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Caribbean Islanders at Mercy of Overtaxed Airline’s Rising Fares

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Is there anything cheap or stress-free with LIAT?

LIAT has had a most privileged and politically protected monopoly as the air carrier for the small islands in the Caribbean. I remember my brother used to use an expression to show just how long (or old) an item or person was around for. I want to borrow his expression in this next sentence. LIAT has been flying our skies since the Rock of Gibraltar was a pebble. That long! Yet, I cannot bring to memory one occasion when the travelling public got some sort of tangible recompense or benefit from LIAT.

Everybody always wants to know “Where de hec has LIAT’s money gone?”

My own experience has been that I have never been disappointed every time I use its services: the flight is either late, cancelled, the pilots are on strike, baggage workers are on go-slow, or some other inconvenience. Readers of Ashford Daniel Writes will recall my earlier entry “Flying the Unfriendly Caribbean Skies part 1”.

With the learned acronym of LIAT meaning Leave Island Anytime, the monopoly says that it is now forced to increase its prices of seats on its flight due to the rising costs of fuel. Of course the fuel is expensive. And it will continue so to be. But what I cannot comprehend for the life of me is that governments and national institutions will advise individuals to keep their savings ready for a rainy day, but apparently a regional carrier that is the only means of air connection to the world for us who are cornered off in the smaller islands has never had management that cares about sheltering the airline in the rainy days.

The price for tickets to the nearby islands in the Caribbean archipelago has been astronomical and upon this LIAT is still going to increase its costs. The airline will not hesitate to say that it is suffering uncontrollable turbulence from the landing fees that it is forced to pay in each island territory. And even on top of these landing fees, LIAT has to factor into its operating costs taxes to pay government.

For too long in the Caribbean the norm has been to just pass the taxes, rising costs and financial burden on to the consumer. Caribbean consumers must be the most skilled jugglers around; could it be that the region is really a merging of acrobats putting on a show?

Well, I doubt very much that the citizens in our islands want to be a circus crew!

It is obvious to me now that LIAT is in a paradox where profitability and customer satisfaction are concerned. I feel particularly belittled because as a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines it is my government (and ultimately my hundreds of tax dollars every month) that have been invested into LIAT in a bid to provide dependable air access to the flying public. But something does not smell right in the LIAT kitchen at all.

Can you imagine that as short a distance as the islands are from each other, a single person buying a return ticket—even if it is for one day—has to budget $1,000 to satisfactorily meet LIAT’s air fare? On a recent trip to Barbados the airline quoted a going fare of approximately $750. That is one individual return fare. And it was not the peak season for flying.

It is competitively encouraging to hear that more Caribbean countries are opening up to Redjet—the proposed first low budget carrier in the region. Even now Redjet is trying to iron out its bumps as it readjusts its flight schedules and some passengers have been inadvertently inconvenienced. But at least those passengers have options in terms of which carrier to book their flights with. For the rest of us it seems that even though our taxes are largely invested in LIAT we end up like mere beggars. And you know the saying “beggars can’t be choosers”.

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  • bimjim

    Unfair.

    In the main, LIAT has safely conducted and coordinated hundreds of thousands of flights on time and without incident. Yet when employees (rarely) stand up for their rights in the only way they possibly legally can do so, certain members of the Press begin a rant and rave in a manner in which one would think they were being cruelly abused and punished every time they stepped onto a LIAT aircraft.

    NOT SO!!

    LIAT on occasion has gone through industrial unrest, and that is mainly because its management seem to uphold the unfeeling and unfair “Kremlin” behaviour which has been their hallmark for decades. LIAT management historically seem to have no idea about communicating or cooperating with their employee groups, and this naturally leads to confrontations. Where the owners and Board of LIAT can allow management to carry on contract negotiations with any one employee group for over a decade – TWICE, in the last 30 years – there is something intrinsically wrong both at the management level as well as all the way to the top.

    During the latest fiasco in Grenada, the Prime Minister of that country stepped up to the plate and publicly instructed the two sides to solve the problem, then went further and forwarded money to make the start.

    How can a Board and management of any company tell such barefaced lies as to claim that contractual obligations as far back as almost a decade were there “in error” and they had no intention of paying it? Was the contract not signed by both sides? Does LIAT have special powers? If the article was no6t intended than it should not have been approved and signed. Or it should not have come to this so long after the dispute was brought to light.

    Any employee at LIAT will tell you that management is not to be trusted. Is this really the kind of management our countries want – or even need – running one of the oldest (and most used) institutions in the eastern Caribbean?