Nigerian airlines, their flight attendants, 'switch off your phone!', and Airplane Mode.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This holiday weekend was not all fun for me. While I got to travel, I went to spend time with my cousins who had lost their mum. So there was this underlying sadness I felt all weekend.

But that didn’t get me.

On Saturday, I was checked in at the airport by 9.40 am for my 11 am flight back to Abuja. It was not until it was past 1pm and we had not left that I became quite irritated, and called out the airline on twitter. They apologized profusely, and by 3 pm, we were on our merry little way back to Abuja.

Maybe it was because I had my Game of Thrones book in my phone to keep me company throughout the wait. So that didn’t entirely get me.

While the plane was taking off, I dozed off a bit, with my head on the window. I woke shortly after take-off, thirsty, and then noticed that passengers around me had all been served with snack packs. I approached one of the flight attendants, and gently pointed out that I had been skipped.

I was expectant of an “Oh, I’m sorry, you were dozing, and I didn’t want to disturb you. Here is your pack”.

All I got was a “Well, I called you, you didn’t answer. So I moved on”. The end.

Hard to believe, but it didn’t get me. 

I collected my water (the attendant subsequently attempted to gruffly hand me a snack-pack, but I quietly declined and just collected the water) and returned to my seat.

I turned on my phone, which was already on airplane mode, and continued reading. I was in that part where King Robert Baratheon had just decreed that Sansa’s direwolf be killed, when another flight attendant (very sour-faced) appeared beside me and instructed me to put off my phone.

With the sweetest smile I could muster, I began explaining that the phone was off, as airplane mode was on, and that it was just a book I was reading. But she cut me short, and insisted that I switch off my phone immediately.

THAT got me.

“Help me understand. I told you the phone’s off already. I’m just reading a book. Everywhere in the world, it’s understood that Airplane mode is same as putting off your phone. So I don’t comprehend your request”.

“Well, it doesn’t work in Nigeria. We only allow Ipads and Laptops” while pulling out a pamphlet, and pointing to the part of “NCAA prohibits Use of Mobile phones”. (NCAA stands for Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority). 

Picture taken my Schinnel M
“Are you aware that an Ipad is basically an oversized mobile phone, and CAN be used to make calls/send texts?” I asked.

Me continuing: “This pamphlet states that the NCAA prohibits ‘Use of mobile phones, pagers and amateur radio transceivers’. Infact, the actual NCAA guidelines prohibits “the use of cell phones OR other communication gadgets in the plane”. Which points to the fact that NCAA’s concern is anything which can be used to emit or receive communications signals. This thing in my hand right now can’t receive or emit any signal. It’s just a book. It is safer than an Ipad, which can actually be used to emit/receive radio signals. If you don’t mind, I will continue to read my book.”

She stomped off, and shortly after, the other flight attendant who had punished me in holding-back my snack-pack resurfaced.

“Madam, please switch off your phone now”.

I reiterated my earlier conversation with the previous attendant.

“Well, we don’t allow it on, irrespective of signal receivers or not. Simple. So put it off".

“Who do you mean by ‘we’?”

“Our Airline.”

“Why was this not stated as part of the terms of my purchasing the ticket, in which case I would have refrained from purchasing your airline's ticket?”

“Just put off your phone Madam. It’s not allowed”.

I was forced to pull the lawyer card. “You know, as an officer in the temple of justice, I believe the Courts will find it highly ridiculous that this device, which I have killed all its emitters and is just a book now should be switched off, while Ipads and Laptops which could actually emit enough signals to interfere with the plane’s signals be left on, with no restriction”.

“Madam, put all this your argument in writing, and we can consider it. For now, put off your phone”

“Ok, place all YOUR own arguments in writing, present to me, and then I will consider giving a written response. In the meantime, I will continue reading my book. You’re interfering with my right to peaceful existence, and causing me psychological trauma by forcing me to have a continued discussion. I haven’t decided whether or not I want to sue your airline for the hours I stayed at the airport. So just leave me to deal with the distress you and your airline have occasioned me today”.

I turned back to Jon Snow et al, while readying myself for the possibility of NCAA officers stopping me at the airport, and making mental strategies as to the legal and media ruckus I would cause in that event. Nothing happened anyway.

Maybe NCAA needs to amend their guidelines to be more in tune with the 21st century, to comply with generally accepted practice all over the world and make it explicit that devices which emit/receive signals should be put off or placed in Airplane mode. Maybe Nigerian airlines need to educate their staff on the real purport of these guidelines, and engage NCAA on the fact that airplane mode equals a switched-off phone.

Or maybe flight attendants in Nigeria just have to learn to be a bit more courteous, as you can’t treat a passenger with prickles and thistles and expect ice-cream/honey fudge in response.

Whatever the case is, I have no intention of putting off my phones during a flight, except for take-off and landing. Airplane mode is not an aesthetic. It’s an actual function to ‘put off’ a phone, while allowing access to the non-signal emitting/receiving functions of the phone. (I also have no intention of flying that airline again).

So when flight attendants harass you to put off your phones, show them this page, and call their bluff. If they infringe your rights, contact your lawyer. And if they think I'm 'inciting' unrest, let them sue. 

I wait.



P.s.If you like the quippings of my busy mind, just click the G+1 button under my bio ... or after this post. And you'll get a sneak peak any time I ruminate here.

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  1. Sounds more like a battle of egos to me, sadly the battle did not have a well prepared argument. Shame! Well done for standing your ground¨.

  2. Refreshing piece. Line between traditional customer service and need to ensure safety from terrorist attacks in the aviation industry is thinning out real fast. It is actually a global issue now.

  3. You are right, but unfortunately not totally right. Basically, airplane mood is as good as turning off a phone completely which u rightly established. But it will interest you to know as well, that if you allow every gadget with that facility to be used on board, chances are that some individuals may intentionally leave it on or forget to activate the flight mode system and thereby affecting the navigational system of the aircraft. What Can you do then? Practically moving from seat to seat or making a public announcement? To save us all from this stress and frustration, was the reason the regulatory body and some airlines decided against having it on even on flight safe mood.

    1. Very good and brilliant point you just made. I don't know who you are but you must be a highly intellectual and good human in the way you just made your point.

  4. Customer service, a vital aspect for profit driven businesses is lacking in a lot of consumer driven companies in Nigeria. The sooner people speak up, the better for them. Its simple, intimidation should no longer be order of the day.