A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/657/2018, recently awarded a fine of N6 million as general damages against Ethiopian Airlines Ltd. for cancelling three Nigerians’ flights without due notice to the plaintiffs. In his ruling on Friday, March 26, 2021, Justice Adekunle Faji also awarded another sum of N1 million as the cost of the action, instituted by one Alhaji Munir Jaafaru and his family via the Writ of Summons. The court found in favour of the plaintiffs, the Madakin Zazzau, Munir Jaafaru; his wife Hadizat Jaafaru, and their daughter, Hafsat Jaafaru, due regard being had to the hardships, stress, and inconvenience caused them by the airline’s cancellation of their flights without notice.
In the suit filed on April 27, 2018, the plaintiffs sought, inter alia, a declaration that the airline contravened the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Regulations, 2015, by cancelling the flights without due notice and for the consequent hardships, stress, and inconvenience thereby caused.
Justice Faji, in his judgment, also held that the defendant was bound to give notice of the flight cancellation to the plaintiffs and having not shown proof of such notice, its action was in breach of the contract of carriage. He also found that the defendant breached the contract of carriage with the plaintiffs by its failure to give notice of its flight cancellation, as required by the NCAA Regulations. The judge noted that this caused the plaintiffs who were on a family trip in a foreign land hardship, stress, and inconvenience in rescheduling their flights.
The Civil Aviation Act 2006, which is the principal legislation which establishes the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and gives the NCAA the power to regulate and deal on safety and technical issues in the aviation industry under Section 2, and also gives the NCAA the powers to make regulations, pursuant to which the Consumer Protection Regulation was introduced under Part 19 of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCAR) 2015, which prescribes minimum rights and duties of passengers and the obligations of airlines, and which is applicable to all airlines, foreign and domestic. The National Civil Aviation Policy lends further teeth and currency in the following words: “The Civil Aviation Act . . . together with regulations made by the [Nigerian Civil Aviation Authorities] NCAA constitutes the primary law regulating civil aviation in Nigeria.”
In order to effectively carry out its mandate, the NCAA further launched the Consumer Protection Department (CPD) in March 2001, to ensure that all aviation passengers obtain the best services in air transportation. The CPD is charged with the responsibility of informing, educating and protecting consumers as well as ensuring the provision of quality services in the aviation industry. The ultimate goal is to ensure that services provided within the aviation industry are of the highest standard and ensure that consumers are well-informed of their rights and responsibilities.
It should be noted that the aviation sector is also governed by international laws, one of which is the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (Montreal Convention) 1999, ratified by Section 48(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 in consonance with Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which supplanted/replaced the original Convention on air carrier liability, that is, the Warsaw Convention 1929. The Montreal Convention, which has been domesticated in the Civil Aviation Act, 2006, governs the rights and liabilities of carriers, passengers, consignors, consignees and other persons, and is applicable to both international and domestic carriage.
Some of the statutory rights of aviation passengers under the NCAR 2015 are as follows:
- The right to the full value for money paid
- The right to compensation for flight cancellation, delays, damaged/loss baggage and denied boarding for reasons other than technical, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks and industrial disputes that affect the operation of the flight.
- The right to book and confirm tickets with an airline of your choice.
- The right to the provision of a conducive airport environment before, during, and after flights.
- The right to seek redress for all irregularities during your flight.
- The right to timely feedback in respect of matters/complaints lodged with service providers.
- The right to be fully informed about flight status.
- The right to be treated with respect and dignity irrespective of race or physical condition.
Claims can also be brought against an airline on the occurrence of any of the following:
- No-show and Overbooking of flights
- Denied boarding against the will of a passenger (Involuntary)
- Delayed scheduled flights
- Cancelled scheduled flights
- Claims relating to delayed, damaged and lost baggage.
Taken as a whole, the Federal Hight Court decision in the above matter has merely keynoted the position of the law that the cancellation of flights by airlines without due notice to the passenger is a ground upon which the plaintiff can ground an action, which would inevitably render the airline liable.
Follow the link to read the Civil Aviation Act 2006.
Follow this line to read Part 19 Consumer Protection Regulations