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Cablegate: World Airways Suspends Service, Leaves Passengers

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

141624Z Jan 04

UNCLAS LAGOS 000074

SIPDIS

STATE PASS DOT FOR KEVIN SAMPLE
BRUSSELS FOR TSA REP KEVIN CAHILL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON CASC SOCI ASEC AMGT NI
SUBJECT: WORLD AIRWAYS SUSPENDS SERVICE, LEAVES PASSENGERS
STRANDED

REF: (A) LAGOS 54, (B) LAGOS 31, (C) 03 ABUJA 2216

1. (U) Summary: World Airways recently announced the
indefinite suspension of its charter flights between the
United States and Nigeria. Company executives say World's
booking agent, Ritetime Aviation and Travel Service, owes
the airline nearly US $2 million and argue that World cannot
continue to operate charters without being paid.
Unfortunately, this leaves 800 to 1,000 people stranded in
Lagos with tickets that cannot be used on other airlines.
Many have waited nearly two weeks in the hope that Ritetime
would make good on its promises to send a plane, but as of
17:00 Wednesday, January 14, no aircraft has appeared.
Airport contacts reported random acts of violence on
Tuesday, January 13, and stranded AmCit passengers say that
the offices of Ritetime and World were ransacked the same
day, but no violence has occurred since then. End summary.

2. (U) World Airways announced the cancellation of its
charter flights between the United States and Nigeria
effective January 1, 2004. In its press release, World
named Ritetime Aviation and Travel Service the "contractor
and sole marketing agent" for its charter flights and said
it had "no control over Ritetime's ticket sales or
reservations," particularly when Ritetime sold tickets for
flights beyond the December 31 expiration of its contract
with World. The press release also stated that Ritetime had
"not made its payments to World Airways." Under the
circumstances, World executives say they had no choice but
to discontinue services. The Nigerian Civil Aviation
Authority sent a scathing message to World Airways calling
on the airline to honor its commitment to passengers "to
avert even more ugly scenes which can jeopardize good
relations," but World executives chose not to respond to the
letter.

3. (U) The airline's decision leaves 800 to 1,000 people
stranded, all of them holding charter tickets that cannot be
used on other airlines. Twenty-nine people returned to the
United States on a Transatlantic Airlines flight, and others
may board charter flights from Lagos to Accra and from there
to New York later this week, but many stranded passengers
are still looking for a way home. International flights
from Lagos are almost completely booked until mid-January.
In its press release, World Airways expressed its "genuine
apologies for any inconvenience" but said there was nothing
it could do. Company executives say World will not send
rescue flights, particularly when passengers in Lagos and
New York are becoming increasingly agitated. As of Tuesday,
January 13, there appeared to be a solution: Ritetime has
allegedly chartered a European Airways plane to ferry
passengers from Lagos to Accra and on to New York at no
extra charge. However, as of 17:00 Wednesday, January 14,
no aircraft has appeared.

4. (U) Comment: World Airways executives have expressed
interest in finding another booking agent and re-introducing
charter flights in four to six months - the Lagos-New York
route is potentially one of the airline's most lucrative -
but World's damaged reputation will make this difficult.
The Nigerian press has repeatedly castigated the airline,
GON officials have expressed disappointment in World's
decision to cancel its flights, and the Nigerian Civil
Aviation Authority has expressed anger at the airline's
refusal to rescue stranded passengers. World Airways
executives will meet GON officials later this month, but
even this may not be enough to salvage the airline's
reputation. Whether or not World re-enters the market,
other U.S. air carriers are lining up to take its place.
Continental Airlines has made serious inquiries, and KLM
reports that Northwest will start a Lagos to Detroit run in
June or July 2004. End comment.

HINSON-JONES

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