Emirates Airlines has rejected the Nigerian currency, naira, for payment by travellers to Brazil. The Dubai-based airline is rather demanding a credit card mode of payment from passengers at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
The development, which caught many passengers unawares, caused some of them to be left behind, despite having bought tickets weeks earlier.
It was observed that while some passengers were turned back by the airline’s officials at the counter for already buying tickets in naira, they also ensured that a passenger who had earlier checked in for the 5:55 p.m. Lagos-Dubai Sunday flight never boarded the plane.
The Emirates office in Lagos yesterday confirmed that the credit card mode of payment is indeed the company’s policy, though it would not explain the rationale.
An official of the airline, Babatunde Yahaya, who explained the new policy to angry passengers on Sunday said the action was in line with a memo issued to them, demanding that any ticket issued on Emirates, for passengers travelling from Nigeria to Brazil, “must be by credit card and not cash.”
Yahaya said the directive was issued on September 22 and took effect immediately.
Reading from a sheet of paper to the evicted passengers, he said: “Any ticket issued on Emirates Airline from Nigeria to Brazil must be paid for with credit card and not cash.
“The credit card holder must be verified, preferably not his passport. And even when issued by a third party, the credit card holder must be verified and his credit card ascertained.”
One of the affected passengers, Obinna, said it was “humiliation of the highest order,” and so shameful that such is happening on Nigerian soil.
“This is a ticket bought almost two weeks ago from Emirates and they collected cash. Besides the fact that it is illegal to reject it for whatever reason, why did they collect the naira when they wanted a credit card? This is so disgraceful and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Obinna said.
Another Brazil-bound passenger said it amounted to cheating the Nigerian system to insist that a ticket must be paid for with a credit card because the fares would be deducted in dollar equivalent and at the official exchange rate.
“This is sheer discrimination against Nigerians that ordinarily would have been taken up in a sane clime. The ticket was purchased even before the date the so-called memo was issued. So, why did they collect the fares when they knew they would not honour them?” the passenger said on the condition of anonymity.
The airline, however, denied discrimination against anyone, citing a “company policy” that was not adhered to by travel agencies.
The Emirates’ office in Lagos said the passengers affected bought their tickets some days before the scheduled travel, and had done so through travel agencies.
Early this year, some foreign airlines were allegedly demanding that tickets be purchased with foreign currencies or from overseas, in the wake of dollar scarcity and foreign airlines’ funds getting stuck in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) then warned all airlines to desist from the act which it described as a flagrant contravention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s “prerequisite guiding cost of products or services in Nigeria.”
The apex bank insisted that “pricing of any product shall continue to be in naira only and it is illegal to price or denominate the cost of any product or service (visible or invisible) in any foreign currency.”
Reacting to the latest development, Spokesman for NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said the action was contrary to the provisions of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and other countries as contained in Article 8 (4).
According to Adurogboye, the agreement provides for ticket payment either in local currency or official currency of the airline’s host country, but as preferred by the passenger.
He said: “You (airlines) are duty bound to accept any mode of payment that the traveller chooses. And you don’t turn them down. If you do, then that is where we come in.”
He added that the regulatory authority was not unaware of complaints against foreign airlines operating in the country and had been appealing to them instead of going punitive.
According to Adurogboye, many of the airlines still have their funds stuck in Nigeria amidst dollar scarcity, noting that it would be most unfair to wield the big stick when they violate rules.He assured that NCAA would investigate the development with Emirates and act accordingly.