Aggrieved Nigerian passengers of Delta Airlines have berated the management of the United States carrier for allegedly putting old planes, which often develop technical problems, on the Nigerian route.

The travellers, who spoke with our correspondent at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, noted that the repeated mechanical faults by the US carrier’s planes had led to flight delays and cancellations, among other operational issues.

These, they said, had led to severe maltreatment of passengers on the Nigerian route on several occasions.

The complaints came on the heels of an air return to Lagos by a Delta plane on Sunday.

The plane, which left Lagos for Atlanta at 9:20pm, returned to the MMIA at 2am on Monday, following a technical problem mid-air.

“This is the fifth time that I am experiencing this type of thing. I mean, this is happening and it is too often. They are taking us for granted too much; they can’t do like that between the United States and Europe,” a Business Class passenger, Dr. Lekan Are, who was on the aborted flight, told our correspondent at the Lagos airport.

Are, a business tycoon and Chairman, Kakanfo Inn and Conference Centre, Ibadan, faulted the withdrawal of the upscale Boeing 777 long-range plane from the Nigerian route.

According to him, the use of old planes with less flight range currently servicing the route has led to severe maltreatment of Nigerian passengers on many occasions.

He gave instances of how he had passed the night at the Atlanta airport and when he had to carry his bag over long distances due to flight cancellation by Delta Airlines.

The industrialist said, “This thing is happening too often. On September 21 or 22 when we were to leave Atlanta for Lagos, we had checked in and everybody was comfortably seated. They shut the door and the plane taxied from the gate to where it would take off.

“Just before it could take off, they said there were some problems and we went back to the gate. We were kept there; after about two hours, they could not fix it; they asked us to come down and arranged for us to eat something. Around 5am, they said a flight came from Los Angeles. And at 8am, they put us on the flight to come down to Lagos.

“Before that, I was to take another Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Lagos. We went through the normal checks, boarded the plane and sat inside for about two hours. Then they told us something was wrong and they were trying to fix it. We came down but they never got it fixed.

“In fact, we suffered that day; we had to carry our luggage. The trains had stopped. It was then I knew that the underground train line was more than three miles. We had to go to ground transportation in that place. It was a very bad experience again!”

Are added, “In November, my son took Delta Airlines from Lagos. It was supposed to be 12 or 13 hours’ flight. They spent about 20 hours. Why? It was supposed to be a direct flight. It left here and stopped in Dakar, Senegal. From there, it stopped at the Azores Island; and from there, it stopped on one small island in the Atlantic before finally getting to Atlanta about six hours late.

“I mean this is happening too often. What I notice is this: I always take the tail number of aircraft, and the tail number of this aircraft was always 1608. Every time it was 1608. The aircraft is old; they should not be using it on this flight.”

Are said there was the need to also look at the safety implication of using an aircraft with relatively shorter range on the Nigerian route.

He added, “When Delta Airlines first started, they were using Boeing 777 plane, which has a longer range of about 10,000 miles. But the current one (although they said it is an extended version) is just over 6,400 miles in range.

“From here to Atlanta is 5,800 miles. If they don’t go straight, it will travel more than 6,000 miles; there is very little margin in case there is a problem for you to go to some other airports to land and things like that. So, they are taking us for granted.”

One of the passengers on the Sunday flight, Mr. John Orajiaka, said he was disappointed with the poor treatment the airline was giving its customers on the Nigerian route.

He said it was high time the Nigerian aviation regulatory authority beamed its searchlight on the US carrier’s service on the route.

Orajiaka, an engineer, said, “Delta Airlines can’t be telling us it is mechanical issue all the time. Something has to be done about this. I am not happy about this at all. It was really a bad experience for me on Sunday.

“Having to go through that ordeal was very terrible. The regulatory authority must address this so that Delta can stop treating us like this.”

Other passengers and airport officials also told our correspondent that the situation was common with Delta and the issue needed to be addressed.

However, Delta Airlines, in an emailed response sent to our correspondent, apologised for the frequent operational issues but failed to give any reason for removing the upscale Boeing 777 plane from the Nigerian route.

The US carrier said, “Delta regrets the inconvenience caused by these delays to its passengers’ journeys. We know that our passengers’ time is valuable, whether their travel is for business or for pleasure, and operating on schedule is equally as important to Delta.

“Delta has served the Nigerian market since 2007 and we remain committed to Lagos. We operate our flights using some of the newest aircraft in our fleet. However, some external factors can cause regrettable yet unavoidable disruptions to our service such as changing weather patterns or mechanical faults.

“As Delta will not compromise on the safety or security of our passengers and crew; we may need to make operational decisions that affect our service, as was the case in these specified examples. We realise that this caused regrettable delays to our customers’ journeys; however, the safety and security of our passengers and crew remain our number one priority. All Delta customers flying between Nigeria and the United States enjoy the same level of service we offer on all trans-Atlantic flights.”

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority could not readily provide a response to enquiries by our correspondent.