This Ethiopian Airlines Repatriation Flight To Nigeria Sounds Awful

Filed Under: Ethiopian

Airlines around the world are operating repatriation flights, to transport citizens back to their home countries in markets where there aren’t otherwise commercial flights. Well, at least one particular Ethiopian Airlines repatriation flight sounds awful.

Ethiopian Airlines’ Nigeria repatriation flights

Ethiopian Airlines has done a phenomenal job keeping its fleet in the air during the pandemic, between operating repatriation and cargo flights. The airline hasn’t just operated repatriation flights to & from Ethiopia, but also between other countries, as needed.

Ethiopian Airlines has pretty consistently been operating repatriation flights every couple of weeks from the US to Nigeria. Specifically, the airline has flown from both Houston and Newark to Lagos, to get Nigerians home.

Repatriation flights typically aren’t sold and marketed directly by the airline, but rather through an agency that works with the consulate to make citizens aware of these flights.

These flights are typically much more expensive than standard flights. For example, repatriation flights from Houston to Lagos allegedly cost $1,500 in economy or $3,000 in business class, one-way.

With Nigeria being shut down to international scheduled flights for now I guess these flights still serve a purpose. However, as of now international flights to Nigeria are on sale starting in late August, and the same Houston to Lagos flight could cost less than half as much with a connection.

The reason repatriation flights are being delayed

Nairametrics reports on an Ethiopian Airlines repatriation flight from Houston to Lagos yesterday (Sunday, August 16), which sounds less than pleasant. Passengers ended up being on the plane for nearly 20 hours, even though this was just supposed to be a 12 hour flight.

Passengers spent roughly eight hours on the plane on the ground in Houston. The reason? The authorities behind the repatriation flight were trying to sell more seats on the plane to the highest bidder.

Passengers showed up at around 10AM, and as is apparently the norm for these flights, there were more passengers than seats. These repatriation flights not only sell out, but there’s a waiting list beyond that, and even people without confirmed seats show up at the airport.

Now, you’d think that clearing waitlisted passengers onto a flight wouldn’t cause a delay of hours. Well, apparently the issue came down to officials trying to sell these seats to the highest bidders, pocketing the difference.

While the standard fare on these flights is $1,500, some of the standby passengers paid up to $1,750, with the extra $250 being pocketed by authorities.

The flight was supposed to depart at 3PM, but ended up departing at around 10PM, with passengers being stuck on the plane starting at 2PM. It’s one thing if this delay happened before boarding, but I couldn’t imagine being stuck on the plane for that long.

After a lengthy delay some passengers apparently chose to get off the plane, and that only caused more seats to be resold.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787

Bottom line

Ethiopian Airlines’ repatriation flights to Nigeria sure sound like an adventure. I can appreciate them wanting to fill every seat on the plane, though it sounds to me like this delay was more about maximizing profits for the organizers, rather than filling seats at the published cost.

Admittedly Ethiopian Airlines is just acting as a charter operator here, though you’d think there would be a point at which their crews would make it clear that the flight has to leave, with or without passengers.

(Tip of the hat to Live and Let’s Fly)

  1. Nairametrics is one of the least reliable of a bunch of poorly reliable Nigerian “news” websites.

  2. I’m sorry but why exactly do we still have “repatriation flights”. Is there something I’m not getting? The pandemic in the US started in early March. It’s mid August. What must a person have been doing for 5+ months to suddenly require ‘repatriation’?

  3. @Matt

    I imagine some people may have had visas finally expire or job terminations that affect their immigration status. Foreign students completing a degree program would probably into this group too. There are also compelling reasons why those waiting for permanent residency status may be discouraged from leaving until the last possible moment.

    The uncertainty about even the near future translates into taking things one day at a time. I’m sure many people held out hope in March that some semblance of normalcy would resume by August. I don’t think it was as clear cut a decision for many to “go home ASAP” as it may seem.

  4. @Matt many expat assignments finish in June/July and people quite simply could not afford to leave early – this impacts all nationalities.
    For Australians we have very small limits of people allowed to arrive each day (caps of a few hundred per day and I think it is 30 per flight). Take Australians in India. Flights and other transport were grounded with no notice. So if you were in India bad luck. Around the time India started flying again, Australia introduced caps (no correlation) – so expats and in the case of India – tourists, are still struggling to get home. Sadly for Australians, the struggle to get home has been real. Throw in one way flights that cost 5k from Delhi to Australia and it is a struggle (chartered by a private person).
    I am on a couple of expat forums and one person has had their flight cancelled 8 times since April.

  5. As a specific example, there were over half a million H-1B visa holders in the US prior to the pandemic. There’s no waiver to their 60 day grace period to find a new job if a layoff occurred as a result of COVID.

    Someone who was perfectly documented yesterday can be laid off today and find themselves facing the choices of:

    1. Find a job within 60 days that pays enough to support a family
    2. Get on a flight home
    3. Become “illegal”

    Even though the pandemic has been raging for months, if it were me, I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to uproot my family and go with Option 2 until the last possible minute. When that point came, I’d “suddenly” require repatriation too.

  6. I thought repatriation flights served as “rescue” flights. Doesn’t making them outrageously expensive contradict that? Or am I missing the point of a repatriation flight?

  7. @Peter they are not “rescue” in that sense. Some governments offered to pay for their citizens to be repatriated (e.g. the UK did when Thomas Cook stopped flying) but for the most part, the government works with the airline and then tickets are sold on the flights often for higher than usual one way fares which they explain as due to the flight being empty one way. Some US citizens were complaining to state dept as they would not pay to repatriate citizen from somewhere in South America during the early days of lockdown (cant recall which country).

  8. The president of Peru shut down the country on March 16th and I have been here ever since. The US Embassy sponsored a few flights at the beginning and made people sign promissory notes that they would repay the government at some date in the future, even though they did not state how much the amount would be. People are apparently still waiting for those bills to come in. After a short period of time with the government sponsored flights, Eastern Airlines started having one way flights from Lima to Miami for $2,049 one way. This went on for about two to three months and then some travel agencies were able to arrange charter flights for $1,399. Now there is an occasional charter using Viva Airlines for $750 one way so at least the price has come down since the very beginning but still remains triple what I paid to come here back in January. Keep in mind that the US Embassy in Colombia arranged with Spirit Airlines to offer repatriation flights for less than $500, including all of Spirit’s junk fees. The US Embassy in Peru, on the other hand, just hung us out to dry. They have done very very little for us this entire time. I have been to Peru more than 20 times since 2003, so obviously I really like it here. I’m in no big hurry to return to the USA because the situation there seems pretty bad, even compared to here. However, I do want to be with my family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. The authorities in Ecuador say that we can cross the land border into their country, as long as Peru agrees to let us leave. Who knows if this will work, but there are $200 flights from Ecuador to Miami, and I wouldn’t mind checking out Guayaquil before I get back home. So yes, that repatriation flight from Nigeria to the United States sounds pretty expensive, but keep in mind that we had to pay $2,049 for a five and a half hour flight from Peru. Somebody has to be making money off of this, but who?

  9. The real question is, why are repatriation flights still so limited? Apparently there are plenty of people willing to pay even the inflated prices being charged, which easily cover cost and make a handsome profit for the airlines (don’t believe the BS that the flights run empty on the way back; there are plenty of US nationals in Africa trying to get back too).

    And airports are still open (this isn’t like an earthquake that destroyed an airport or something). And airlines have plenty of idle planes. Why not increase service and let people get home? This isn’t just nigeria. Plenty of Chinese and Indian nationals have been waiting months to try to get on one of them limited flights back to their home countries as well. Why is it so hard to run a bunch of flights until the demand is met?

  10. “Well, apparently the issue came down to officials trying to sell these seats to the highest bidders, pocketing the difference.”
    Of course the people desperate to get home are being taken advantage of.

  11. This pile comparing to $10000+ economy flight from US and Europe to China just a few months ago. Chinese mastered this.

  12. Nigeria only recently announced that international flights were going to resume at the end of the month, so I’m assuming most of the people that day had been counting on this direct flight to get back as it was the only viable option at the time.

    Also, just because a BA connecting itinerary was available for purchase, doesn’t mean it’s going to fly. Here in South Africa most of the international airlines continued selling tickets into and out of the country (at normal rates) during most of the lockdown… knowing full well none of those flights were ever going to happen.

  13. Here in Guatemala we had the pleasure of seeing an Ethiopian land a couple of weeks ago, it came from Dakar and flew the next day to Addis Ababa; first time an Ethiopian landed here, and I consider it to be one of the most interesting/strange flights to ever fly here. Safe travels!

  14. And nobody is concerned about social distancing in the aircraft? Blocking of seats?
    Maybe the virus knows repatriation flights. I wonder why normal flights won’t even hold if repatriation could.

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