Travel News

Passengers to get 25% rebate for cancelled flights – NCAA - PUNCH

DECEMBER 26, 2023

The Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Chris Najomo has said that from January 2024, airlines found wanting to have delayed passengers and whose actions cause delay or flight cancellations would be made to give affected travellers a 25 per cent rebate on their next flight with the airline.

Najomo stated this at a meeting with a group of aviation stakeholders in his office in Lagos on Tuesday, noting that the NCAA would make a wide range of decisions that would help the aviation industry in terms of consumer protection and airport certification.

He also promised new policies on the mode of handing over aerodromes to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria by the state government among others.

He said the directive had been communicated to the carriers, stressing that the action would engender efficiency in the sector that has made air travel no longer enjoyable as travellers continue to decry the attitude of many of the airlines and the total lack of consumer protection.

He, however, noted that some of the problems that cause flight delays or cancellations are caused by factors beyond the airlines’ control.

He further stated that the aviation regulatory body was doing so much in-house to reduce the menace that has taken the joy out of air travel.

Najomo said, “The airlines are biting more than they can chew. Lack of planning is causing some of the delays we are experiencing. Some airlines for instance have less than four aircraft and they want to fly all the routes. That is not possible because four aircraft capacity cannot sustain the type of operations you are doing.

“Some of the delays, and cancellations by Air Peace are because you want to go everywhere when there may not be adequate aircraft to cover that volume of operations”.

Najomo also said that a policy would be made to ensure that the state-owned airports are run by the state governments for at least five years before they are handed over to FAAN to manage.

According to him, out of the 32 airports in the country, only about six are viable — Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja, Port-Harcourt International Airport, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and Owerri Airport.

He said the regulatory authorities are ‘forced’ to spend revenue earned from four viable terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano to subsidise operations in these other airports managed by FAAN.

From estimation, he said at least N400bn have so far been expended on such projects by the states, a development which observers reckon as a mere conduit to siphon public funds than for economic interests.

He added, “Many of these airports are for political reasons. Most of the airports are unviable; built without traffic in mind and leaving the burden to the Federal Government to shoulder. Airports should be a catalyst for economic development. It has to be well thought through. It becomes a problem when an airport will not generate economic returns.”

6-year-old boy traveling to visit grandma for Christmas put on wrong Spirit flight - THE CANADIAN PRESS

DECEMBER 26, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — A 6-year-old boy who left on a flight for the Christmas holiday to visit his grandmother in southwest Florida instead was put on the wrong plane and ended up 160 miles away in Orlando, Florida.

When the grandmother, Maria Ramos, showed up on Thursday at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers to greet her grandson who was flying for the first time from Philadelphia, she was told he wasn't on the Spirit Airlines flight.

“I ran inside the plane to the flight attendant and I asked her, ‘Where’s my grandson? He was handed over to you at Philadelphia?’ She said, ‘No, I had no kids with me,'” Ramos told WINK News.

She then got a call from her grandson from the airport in Orlando, telling her that he had landed.

In a statement, Spirit Airlines said the boy was under the care and supervision of an airlines employee the entire time, even though he was incorrectly boarded on a flight to Orlando. Once the mistake was discovered, the airlines let the family know, the statement said.

“We take the safety and responsibility of transporting all of our Guests seriously and are conducting an internal investigation,” the statement said. “We apologize to the family for this experience.”

The Associated Press

Canada relaunches two schemes for caregivers, families to migrate - VANGUARD

DECEMBER 28, 2023

By Biodun Busari

The Canadian government has relaunched two programmes called the to invite caregivers for fresh applications into Canada from January 1, 2024.

Canada disclosed that the two schemes are 5-year pilot programmes that allow qualified caregivers and their family members to relocate and become permanent residents.

Dependant Visa Ban: UK varsities hit with low revenues as Nigerians turn to Canada

In a released modified information, the Canadian government said that experienced caregivers can use either of the two progrmmes to migrate with their family members to the North American country.

It also revealed that only 12 months of experience is needed to qualify as against the initial 24 months for caregivers.

“The Home Child Care Provider Pilot and the Home Support Worker Pilot are 5-year pilot programs that let qualified caregivers and their family members come to Canada with the goal of becoming permanent residents,” it said.

“If you’ve been offered a job in Canada as a caregiver or have experience working in Canada as a caregiver, you may be able to apply for permanent residence through one of these pilots.”

“The application process will be different depending on your situation and how much qualifying work experience you have. You now only need 12 months of experience instead of 24 months to qualify.”

Meanwhile, applicants will use Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) with evidence of sufficient experience, particularly if they have previously applied under the “Gaining Experience” category.

Canada Restarts 2 Pilot Programmes For Permanent Residency - LEADERSHIP

DECEMBER 29, 2023

The Canadian government has revived two programmes to invite qualified caregivers and their family members to come to Canada with the goal of becoming permanent residents.

According to information released by Canada, the two programmes (The Home Child Care Provider Pilot and the Home Support Worker Pilot) are five-year trial projects that enable eligible caregivers and their families to migrate and settle down permanently.

“If you’ve been offered a job in Canada as a caregiver or have experience working in Canada as a caregiver, you may be able to apply for permanent residence through one of these pilots”, the website states.

It also showed that in contrast to the initial 24 months for caretakers, only 12 months of experience are required to be eligible.

“The application process will be different depending on your situation and how much qualifying work experience you have. You now only need 12 months of experience instead of 24 months to qualify.”

“If you’ve never worked full-time as a caregiver in Canada or have less than 12 months of work experience, you can apply to the Gaining experience category.”

Nigerian airports shut out PWDs, decaying terminals worsen passengers trauma - PUNCH

DECEMBER 29, 2023

By Justice Okamgba

People living with disabilities have been complaining about the lack of facilities to meet their special needs at airports across the country. This happens as business and leisure travellers groan over decaying airport facilities, JUSTICE OKAMGBA reports

About one billion people living with disabilities are estimated to be travelling by air globally, according to the International Air Transport Association. For many of them, the travel experience is a nightmare as most airports have no provision for their special needs.

In Nigeria, airports were constructed without facilities such as consumer desks, special toilet facilities, and flight display systems specifically designed for people with disabilities. PWDs have described the lack of provision of special facilities for them as discrimination against them.

The challenges of accessing onboard toilets and managing special accommodation requests have continued to create a challenging environment for travellers with disabilities.

While Nigerian airports often provide wheelchairs, some international airports have gone further to implement technology solutions and smartphone applications to assist people with low vision. Airports like Boise Airport in the USA and Vancouver International Airport in Canada have introduced virtual reality training, specifically designed for autistic passengers.

Experts said such an innovative approach helped individuals with disabilities familiarise themselves with the airport environment, ultimately reducing stress during travel.

The PUNCH reported that people with disabilities find Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos more stressful than Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, which are the two busiest airports in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority acknowledged the need for better airports and the challenges hindering progress, including inadequate finance, insufficient infrastructure, and security risks.

The Federal Government has budgeted N23.1bn for the “rehabilitation and repairs” of airport facilities across the country in the 2024 fiscal year. N21.0bn has been earmarked for the rehabilitation and repairs of airports and aerodromes, with an additional N2.1bn allocated for the rehabilitation of air navigational equipment.

Our correspondent cannot independently verify if these proposed rehabilitations and repairs will cater to the needs of passengers with disabilities.

PWDs’ experiences 

A cripple and PWD advocate, Waheed Oguntade, told our correspondent that most of the country’s airports are disability-friendliness.

Oguntade, who disclosed that he frequented airports like Akwa Ibom, Lagos (both local and international), Abuja, and Enugu airports, said, “I still find the Lagos airport the most disability-friendly compared to even the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. This is what I will attribute to the level of awareness and interaction with the international community.”

He urged airlines to capture PWD data during flight bookings as that would enable operators to make informed decisions and enhance airport services.

“If the data of PWDs are captured during booking, this will enable airlines to make provision for the PWDs, instead of just improvising on the spot. This information will also determine the type of plane to put PWDs based on their disabilities.”

According to Oguntade, the public address system is not audible enough for people with auditory impairments, especially those travelling alone.

“There is a need to have an information board close to the departure gate for those with total hearing loss,” he suggested.

The PWDs advocate asked the government to establish designated parking lots close to departure halls for people physically challenged persons in all airports in the country.

He claimed that this would facilitate easy movement for PWDs in the airports

A member of the Coalition of Disability Organisations, Susan Ihuoma, told The PUNCH that physical barriers such as stairs, narrow corridors and a lack of ramps posed challenges for individuals with mobility impairments, hindering their independent navigation through the airport.

“Restrooms, seating areas, and other facilities may not be designed to accommodate various disabilities, affecting their comfort and convenience,” she stated.

Ihuoma noted that individuals with certain disabilities encountered challenges with airport security measures.

“For example, those with mobility issues face challenges during body scans or when they are asked to remove shoes and other items.”

According to Ihuoma, many airport workers lack adequate training in communicating with individuals who are deaf or dumb. “Airport personnel are not fully aware of the specific needs of persons with disabilities, leading to a lack of appropriate assistance and support.

“Access to real-time flight information, gate changes, or boarding announcements pose challenges for individuals who are blind or deaf, particularly when the information is not provided in accessible formats,” she remarked.

She added some PWDs had challenges with navigating from one terminal to another or accessing transportation options like shuttles or taxis due to a lack of accessible transportation services.

PWDs’ experiences in foreign airports

The challenges PWDs face in airports are not limited to Nigeria. Some foreign PWDs also shared their stories.

The story of Craig Nolan, who has a spinal cord defect and uses a wheelchair, suffered discrimination at the hands of airline workers staff in Melbourne, Australia informed him that he couldn’t travel alone, was published in the UK Guardian.

Nolan, intending to return home to Finland, was told by airline staff that he could not travel alone as a disabled person. Despite his plans and preparations, he was taken off the flight in the middle of the night, leaving him stranded without a clear solution.

After he was ejected from the plane, Nolan had nowhere to go. After negotiations with the airline, he was given an accommodation.

The incident involving Nolan was one of the evidence presented to the Disability Royal Commission, revealing systemic challenges faced by Australians with disabilities in air travel.

A quadriplegic passenger, Victoria Brignell, shared how her experience when she left on a plane for over an hour and a half upon landing at Gatwick Airport, London.

Brignell, who had pre-booked assistance three months in advance, said she had to wait for a long time because the assistance she required to disembark the plane did not arrive as scheduled.

Despite reminders two weeks before her journey, the service was not provided promptly.

“I can’t use my arms or legs. To get off a plane I need two people to lift me from the airplane seat into an aisle chair, which is a specially-designed narrow wheelchair to push me along the aisle off the plane and lift me into my wheelchair waiting outside,” Brignell.

She criticised Gatwick Airport for failing to provide the necessary support, adding that the delay not only affected her but also inconvenienced other passengers awaiting their flights.

“I have been very nervous about travelling by plane because I had heard so many horrible stories about people’s chairs going missing,” he disclosed.

Brignell said British Airways staffers got her off the plane and she received an apology from Gatwick via Twitter, but she planned to submit an official complaint.

“As a disabled person, I now expect to be treated poorly in airports. I have experienced inaccessible air travel many times,” Celestine Fraser wrote in a column on Metro UK, published on Oct 17, 2021.

According to Fraser, her first ugly experience at the airport was when she and her family travelled to Morocco.

She disclosed that dropped out of the university, because of a series of health problems.

“Looking back, I can’t help but see it as my rude awakening into life as a disabled person — disabled not by my body, but by barriers in society,” the 18-year-old noted.

Fraser said that on arrival at the airport, her brothers suggested that she sat on the luggage trolley like it was a makeshift wheelchair, wheeling her through the airport to the special assistance desk, where she was given a real wheelchair, pushed through security, and given priority to board the plane.

“So far smooth enough. It was when we landed that I faced my second barrier; this one attitudinal. I was met by a special assistance attendant who wore a permanent smirk and kept asking me why I needed the wheelchair,” she narrated.

•Passenger at Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2, Lagos

According to Fraser, at the time, he hadn’t had any diagnosis yet, and she struggled to give a perfect answer to the airport attendant.

She explained, “I told him simply that ‘I had an illness that makes it hard for me to walk’, to which he replied that I was ‘too young’ and looked ‘too well’ to need a wheelchair. I felt ashamed, like I was somehow guilty, and I worried that maybe I would never be believed, because my illness was invisible.

“The attendant wheeled me reluctantly through security. Then suddenly, without a word he disappeared, leaving me in the corner of the airport, my wheelchair facing a wall. The experience was humiliating.

“When my family eventually found me – as they had to go through separately – they were shocked, but we were still all new to the lived reality of being disabled. We brushed this off as a singular bad experience and didn’t complain.”

Fraser believed disabled people don’t have to disclose the intimate details of their medical conditions just to get the basic access that they deserve.

Fraser also shared another ugly experience at the airport in 2018, this time in her home country, Italy.

She disclosed that she was in return flight from Madeira, Portugal, when flight attendants announced that all passengers requiring special assistance would be driven to passport control in a separate buggy.

“All the PWD were isolated from their friends and families but assured that they would soon be reunited.

“After a long wait on the plane, they were made to board a small van and were driven to a room just off the tarmac.

“An attendant told us that someone would come and pick us up; then she left, locking the doors behind her. The only exit was a towering staircase, which clearly, none of us could climb,” Fraser enunciated.

According to her, they had to wait, “I phoned my family and they tried to find me, but none of us could work out what room I was in, and the airport staff were no help in trying to reunite us”.

Fraser said they were there for almost two hours before they were picked up, adding that some of them missed their connecting flights.

She noted, “Once we got home, we complained — but the short apologetic email did little to alleviate the harm that was caused.”

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The airport blamed the airline and the airline blamed the airport. There was no explanation, and certainly no compensation.

“But these experiences are not mine alone. They happen to disabled travellers all the time,” Fraser wrote.

People like Fraser are requesting for the right things to be done at the various airports in the globe for PWD.

She concluded, “Because disabled people are not asking for seats in business class or complimentary champagne.

“What we want is simple: To safely board a plane. Order an overpriced Bloody Mary. Get tipsy with the altitude. Empty our bladders. And land on the ground with our wheelchairs – and our dignity – intact. That doesn’t sound like special assistance. It sounds like a human right.”

The PUNCH contacted Fraser but she declined to provide more details.

However, Fraser responded, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you with this story as it has now been years since I have travelled abroad by plane. So, I don’t feel I can provide an honest and up-to-date insight into what air travel is currently like for disabled people.”

Poor facilities

PWDs are not the only ones concerned by the poor state of transportation facilities in Nigerian airports.

Chijioke Ejemba, a frequent air traveller, expressed worry about the deteriorating state of transportation facilities at Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

He complained about non-functional buses and malfunctioning toll gates, leading to severe passenger inconvenience.

Ejemba pointed out that all buses designated to shuttle passengers between parking lots and the airport were out of service due to a lack of maintenance.

“They were all bought brand new some years back. Passengers have to trek miles to move from the parking lot to airport and vice versa.

“I was unfortunate enough to have been at the airport recently and I ended up with severe back pain due to the trekking and load I tagged along,” Ejemba said.

Another passenger, Raphael Falola decried the unprofessional conduct of customs officers at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, emphasising the stark contrast between the entry processes for Nigerians and non-Nigerians.

“It is so sad that in Nigeria the process of entry is easier for foreigners than Nigerians! We talk about the ease of doing business, display SERVICOM banners at the airport and say nice things but we are wicked to ourselves,” he noted.

Despite global advancements in electronic and efficient services, he lamented that the officials still expect gratification.

This, according to Falola, contributed to a nearly two-hour wait in the passport queue after his 8 pm scheduled landing.

“What is the KPI for these officials? What do they really understand by service delivery? Do they realise that their conduct is enough to put sand in the mouth of any visitor?” he queried.

Beyond customs issues, Falola criticised the management of the airport, describing his experience as “horrid.”

He highlighted poorly lit exit tunnels, security risks posed by rogues and unfamiliar faces harassing travelers.

He stressed the need to create a positive and secure experience for travellers, especially at the port of welcome for those entering Nigeria.

Falola urged the airport management to take immediate action to address those issues, to enable the airport to be run more efficiently.

Another foreign traveller identified as Diani Ski, recounted an experience at the Lagos airport, dubbing it “possibly the worst in the world.

He complained about the lack of transit facilities, coupled with intimidating encounters with military-looking personnel.

The traveller, en route to The Gambia, said he faced a daunting situation with only two hours before departure.

“We asked the military-looking guy directing people to immigration controls that we were in transit and where we could pick our boarding passes for our en route flight.

“He told us that we had to go through immigration. He was very intimidating and aggressive,” he narrated.

Despite explaining the lack of visas and the urgency to catch their connecting flight, Ski said they were coerced into going through immigration, ultimately finding themselves in Nigeria illegally.

He noted, “We were taken to the Air Nigeria departure section, where there was a passport controls check. One of the personnel told my partner, who has a British passport that he needed a visa to go to the Gambia.

“Despite providing evidence to the contrary, Ski and her partner faced unnecessary complications. Luckily he had gone to the Gambia the previous month and his visa had not expired.”

According to Ski, the security checks added to the distress, with an incident where money was openly solicited during a bag inspection.

“As we boarded our flight, there was a security check where the lady checking my bags openly asked me to give her money. I managed to wangle my way out of it. I was extremely relieved to be on the plane,” he added.

The traveller expressed relief upon boarding the flight, highlighting the oppressive heat and stuffiness within the airport. However, the nightmare extended with delayed baggage, which only arrived two days later.

Despite the challenges, the bags remained intact, providing a surprising silver lining to an otherwise nightmarish experience, Ski added.

Further, the traveller drew a sharp contrast upon arriving in The Gambia, where staff exhibited friendliness and warmth

“Staff was nice and friendly. If you can avoid it, try to connect through a different country even if it takes longer. Our bags only arrived two days later! None of them had been broken into which I am surprised about,” Ski concluded.

In a review on TripAdvisor, one of the largest travel websites, an Australian traveler simply identified as Jenny B recounted her experience at Murtala Muhammed

International Airport, labelling it as the “very worst airport” she has ever encountered.

Jenny expressed frustration over the absence of a proper transit system at the airport.

“They have no transit; they take your passport off you and send you to get your bags without explanation. Then, I was left to sit for two hours; they would not give my passport back to me,” he stated.

A staff member, Jenny described as rude and aggressive in military-style attire, guided her through a convoluted route involving multiple stairs and outside areas.

Jenny said, “He (staff member) waited impatiently at the top while I struggled up the stairs with 2 suitcases weighing 20 kilos each and an 8 kilo backpack. It was so difficult and on the last lot of stairs a kind man helped me.”

Due to the extended wait, Jenny faced a delayed check-in, with the flight eventually closing. After an argument, she was finally checked in five hours after the original departure time, only to be informed that the flight was cancelled.

“They take the entire planeload of people to some dodgy dirty hotel that actually seems to be a house with personal items in it.”

Jenny recounted her discomfort at the makeshift hotel, describing dirty beds and shared accommodations. She said the lack of basic amenities like toilet paper and ineffective air conditioning further contributed to her dismay.

“On my way back through this airport, I was scared to death, but hey, they only lost one of my suitcases this time…..and believe it or not it actually did arrive in Australia two days later, “ the Australian said.

Jenny described the airport as a “debacle,” highlighting the lack of a proper transit system, issues with cleanliness and amenities, and expressing concerns about the overall quality of service.

PWD law

The Discrimination Against People Living with Disabilities Provision Act signed by former President Muhammadu In 2019 is aimed at safeguarding the rights of individuals with disabilities by mitigating discrimination and fostering inclusion.

Additionally, it mandates public buildings to undergo necessary adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities.

The convener of the Coalition of Disability Organisations, David Anyele, urged airport authorities and airline operators to ensure inclusive travel experiences for people with disabilities.

“We are worried that despite the passage of the Discrimination Against People Living with Disabilities Provision Act, PWDs still struggle to access airports.

“Air travel is the most convenient means for long-distance trips for Nigerians, so PWDs patronise airport services regularly, “ he stated.

In the past, persons with disabilities had submitted petitions outlining alleged violations of their rights.

Those petitions led the House of Representatives in 2021 to issue a directive to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and other pertinent agencies, instructing them to establish operational disability desks at airports.

However the implementation of this directive has not alleviated the plights of PWDs in the airports.

Egypt Air Opens New Office in Kano, Engages GSA - THISDAY

DECEMBER 29, 2023

In line with its new marketing strategy in Nigeria, Egypt Air has opened a new office in Kano for a better reach out to its customers and excellent services. Equally, the airline has also deepened its market access in the Nigerian market by engaging the services of a General Sales Agent (GSA) to drive its sales and marketing strategy in the market. 

The airline has therefore partnered Elite Tours, a renowned GSA firm with a track record in offering excellent airline sales and marketing in Nigeria; with its mother company, Master Travels, an Egypt based Travel and Tourism Management Organisation. Speaking on the pedigree of the GSA, the Managing Director of Elite Tours, Mr. Mohamed Said said: “The company has a strong history in Egypt. We are one of the top tour operators in Cairo, with a mother company in Egypt known as Master Travels.” 

General Manager, GSA Nigeria, Mr. Muharram Abdelrahman, said: “This is a significant milestone in the history of Egypt Air in Nigeria since the airline started operations in Nigeria more than 45 years ago. During this time Egypt Air used to carry out its business in Nigeria by itself through its offices in Lagos, Kano and Abuja. 

In order to get more quality service, the airline took a decision to have a GSA in Kano and Lagos in order to satisfy the customer needs and to be closer to the customers.” Also speaking, the airline’s Country Manager, Mr. Amr Basha stated: “The airline tends to operate through a GSA in order to make its operations more efficient as it moves to expand to many other new destinations. So, instead of building or renting staff and offices, we contract with a GSA with more experience in the market.”

Eurostar trains cancelled after tunnel floods - BBC

DECEMBER 30, 2023

By Doug Faulkner & James Gregory

BBC News

Eurostar services to and from London St Pancras International have been cancelled due to flooding in a tunnel, as festive disruption continues.

At least 29 services have been cancelled so far. Eurostar said it was "working hard" to ensure later trains could run, but warned of severe delays.

Southeastern's high-speed services to Ebbsfleet have also been cancelled until the end of the day.

Travel journalist Simon Calder said St Pancras was "in chaos".

People with New Year trips to Disneyland were in tears, he said, because their services were cancelled.

Eurostar, which runs services from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, said affected customers were entitled to a full refund or exchange.

At around 11:30 GMT, the operator said it had cancelled further trains up until at least 16:12 due to the flooding "not improving".

"Network Rail is continuing to do all they can and will update Eurostar if any services can continue later in the day," a spokeswoman said, adding Eurostar was "extremely sorry" for the situation.

HS1, which operates the track, said engineers had worked through the night to remove water but the volume of water was "unprecedented".

Pumps and tankers are on the site and water levels are reducing, a spokeswoman added.

"We understand how frustrating this is for passengers and apologise for the inconvenience caused at such an important time of the year," she said.

Southeastern said no services would run from St Pancras, Stratford International or Ebbsfleet International.

It is the second time in 10 days there has been major disruption to Eurostar services with a "last-minute strike" by French workers halting trains before Christmas.

Media caption,

This video from Southeastern railway shows water gushing from a pipe into the tunnel

Daniel and Ramona, who were travelling to Paris for New Year's Eve, said they were trying to stay optimistic that their train would be "one of the lucky ones" to still run.

"[It is] very, very busy, not a lot of information being given out, a lot of people who don't know what to do with themselves, a lot of people sitting down and waiting - seems like they are in for the long haul," Daniel said.

"We'll have to just wait and see who goes and who doesn't."

Brian, who was travelling to Paris with his family, said: "We've been here in London for five days and we're supposed to be four days in Paris so we're trying to figure out how to get over there."

Cindy, who was returning home to the Netherlands, said her family were in good spirits but they hoped it would be fixed "or we won't be going home".

Separately, there is major disruption on Thameslink services - which run through London and across the south-east of England - and a reduced service on Northern Rail, which covers the north of England, due to staff shortages.

In Wales, the line between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog has been closed due to "severe weather", while trains between Swansea and Shrewsbury have been cancelled due to flooding.

The Met Office has issued yellow warnings for wind, rain and snow for large parts of the UK.

Speed restrictions are in place on the West Highland Line until 09:00 on Sunday due to the forecast, Network Rail Scotland said.

Some flights at Glasgow Airport were alsodelayed due to snow on the runway.

Yellow weather warnings are in place for:

  • Rain across most of Wales until 18:00
  • Rain and snow for most of Scotland until midnight
  • Wind across Wales, the south of England and parts of the East Anglian coast until 03:00 on Sunday

Forecasters say flooding of homes and businesses is possible, as well as interruption to power supplies.

It comes days after Storm Gerrit left thousands of homes without power and caused disruption across the country.

Gusts of between 45 and 50mph (80.5km/h) have been forecast widely, while coastal areas in the west and south of England may see the strongest gusts of between 65 and 75mph.

Earlier this week, Storm Gerrit brought widespread disruption across Scotland and northern parts of the UK with a localised tornado tearing of roofs in Greater Manchester.

NAHCON In Dilemma As Low Turnout Threatens 2024 Hajj Preparations - DAILY TRUST

DECEMBER 30, 2023

By Faruk Shuaibu

There are strong indications that Nigerians might not be able to fill the 95,000 seats allocated to the country for the 2024 hajj, Daily Trust Saturday reports.

The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) had fixed December 31 as the deadline for the remittance of hajj deposits paid to Pilgrims Welfare Boards in states by intending pilgrims.

According to the commission, the payment deadline is to enable it have an idea of the number of people that would participate in the exercise.

Also, having the data is crucial to other negotiations the commission would do with service providers in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

However, the high price for the hajj and early closure of payment has led to low turnout from intending pilgrims.

While the commission is yet to state whether the deadline would be extended, Daily Trust Saturday gathered that less than 25,000 pilgrims had paid the deposit so far.

The challenge to fill the hajj slot is further compounded by late allocation to private tour operators as 20,000 seats allocated to the 40 companies were issued out on Monday.

This development delayed the preparation of the companies as they said the earlier suspension of the approved companies by NAHCON was owing to grievances by those not selected.

How hajj fare rose by 682% in 10 years

The economic headwind facing the country also touched the hajj industry due to 99 per cent of payment made in dollars.

The minimum hajj fare over the years has been in the tune of $6,000, and with the naira volatility, this has affected the price Nigerian pilgrims have to pay.

Before the unification of the forex window by the government, Nigerian pilgrims often accessed dollars at a concessionary rate from the official prices of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

With that no longer tenable, the NAHCON asked for a deposit of N4.5million pending when the final fare would be announced.

The concessionary rate has made the hajj fare to be on the minimum, and a 10- year analysis showed that the fare rose by over 600 per cent from 2013 to 2023.

A breakdown shows that the hajj fare cost N639,498 in 2013, it increased to N689,061 in 2014, went up to N723,76 in 2015, N905,556 in 2016, N1,155,947 in 2017, a drop to N1,492,867.50 in 2019 and N1.5 million in 2020.

COVID-19 prevented international pilgrims from participating in 2020 and 2021, but by 2022, the price rose to N2, 496,815. In 2023, it was N3m while the price may increase to N5m or N5.1m going by the current exchange rate of N841 per dollar.

Why NAHCON wants to conclude preparation early

The NAHCON has announced on different occasions that the new policy introduced by Saudi Arabia has made it difficult to go on with payment of hajj fare a few weeks to the commencement of Arafat as obtained before in the country.

This is due to the short period given to complete all negotiations with service providers in the kingdom while the issuance of visa will end 50 days to the day of Arafat.

While the commission initially set the deadline of payment for November, it said the wisdom behind the decision revolved around having “a more realistic figure to bargain for cost of accommodation, airline fares, feeding and others knowing the number of persons that were able to reach the N4.5m threshold by the time of preparatory meetings.”

It stated that the commission was expected to complete payment for accommodation and holy sites contracts by February 2024 to enable commencement of visa issuance by March 3 till April 29, 2024.

But the low turnout has indicated that intending pilgrims are yet to heed to call. While the 67 per cent increase in fare is a huge factor, another might be the timing as a huge portion of the pilgrims are sponsored through individuals and companies who organise quizzes during Ramadan.

States, tour operators lament low turnout, seek extension of deadline

Pilgrim Welfare Boards are yet to announce the entire intending pilgrims that paid their deposits, but Daily Trust Saturday gathered that as at December 27, the figure was yet to reach 25,000.

This is just as board chairmen in Kwara, Niger and Kaduna states lamented low turnout. They warned that non-payment before December 31 would not give many people the opportunity to go for hajj.

When contacted, the executive secretary, Nasarawa State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mallam Idris Ahmad Almakura, confirmed the low turnout of intending pilgrims.

Almakura, who is also the chairman of the Forum of Chief Executive Officers of State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards, Agencies and Commissions, said he could not confirm the number of people that paid.

He said the forum was discussing with the NAHCON on the issue and it is trying its best to overcome the challenge, adding that something good would come out.

Asked if the deadline should be extended, he said, “We think there should be an extension, we are discussing with them. Although they said the date was sacrosanct, we are hoping there would be an extension because we have low turnout.”

The same situation is panning out with private tour operators as the publicity secretary of the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHOUN), Nasir Chamo, said theirs was more precarious.

Chamo said the NAHCON gave hajj allocation to the operators on Monday.

“There is a very poor turnout considering the deadline. Pilgrims in the state received their allocation on time but we received ours in the last three days. We have a very huge responsibility and challenge to start marketing our price. Traditionally, our fare will be slightly higher than the state pilgrims,” he said.

He said the 40 companies approved for the exercise were giving 500 slots although a merger was made from the 104 companies that were prequalified in the initial bidding process by the NAHCON.

“One other challenge we will face is that most of our passengers are VIPs and working class people. They do their things late and don’t have the habit of paying in advance. So, we have low turnout in terms of paying.

He, however, said some payments had started trickling in. Some paid N4m or N3m while others are making part payment of N1m.

Meanwhile, a source at NAHCON told Daily Trust Saturday that representatives of the commission were travelling to Saudi Arabia by January 8 to sign a memorandum of understanding with service producers.

The source said the payment of the deposit was very important as it is on the basis that the commission would know what it is bargaining.

He added that delay would affect its preparation as lack of the information on the number of pilgrims is affecting approval for airlines that would airlift the pilgrims.

“By December 31 we need to know the number of pilgrims to enable us allocate slots to each of the airlines. It is only screening and approval that are going on. We have submitted the report and waiting for the government to approve it,” the source said.

The source, however, said the commission had not decided on the extension; and it is not on the card for now.

Why we are reluctant – Prospective pilgrims

Umar Farouq Hussain, a lawyer based in Abuja, said he had hoped to go for next year’s hajj but changed his mind due to the high cost.

Hussain, who participated in the 2023 exercise, said he won’t be able to pay double of the N3m he paid using a tour operator but would instead go for Umrah.

“I have reconsidered going for hajj as it would cost more from what I paid in 2023. The experience will not be different but the cost is huge, so I opted for Umrah since it would cost less.”

Moshood Adeleke, who is planning to sponsor two of his family members, said the high cost would not deter him from his promise, but he is yet to pay a deposit as requested.

“The financial commitment I have now is much and that is the reason I have not paid. But it is a promise I have made, so I have a plan to fulfill it before the deadline,” he said.

Eurostar Trains Canceled in Threat to New Year’s Travel - BLOOMBERG

DECEMBER 30, 2023

BY  Rob FennerBloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- Eurostar canceled train services out of London’s St. Pancras International station on Saturday as wind and rain disrupt travel in the UK ahead of New Year’s Eve.

International services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were scrapped for Saturday due to an “infrastructure problem” on its high-speed line, Eurostar said on its website. 

Southeastern Rail, which runs domestic services from St. Pancras, said no trains will operate from the terminus on Saturday because of flooded tunnels near Ebbsfleet on England’s southeast coast. 

At least 14 international services have been canceled and severe delays are expected, BBC reported. The UK can expect high winds and heavy rain from Storm Gerrit over the weekend, the Met Office said. Snow warnings are in effect for parts of Scotland. 

The Eurostar cancellations come days after its Paris-to-London service was halted over a strike by Channel Tunnel workers ahead of the Christmas weekend.    


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