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”.
It hits me in the joint when I think that even at a time like now—summer—there are no offers from LIAT to encourage hard working taxpaying individuals to take a day or especially a weekend and just fly to a very nearby island like Grenada, Barbados, or St Lucia for a few dollars. I know LIAT loves the US currency so let me say it this way. It is demoralizing that a Vincentian or other small island LIAT customer can’t just book a flight to a nearby island for US $40 or so.
Here is a company that, at least in my experience on board, always has occupied seats. How is it then that such a company cannot once offer low cost flights to its customers?
Another piercing reality is that many persons who travel often travel out of necessity—not for a joy ride experience. Don’t even expect to be provided with complimentary refreshments on board your LIAT flight. In your dreams, as they say.
If in fact the government of SVG does not want a challenge to LIAT, and I don’t think that there will be a second Allen Stanford whose Caribbean Star was part of his illegal investments scheme, and so came to nought. That was an astute call by the prime minister; however, if it is that LIAT can’t reasonably operate at a profit and provide value to paying customers then we need to re-evaluate the whole concept of having an air carrier. The way things are going, not even the working class will be able to afford a seat on LIAT.
One has also got to understand that the thing about flying is not just the air fare. It is all good and well to think that the price of tickets is just a couple hundred US dollars. But here in the Eastern Caribbean the ordinary man who carries the majority of the tax burden is not paid in US currency. It takes almost $3 of our EC currency to yield just one American dollar. But more importantly, every time one travels the costs are always explicit and implicit: there are both hidden and obvious costs. A traveler must also think about ground transportation, miscellaneous expenses, the costs associated with the reason for being on foreign soil, accommodation, and food.
It seems to me that the Caribbean people are being held at the merciless hands of the LIAT monopoly. We need practical and progressive leadership as regards LIAT and suitable substitutes for air transportation. Here is a growing population that is working hard to make ends meet but has to face an airline that is determined to cut out our middle section with its never-ending costs.
How much more of this must we as a Caribbean people bear? The time is ripe that each citizen in each island begins to see fruitful and tangible outcomes from their tax dollars. The call is for our leaders to make appropriate investments that will yield suitable returns that will offset the costs of LIAT. Or for heaven’s sake reduce, revoke, or repel some of the government taxes or landing fees the airline is being forced to pay. What our government must understand is that adding a charge to LIAT is really adding a cost to the paying passenger.
I am pretty sure as well that if you keep your ears opened you will shortly hear of another in the ongoing series of strikes by LIAT workers. This, just after Grenada was literally held for ransom not too long ago.
Are you a LIAT customer? Are a Caribbean citizen? Are you being impacted by the costs of regional air travel? Do you have a stake in the socio-economic well being of the Caribbean region? Are your roots in the Caribbean region?
If your answer is yes to any of the above questions I urge you in all seriousness and regional pride to let your voice be heard on this matter. Let us begin a regional—and international—discussion on this issue right here.