MONDAY'S fatal air crash in China highlights the risks of flying on ill-maintained Soviet jets piloted by overworked crews. But the US Department of Transport has picked another target in its efforts to protect American travellers from the risks associated with flying: Murtala Muhammed.

This is the international airport at Lagos, considered so unsafe by US authorities that they have banned direct flights there, and mounted warning signs at American airports.

Americans can overreact to perceived threats abroad, but Tara O'Connor, Africa specialist for Control Risks Information Services, a London security consultancy, says the stance is justified: 'Lagos airport is in a league of its own'.

The reason cited by the US for singling out Lagos was inadequate security procedures on departure. But arrival formalities in Lagos can be stressful, too. The latest trick, according to Ms O'Connor, is for villains to get hold of a passenger list for an incoming flight, and wait at the bottom of the aircraft steps holding out a sign for their chosen prey. 'The victim is whisked through immigration and customs, then driven to some isolated spot and robbed.'

Even if you get through, your baggage may not. When I had a job frisking passengers at Gatwick airport, the flight out to Lagos was the one everyone dreaded because of the improbable number of refrigerators and big-screen televisions carried among the hand luggage. Now I know why. According to the Wall Street Journal, at Murtala Muhammed airport, 'luggage that makes it as far as the baggage carousel usually goes around only once'. And then disappears.

If you and your possessions make it as far as downtown Lagos, your problems are only just beginning. Tara O'Connor relates how two British visitors were abducted from their hotel by rogues posing as government officials. They were taken to one of the less salubrious areas of town and relieved of almost everything they possessed. The pair had to find their way to the British Embassy in their underpants - then confess that they were security officials investigating crime in Nigeria.