Posted by Sade Williams
Nigeria and South Africa on Sunday deepened their relations when South Africa Airways made a return to the Johannesburg-Lagos route 18 months after temporarily withdrawing from the lucrative route.
Activities had been on for months into Lagos flight restart. Not even the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 could derail preparations as the South African Airways (SAA) flight touched down at 8.04 pm on Sunday at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos amid excitement from passengers who lauded the fantastic onboard services by the crew.
At the counters of the airline were Zulu dancers who entertained passengers who came for check-in at the airline’s counters as they beamed with smiles that they could once again fly directly to Johannesburg from Lagos.
South African Airways Commercial Manager for Africa, Ohis Ehimiaghe told journalists he was excited the same way passengers who arrived on the flight and who were departing.
According to him, “December is a very interesting month as an airline because I recall almost 23 years ago of flying into Nigeria on Dec 3, 1998, and Dec 12, 2021, we are making a return back to the Nigerian skies after almost 21 months of not operating to Lagos”.
“The flight touched down this evening and it was a very impressive flight and we were greeted with the usual water cannon by the airport authorities. It was awesome. It was very nice. It gave everybody goose pimples”.
He noted that in the face of the pandemic, Africa is opening up, stressing that South African Airways is pleased to be back to the Nigerian skies.
“Nigerians are excited to be part of the global economy as we usually say and South Africa is also excited to be part of it as well. These are the two biggest powerhouses for Africa and it can only get better. With the visit of the South African President to Nigeria two weeks ago, the relationship between the two countries is improving and it is going to be very high and we as South African Airways are part of the instrument to make investments, travels through visiting friends and families”, he added.
The SAA chief further stated that they were absolutely not in any doubt that the flight would operate amid the Omicron controversies that had pitted countries and against nations which culminated in a travel ban.
“You were well aware that the Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa. Kudos to the South African scientists. Science has told us so far that the symptoms are so mild, zero death has been recorded, few people have been hospitalized. We are quite excited and we did not have any doubt that the flight was going to operate. There are absolutely no restrictions between Nigeria and South Africa. It is good for us. It can only get better”.
You can see an almost full load. I don’t have the figure right now, but it is a very impressive number and going out is also a very impressive load factor. We are excited. It can only get better.
South African Airways has come to stay. The relationship between South Africa and Nigeria will improve with people doing business in Nigeria and people doing business in South Africa. We have a lot of people visiting Nigeria for tourism and have a lot of people visiting South Africa for tourism.
“We do not believe that there would be another pandemic that will be worse than this. Let us be positive. Kudos to all the scientists that have been doing very hard to get us to where we are right now with the vaccines, and there will be no fear of Omicron of COVID-19”.
General Sales Agent for SAA in Nigeria, Chief John Adebanjo who was visibly elated with the return of the carrier to Nigeria said the Omicron variant should not be the reason to impose a travel ban on countries, adding that South Africa should be commended for identifying the Omicron variant while many other countries could not even identify it.
“From Nigeria’s end, we have competent hands that are looking into it. We raised a concern that it is just another variant and not as bad as we thought it would be and am glad because I was in the UK a couple of weeks back and the scientists are baffled that Africans are not dying from it.
“We still need to be careful of what we do. We did not entertain any fear at all that the flight would come in because we believe that Nigeria deserves the relationship we have between the two countries. Nigeria deserves the best as well and with South African Airways coming in, that is very beautiful to cementing the relationship”.