AMERICAN carrier United Airlines is stop flying to Nigeria next month in response to dwindling passenger numbers brought about by the downturn in the country’s economy and the foreign exchange scarcity.
By far the largest US operator, United Airlines flies daily into Lagos, which is its only African venture and at the time, it was seen as part of a wider expansionist drive. However, over the last year, falling oil prices have hit the Nigerian economy hard and passenger number which were once soaring are now highly limited.
Many middle class Nigerians can no longer travel abroad because they find it hard to access foreign exchange, which has led to international passenger volumes plummeting. Apart from the fact that passenger volumes are down, international airlines operating in Nigeria are also experiencing difficulties repatriating money from tickets sold in the country.
Six weeks ago, Spain’s national carrier Iberia, stopped flights to Nigeria, citing dwindling passenger traffic as the reason. United Airlines has now revealed that the daily route from Houston to Lagos had under-achieved for years but was kept alive because of its importance to Texas-based customers.
However, it appears that the company can no longer stomach the losses anymore and it has declared that its last Nigerian flight will be on June 30. Once this happens, Delta Air Lines will be the only major US carrier flying to Africa.
United Airlines’ spokesman Kevin Johnston, said: “United confirms that it will discontinue its service between Houston and Lagos. The last departure from Houston will be on June 29 and the last departure from Lagos will be on June 30.
“We have regretfully taken this decision because of the route’s poor financial performance. We will contact customers with bookings for flights beyond those dates to provide refunds and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
Passengers can still fly to Nigeria on United Airline’s trans-Atlantic business partner Deutsche Lufthansa, through a connection in Frankfurt. Its Boeing 787 serving Lagos will be used on the San Francisco to Tel Aviv route, which will expand to a daily service in October from three times weekly.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), funds belonging to foreign airlines, which had been trapped in Nigeria due to the federal government’s foreign exchange policy, stood at $575m as of March this year. An IATA, spokesman made the disclosure at the IATA African Aviation Day programme in Abuja on Monday.