flights for the day, and tough luck for any customer expecting to fly at 8:25.

Virgin Nigeria lies.

As we prepared to take off, I took a look at the paper ticket, No. 1 786 5090007821 0, that had been handed to me. It stated at the top that the ticket is NON-REFUNDABLE! And it is merely “good for further transportation or excess baggage” on Virgin Nigeria only!

Virgin Nigeria cheats.

The aircraft trundled along the runway and prepared to take off. Dozens of mosquitoes buzzed around in the cabin. One bit me in the left foot.

Virgin Nigeria makes you sick.

Several weeks ago, while my wife and children were visiting, we had experienced another incident of the outrageous and contemptuous way in which Virgin Nigeria routinely treats its passengers. We had boarded a Lagos flight from Abuja and were walking to the tarmac to board, when we discovered that Virgin was herding us onto some unknown charter operator called Blue Fin. No previous warning, no explanation, no apology.

The aircraft was rickety old. Overhead compartments couldn’t close properly. Stuffing came out of the seats, and my daughter’s seat could not be made to stay in an upright position. Neither the pilot nor the cabin crew spoke a word of English. We avoided the food. We hoped for the best.

Virgin Nigeria lies and cheats and makes you sick.

It is clear the airline no longer has operational capabilities that can pass muster with any minimally competent regulator. But as in all things, our government leaves the citizens at the mercy of predators of all stripes. Since Richard Branson lends his name to this fraud, he can only be considered a fraud also. A liar, a cheat, and a flier of planes with malaria mosquitoes inside.

It is clear that an airline like Virgin Nigeria does not have what it takes to put planes in the air safely and efficiently. A company that is so dysfunctional cannot be trusted with the lives of citizens.

It is only a matter of time before Virgin Nigeria kills.


Anonymous,  1:15 am  

" Neither the pilot nor the cabin crew spoke a word of English."

Mr Olojede,

I hope you were comforted by hearing the ailine staff speak Yoruba, Edo, Efik, Ebira and other Nigerian languages.

Anonymous,  5:16 am  

Flying in Nigeria? Tufiakwa. Anytime I visit that jungle nation, I fly to Benin republic and drive into Nigeria. Since I live right on the border, it's closer and faster for me.

Kody 6:20 am  

Brilliantly written and brilliantly put. I am sure many of us have all kinds of stories to tell about not just Virgin Nigeria, but any of the crappy airlines we have in this country.

I had lived outside Nigeria for 20yrs before relocating nearly 7ys ago. When i first got back, i found myself constantly insisting on better service or demanding adequate compensation if service was impossible for people to achieve. After a couple of years though, i found myself complaining less and less often because Nigeria literally wore me down with the constant effort - it was just one thing after another, then another.

Lately though, i have gone full circle and become virtually intolerant of bad service but this time, i have noticed a considerable change - more and more people are feeling the exact same way and are doing something about it. Last week for example, a movie screening had to be delayed because myself and tens of others staged a protest against the flippant attitude demonstrated by the staff of Silverbird Cinemas.

I am optimistic that change will come but it will only do so if more and more of us don't allow Nigeria to wear us down, and force us to accept its 'like it or lump it' philosophy. I know many will find my optimism laughable but i truly believe that if more people write articles, stage protests, and hit these companies where it hurts, things will definitely get better - especially if we have the support of the media and demand follow up by Government.

I, for one, am not willing to wait until Virgin Nigeria kills.

Anonymous,  10:10 am  

I believe your motives for this blog are very questionable indeed. I personally have flown Virgin Nigeria many times and have always had a pleasant experience each time. They have their faults but let me tell you they have remarkable service also. Virgin does call if they have to cancel a flight and I'm quite sure that the only reason they didn't was because you didn't leave a contact number for them to reach you. I have flown other airlines (I won't mention airline names cos that is just tacky) and they won't even bother to call you or let you know what's going on BUT VIRGIN DOES.

You had a bad experience with them and I empathize with you but just take a moment to consider what Virgin are trying to do and what they have achieved in Nigeria in only three years and you will agree that they should be commended. Other airlines have been forced to step up their game and we can all fly safely.

Yes, safely - you so callously said that Virgin will kill. If you follow aviation closely you will know that Virgin is the FIRST and only West African carrier to be listed on the IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit programme) directory and this is no small feat in airline safety circles. Nigeria is not an easy country to run any business in and most of us have to get by with cutting corners.

Virgin doesn't. They have demonstrated time and time again their committment to Safety first and World Class standards. They would rather lose face with a customer and make sure the aircraft is fit for flying than put a technically suspect aircraft in the air (which a lot of these airlines do by the way - do your research!!!).

You are angry, which is understandable, but that is no excuse to belittle the efforts of all the people at Virgin Nigeria. Imagine if it was your business someone was running down in such an unsavoury manner. There was not even one unkind word for Aero that cancelled your flight. Even though both airlines agreed to give you a refund. For goodness sake be reasonable. It's the same everywhere, even the press and other media, it's a crazy witchhunt!!! It's like you all want this airline to fail despite it's determination to succeed and give us an airline we can all be proud of.

I know this comment needs your approval before it can be posted so I don't actually expect to see it but you obviously have an emotional interest in Aero and a personal grudge against Virgin Nigeria (which now extends to Richard Branson) but in every court of law every accused needs a fair hearing and to have its own side told. You've said the bad what about the good. What about eagleflier - the only frequent flyer programme from a Nigerian Airline that rewards with free tickets for domestic and international travel, COCO, online booking and payment options, 24 hours check in, their new fleet of aircraft arriving soon (all this info is available at and so much more, why don't you try writing about that?

southern-tree,  11:52 am  

Hilarious article! And for what it's worth, I could not fault the complains.

This is too funny... I wonder what PR spin Virgin Nigeria would put on this!

Anonymous,  12:52 pm  

Jeremy, first of all, this is a long overdue book-our collective Virgin Nigeria experience. Have fun editing tho,Mr. Cassava Republic, because like Virgin Nigeria, its going to be a nightmare. The book will sure be voluminous.
Mr Olojede's piece ends on a very chilling note,one that should stop us treating our Virgin tales as anecdotal, or amusing:
It is only a matter of time before Virgin Nigeria kills.

Waffarian 1:07 pm  

@kody, well said! I too, think it is time people stop complaining and take action. Nigerians have to realize that we will never leave the rot we are in if more people do not get active.

Well done Sir.

By the way, Arik is right up there with disgusting customer announcements, no explanations etc...basically, there are not being civil to their customers which just means they treat us like animals.

Kudos to Aero that has always been consistent.

Jeremy 1:41 pm  

Second from last anonymous:

1. You confuse the writer of the post (Dele Olojede) with me. We are in fact two distinct people. He is writing from his own perspective of Virgin Nigeria.

2. I happen to agree with him, as would I imagine the majority of people who have used Virgin Nigeria:
a) I have lost hours of my life to delays, which are always 'operational'. Sometimes, the cabin crew fail to turn up on time, sometimes, a plane has gone missing. Never do they call to let you know what is happening, even though they always take your mobile phone number. The last time I flew with them, they gave me the same seat as someone else, which led to a huge argument on the plane..

b) Virgin Nigeria is synonymous with the "Nigeria Factor" and is often used as a case study for an international brand (Virgin) that rapidly became "Nigerianised". No wonder that Branson is rumoured to be pulling out.

c) Just one example of operational inadequacy - I can't believe Virgin Nigeria does not use a fully computerised ticketing system. Instead, like all the other local airlines, boarding passes are hand-written. World Class? Hardly.

d) Eagle Flier. The advertising/marketing for this service has been extremely poorly communicated. As usual in the Nigerian advert-world, the idea of benefits-driven, customer-centric copywriting is a distant dream.

2. Clearly you work for/are in the pay of Virgin Nigeria. Just read through all the other comments (up to now and to come) to get a reality check on the massive disappointment Virgin Nigeria has been over the past few years..

southern-tree,  3:25 pm  

Ahhh there, anonymous 10:10 did not disappoint! Sigh! I knew the Virgin Nigeria Spin Doctors would pay this blog a visit.

anonymaus,  3:31 pm  

Virgin operate other routes around the world, here they have Virgin Blue. Never have I heard them operate in such a shabby manner.

Judging by the way Nigeria airways went, could it be that with significant local management (and/or involvement), and a total disregard for doing things properly or paying attention to customer service, that things have just slid (downhill)?

Air safety is given short shrift by government, look at the Borishade episode, when under his watch, it was like every 3 months planes were crashing and killing and injuring those unfortunate enough to be onboard. Even though the incidence of crashes has dipped (for now). There are still many accounts of the tarmac being in poor condition, cattle wandering over the runways, no water for the fire services. I mean what sort of establishment is this?

Kemikal Reactions 5:43 pm  

@anonymous 10.10:

Are u for real????? Really, really for real?? Of course you aren't. Clearly you are in the employ of Virgin Nigeria and/or their PR agency but you should be fired because your attempt at spinning the facts was so unconvincing as to actually be laughable!

I deal with Virgin Nigeria on a regular basis and it will take me a whole day to detail the litany of woes I have suffered at their hands. Sometimes I wonder if they are deliberately trying to frustrate their customers because surely no organization can be that proficent at being inefficient - not unless they are trained to be so!

To compound matters, Virgin Nigeria remain completely unapologetic in the face of their shameful performance. It's almost as though they think they're doing Nigerians a favor.

So pls Mr or Ms. Anonymous go and peddle your spin elsewhere - we the public know better & we're not buying the b.s. Better still, tell Virgin Nigeria that the best way to get rid of the bad press is to clean up their act!!

Anonymous,  6:36 pm  

Anonymous 10:10, perhaps you want to hear the experiences of 10,000 other people before you realize that virgin Nigeria sucks.

Here is Funmi Iyanda's experience:

Hardly the stuff a 'world-class' airline will want to be tangled up in! Anyway, you can do the typical Nigerian thing and bury your head in the sand like our leaders do.

Ayo,  7:07 pm  

To Anon 10:10. all I can say is that you are working for virgin and this is a feeble attempt at brand demage control.

Anonymous,  8:30 pm  

Anonymous 10:10 - what a cool name.

I waited for all the comments to pour in before responding and I believe this is everything. I neither work for Virgin or a media agency nor am I a Doctor of Spin (believe it or not, it's the truth).

But I will ask, if the apparent motive for a blog post is to represent an organisation's interest, who do you all work for and why are y'all so adamant about wrecking this airline?

My intention isn't to make light of your situation or the countless others. Quite honestly, I read your article and was flabbergasted at some of the very damning words you used and felt the need to stick up for these folks - BASED ON MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH THEM.

If you truly believe there is nothing good about them, I would like to say that there is and I will defend it to my dying day despite their many flaws. I've already made a "feeble attempt at damage control" so I'll say no more.

But I will say this.

Virgin and I have some things in common (I guess that's why I seem to be so passionate about them) I run my own business and I compete against the big boys of the game (hence my decision to stay anonymous in this blog) and I want to offer the best possible service but things don't always go to plan but I keep on trying. It can be Aero, Arik, Bellview that I'll defend if I had the conviction to do so, who knows... but blogs like these are not the answer ... (I repeat)... just imagine if it was your business that someone was trying to destroy in this manner... There are different mediums to voice a complaint with the airlines like their registered Head Office or their complaints department. That is how we get change in a civilised manner not destroying the hopes and aspirations of so many people like this. Words are very powerful my friend.

Virgin Nigeria are operating on the largest scale in Nigerian aviation and I guess their biggest fault is taking on so much so early but BA, KLM or Lufthansa or whoever after just three years of operation definitely had some kinks to work out, but look at them now... Even then, are they incident free today?

All I'm saying here guys is don't condemn these folks so quickly without giving them some more room to improve otherwise I guess my business is more or less doomed...

By the way, I have read Newspaper rejoinder's from Virgin Nigeria and they always had the courage to put their names at the bottom (another point for taking responsibility, I think).

Stay Blessed Chaps.

Anonymous 10:10 (I love this name!!!)

Angela,  10:27 pm  

Anon 10:10. if you don't want people to slate your business or VN then you should provide the service that you are asking people to pay for. They are in the business of making money not charity so why should we treat them with kid's glove? If you are not ready to provide good service close shop until you know you are ready to provide what you are asking people to pay.

Anon 10:10 you are asking a lot from Nigerians. 90% of cases, we have had to put up with bad service, with service providers thinking that they are doing us a favour. This can only happen in Nigeria. Maybe you are right people should stop complaining on blogs and use other means. But guess what people are already doing so. I work for an Embassy in Abuja and we have been instructed not to use VN and I know of three other embassies who have the smae policy.

I think Nigerians should start showing their dissatisfaction by walking and thankfully people are doing so.

anengiyefa,  10:37 pm  

Anonymous 10:10, yep it a great name. And yes, I agree with you.

Anonymous,  5:31 pm  

Mr Olojede, typical of we nigerians, most times we never celebrate our own but get overly critical.
By the way you crucify this airline i believe you are doing the nation more harm than good. am not saying that there may not be issues with virgin (which is usually associated with any new and growing business)but you have given many a non nigerian outside never to believe in anything naija. if virgin nigeria is so bad, why dont you stop flying and let the the airline learn from their mistakes. Aero has been here for years, virgin only less than 3yrs.Haba! am sure you know that naija is not one of the easiest palces on earth to do business, and an airline business at that. abeg softly softly o. coooolu tempa! Oy.

Jeremy 6:04 pm  

Its not a Nigerian thing to be 'overly critical'. Its just that whenever any company goes on about global standards, they need to realise they will be judged by this. Look at how BA/BAA were crucified over the T5 baggage system recently.

All this criticism should do VN a lot of good if it takes it on the chin.

More customer service training for frontline/front office staff is definitely needed as a starting point, plus an 'always ring the customer' policy for delays/cancellations..

No one criticising Virgin Nigeria wants them to continue failing.

That's one thing that Nigerian companies/Nigerians often fail to get: criticism can be an entirely positive experience, even though its tough to hear in the beginning...

Bisola Edun,  10:53 am  

@ anon 10:10, while I understand what you're trying to say, I have to disagree with your point of view.

Nigerians in business (and in general really), should recognize that if they decide to play on a world class stage, they will be judged by world class standards. We all know it's tough, but heck, where is it easy to do business? In the UK? In America? In Ghana? It’s a jungle out there, period!

I had the privilege of touring the UK fashion industry this year and was surprised to learn that showing at London Fashion Week does not depend solely on the strength of your designs. The organizers look at a variety of things, including your preparedness to handle life in the spotlight. The assumption is once you show at LFS, you're ready for the big league and if you cannot live up to expectations, the press will tear you to shreds (and you KNOW the British press is a force you really don't want to reckon with!!!). So they’re actually being kind by refusing you a spot.

I too run a business (fashion) in Nigeria and I know the challenges I face on a day to day basis. I know that sometimes when I'm criticized, it's all I can do to leave my house, but guess what, those criticisms keep me on my toes! I'm not talking about the 'bad belle' critics, I’m talking about people, whether friends or not, who tell me, without mincing words, when I’ve messed up.

I have found in Nigeria, that people are often loathe to speak the truth for fear of hurting feelings, but I think that's worse. I think it’s more useful and helpful to tell someone the truth and help build that person up. If my clothes are crappy and poorly made, please tell me, don’t patronize me and leave me wondering why I’m not selling. If I’m doing something wrong, please let me know, and if I choose to behave like the proverbial dog that refuses to heed the hunter’s whistle, get my attention any way you can!! As Jeremy pointed out, criticisms can be a good thing though painful to hear at first.

Unfortunately, businesses like Virgin do not understand that it’s really easy to impress people in Nigeria. All you have to do is make excellent customer service your watchword, no matter what. We’re so used to mediocrity in this country that any form of excellence is a breath of fresh air and people will sing your praises from the mountains and cut down any one who dares to differ.

I have flown virgin Nigeria and have experienced nothing more than I expect (delayed flights), but I do know that the way that company is being run, it'll be a miracle if it doesn't go the way of Nigeria Airways. Delayed salaries, corrupt directors who see the company as a cookie jar to be continually raided, lack of focus, contempt for people who try to remain upright... The list goes on and on. This is not the way to run a world class airline, and we should stop excusing them (and ourselves) by falling back on the old, this is Nigeria, at least we're trying, we're only x years old and blah blah. Others have done it in less time, why can't we???

Sorry Jeremy for taking up so much space.

Anonymous,  5:13 pm  

I READ Mr. Dele Olojede's article, "Losing my virginity" (The Guardian, June 12, 2008) with deep consternation. He "cut Virgin Nigeria no slack" as they would say in his country of residence - the United States. I was going to let this pass, when it occurred to me, that having been away from the country, it is important to bring him up to speed on the happenings within one of the key sectors in Nigeria - Aviation.

Prior to the arrival of Virgin Nigeria, if he may recollect, the sector was full of more than a few dysfunctional operators and with even more concerning regulatory bodies. The bane as we were told then by various media reports was shortchanging in aircraft maintenance and standards. Naturally, this brought Nigeria, the usual negative publicity internationally. In fairness, four air incidents in two years would bring any country negative publicity.

In came Virgin Nigeria, in time for when the riot act was being read to the sector. To many of us resident in Nigeria, it was a sigh of relief as we no longer had to travel by road, or go to the UK to board a British Airways flight to go to Abuja! Virgin Nigeria brought with them 22 years pedigree from an airline with not one single air incident. They also brought with them technical expertise in terms of engineers and pilots. These you will agree had hitherto been missing in the aviation sector.

The regulatory bodies having been rejuvenated themselves and led by the NCAA began work as it should be doing - regulating airlines to the highest standards possible. If you have followed the sector, you may have noticed that Virgin Nigeria emerged the first airline in Nigeria (and West Africa) to become IOSA certified. IOSA is the IATA organisational safety audit, which is the highest safety audit in the world. I am sure Mr. Olojede had a harrowing experience, which having read through, does not border on safety.

Air safety according to is a term encompassing the theory, investigation and categorisation of flight failures, and the prevention of such failures through regulation, as well as through education and training. As a frequent flyer, I have had great experiences with the Airline, from being given advance notice through a phone call or text messages when there is a delay, I have enjoyed great national and continental cuisine. This has naturally made them my first choice for travel. The airline is only three years old, and constantly being compared to airlines that have been up and running for many years. Even at just three years old, I believe Virgin Nigeria has done considerably well. How does a mosquito bite 'on his left leg' as well as (sadly) being given a seat less than he paid for amount to 'safety issues'?

Being a savvy traveller, I personally have little patience for poor customer service in whatever form, but I have flown enough to know that Virgin Nigeria is easily comparable to the airlines I have flown outside Nigeria, be it American airlines, where I have to pay my huge air fare and pay also for a cup of water, or British Airways who lost a million bags including mine with no apologies at Terminal five a few months back.....I have had issues with Virgin Nigeria myself and have seen great service recovery in action. I wonder if Mr. Olojede bothered to report the incident to the airline or given his status, addressing it in the media seemed faster?

Interestingly a writer from the blog site where his write up was posted had responded to Mr. Olojede saying "Virgin has demonstrated time and time again their commitment to Safety first and World Class standards. They would rather lose face with a customer and make sure the aircraft is fit for flying than put a technically suspect aircraft in the air"

Mr. Olojede is angry which is understandable, but that is no excuse to belittle the efforts of all the people at Virgin Nigeria.

Apart from running my own business in Nigeria, I have travelled enough also to imagine the challenges of running an airline, albeit in Nigeria dispatching flights to regional, domestic and international destinations in one breath. Being an award-winning writer, a bit of theatre is occasionally permitted in writing, but safety is much too sensitive a word to play around with...Mr. Olojede's made his article available on a blog site, making it accessible to the world, and adding just another negative publicity on the nation's lap.

One would have thought, given his person and status, practising a bit more of responsible journalism would have been required? This may have required calling the airline, hearing their bit and reaching for his pen should their response be unsatisfactory? Perhaps he could have put his pen behind a more positive image laundering for the country? Like celebrating the fact that Virgin Nigeria's investment in people, has not only produced lots of Nigerian pilots including another eight recently sent to on a cadetship programme in the USA. All this is in the face of a global dearth of pilots. These pilots are being given one of the best pilot trainings in order to serve not just the airline, but the nation as a whole.

As I say to my friends and colleagues during discussions, Nigeria will only turn around and be great when you and I make the effort at being responsible in our different areas, I believe only then can we take the next step?....which for me, is having the innate and unrepentant pride like citizens of the USA... the kind that makes the USA believe they are the super nation of the world... after all, we too, are the giant of Africa

Adama Goge

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