Background Arik Air is a privately owned Nigerian airline founded in 2006. From London Heathrow it flies daily to Lagos using an A340-500, with a five times weekly service to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja with a New Generation Boeing 737-800.
Check-in The road to the airport can be congested, with the journey from the city centre ranging from 40 minutes to four hours. For my 1200 departure I left my hotel at 0700 and was at the airport just after 0800. There was a delay while a previous Arik Air Freetown flight was dealt with, and then I had my passport checked. Fast-track security was reassuringly thorough, since there had been no obvious security in the airport until then. I had not taken off my belt and this was re-scanned. My washbag was also examined and other passengers had to unpack their cases in front of security guards, no matter what nationality they were.
The lounge There are several lounges at the airport, all on the upper level after security, accessed by an extremely tight winding staircase which is a challenge to climb with bags (I didn’t see a lift). The Arik Air lounge is shared with other airlines such as Iberia, and is at the end of the balcony past the Skyteam facility. It has cold drinks including alcohol, some snacks, and coffee and tea if you ask. There are only about 30 seats but it was quiet when I was there, and it had UK power sockets and free wifi so I could get on with some work. This was to be a troubled wait, though. There was a fuel problem at the airport that affected most flights and, in the end, we didn’t set off until 1730, more than 5.5 hours late. There were also frequent, prolonged power cuts that meant we were often sitting in darkness, but we were kept informed and the Nigerian travellers among us certainly regarded it as nothing unusual, since in Lagos electricity is available only for a few hours a day, and everyone relies on generators.
Boarding This started at about 1600 and during the hour’s wait on the plane passengers could move around. My jacket was hung and I was offered drinks and canapés.
The seat Arik Air’s A340-500s were originally intended for Kingfisher Airlines so have that airline’s seat product across two classes, with 36 business seats and 201 economy ones in a 2-4-2 configuration (see seat plan, right). When you board, the first thing you see is a bar like that on Virgin Atlantic’s A340-600s, although this one is more spacious with sofas either side. The red leather business class seats have a massage function and privacy screen, and convert to a fully flat bed. Each has a 17-inch screen and full audio-video on-demand in-flight entertainment, though the range of films was limited and I could not get the audio selection or the map to work. The in-seat power was fine, and a blanket and amenity kit with Temple Spa toiletries were supplied.
Which seat to choose? I was in seat 1K, which was good as it was away from the washrooms.
The flight Once we had taken off, crew quickly served drinks. There was a fair choice, though enquiries about the wines merely got the offer of “champagne, red or white”. For lunch, there was a huge salad with sugar snap peas and sun-blushed tomatoes, while the starters were a delicious lamb suya with braised beetroot, or hot pepper soup with mutton. The mains were Nigerian efo rice with braised blade of beef (very spicy), spiced Goan sea bass with pilau rice and masala dal, roast chicken with mushroom and tarragon cream sauce, or Nigerian spicy okra soup with oxtail and cassava. Dessert was banoffee pie or fresh fruit, and there was a selection of British cheeses. I liked that the menu took pride in declaring it offered “a range of quality, contemporary and traditional Nigerian cuisine”, and I enjoyed trying it. Food was served on plates, with good glassware and cutlery.
On the way out I had slept for the whole flight, having reclined the bed to fully flat, changed into the sleep suit provided and had the bed made up with duvets and pillows. This time I reclined the seat and just slept for an hour. Before landing we were offered afternoon tea, though by then it was late evening.
Arrival We arrived just after 2300, more than five hours late, but were quickly off the aircraft and through immigration at T4, where there was no queue.
Verdict A good service with comfortable seats and professional crew, though the IFE needs looking at. I would fly Arik Air again, but Lagos airport desperately needs money spending on it.
PLANE TYPE A340-500
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, J-K)
SEAT WIDTH 20in/51cm
SEAT PITCH 34in/86cm
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Lagos in July started from £1,930.