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LIAT – Never a dull moment

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I go to sleep with LIAT on my mind and get up to hear a lot of complaints and to read incredible stories about LIAT. The LIAT planes pass fairly near to my home, so over the past weeks I was able to hear flights coming into the E.T. Joshua airport at all hours of the night.{{more}}

Over the past two weeks, I have heard, on more than two occasions, planes coming after midnight. Then there are the alarming stories involving groups of young people, scouts, sports persons being stranded at airports for hours and, on at least one occasion, having to stay overnight at the port from which they were supposed to be departing. Amidst all of the complaints is a much publicised letter by a Dr Janet Taylor speaking about her pleasant experience. What constituted this celebrated experience? The flight was actually on time; the aircraft looked shinier and clearer; the stewardess was smiling; the cabin was brightly lit and smelled good; the bin was larger, deeper and more accommodating, and the ‘recording’ was pleasant. Obviously, all these references were to the new aircraft. Did she expect anything otherwise?

Really, the complaints being made have little to do with the bins and how brightly or not so brightly lit was the cabin. She did say that her flight was on time and of course there are occasions when LIAT is on time, even sometimes leaving before the scheduled departure time. There are a lot of other serious problems that need to be addressed. I saw reference to a comment by Dr Gonsalves to the effect that LIAT’s problems are not only about the unavailability of aircraft. Let us look first at the availability of aircraft and the reasons they are giving for some of the problems passengers have been facing.

Apparently, once pilots are trained to fly the ATR 72 they can no longer fly the Dash 8s. This might be so, but they should go further and explain how this has come about. There can only be two reasons for this misadventure. First, training is only available at certain times and at a tremendous cost and second, they had no clue when these aircraft were going to arrive and when and how they were going to get funding. Outside of these, it makes little sense. I am assuming that under these circumstances there are Dash-8s on the ground with no one to fly them. I would think that management would have had some idea when funds might be available and also the schedule of the arrival of the planes. So, why are we in this situation? There must be something else involved and I wish they would tell us rather than feed us with the kind of explanations they have been giving. Moreover, it would appear that these problems are likely to continue until the end of the year or until mid-January. I am beginning to imagine the confusion around Christmas time, non-arrival of luggage, delayed flights and the other things resulting from these.

It is good to see that management has recently been responding to some of the many complaints they have been getting. They have actually been forced into a situation where they could no longer remain silent. One of the major problems with LIAT involves communication. You wait at any of the airports and realise that your time for departure has passed without a word from LIAT as to when you are likely to leave. This, of course, creates stress, particularly for those who have to catch connecting flights. In such situations, I sympathise with the frontline workers who, it would seem are also left in the dark.

Dr Jean Holder, chairman of the Board of Directors, has promised that LIAT will do better. Haven’t we heard that kind of talk before? What Holder and the shareholder governments have to deal with is a LIAT culture. I am sure that exists. They have been so accustomed doing things in a particular way that they would have difficulty changing. At the back of their minds is the fact that there is no alternative. Someone recently wrote about this irritating ‘Thank You’ to passengers for flying with LIAT. In a majority of cases they do so because there is no alternative. They are captives to a particular situation.

What I will give credit to LIAT for is its safety record and they keep saying that passenger safety is a priority. Long may it remain so! But despite their excellent safety record, they cannot expect passengers and potential passengers to remain quiet about the multitude of problems they face when travelling or trying to travel. Then there is the question of cost of travelling. When one looks at the cost of travelling to say St Lucia, which is next door and which you can see from Georgetown and further north, it is alarming, especially in these hard guava crop times, as we would say. US$65 million dollars have been lent to shareholder governments, but LIAT is expected to repay this loan over a 13-year period. How are they going to do that? What is going to cause the rapid turnaround that is necessary for them to meet this commitment? Are shareholder governments going to write off the landing fees that I gather are owed to them?

I am perhaps not very well informed about LIAT and about the airline business, but as a traveller, I have to speak out. And remember what our Prime Minister said about LIAT’s problems being more than the unavailability of aircraft. There is hope, however, for he is on our side!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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