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Cablegate: World Airways Suspends Service, Leaves

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

UNCLAS LAGOS 000083

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 Wednesday, January
14, no aircraft had appeared. Airport contacts
reported random acts of violence on Tuesday, January
13, but airport officials denied the claims. 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 had 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 Wednesday, January 14, no
aircraft had 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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