Vincentian Students in Jamaica asked to pay US$1339 for chartered flight home
By Bria King
Vincentian students in Jamaica have expressed concern about their ability to return home, given that the cost of a chartered flight is at least three times what they are used to paying.
One student contacted SEARCHLIGHT this week to voice some of these concerns and to question whether they would receive some form of help from the Government to help defray the cost of the flight.
“I am writing to let you know that the cost of the LIAT charter flight from Jamaica to St Vincent is seventy-five thousand U.S. dollars (US$75,000.00) for one aircraft, carrying only fifty-six (56) persons,” said a letter to students from June Pam Barbour, SVG’s honorary consul in Jamaica.
The letter, which was dated May 5 said “this means that the fare for each person to travel, if the 56 person quota is achieved is one thousand three hundred and thirty-nine dollars and twenty-nine cents (US$1,339.29). This is a discounted rate from one hundred and one thousand, four hundred and twenty dollars (US$101,420.00).”
The letter also said that the government was making arrangements to have LIAT in St Vincent collect all payments for the flight.
The student said that they consider the cost to be very expensive as it is more than three times what they would usually pay for a one-way trip home.
She added that they had also received a quotation from another airline which was at least US$100 cheaper than what was being quoted as LIAT’s discounted price.
“It’s very disheartening because now the students are like, would we ever be able to go home? Even if you say, ok, I have a loan, maybe I can ask the bank to refinance the loan, that, one, takes up time…and two, you’re not sure whether they will be able to pay the interest or whatever it is that comes with refinancing the loan…” the student said.
She also noted that if persons indicated that they could not pay for the flight, it could mean that the overall cost will have to be split between fewer people.
Students intending to make the journey home are also required to adhere to certain entry requirements laid out by SVG’s health ministry, which includes information that must be submitted before their arrival.
These include full name, date of birth, contact number, details of current health status, details of any underlying medical conditions, any exposure to a COVID-19 positive or suspected case, any screening done and proposed address to spend 14 to 21 days quarantine upon return to SVG.
The protocol also requests a name and contact number of a person who can facilitate the inspection of the proposed quarantine site. And if the site is not appropriate for quarantine, students must outline their commitment to pay for the use of a government facility.
But this is another worry for students, who say they may not be able to afford to pay to be quarantined, especially after having to find money to pay for the flight.
The student stressed the importance of students returning home as the situation may become worse in several ways, particularly as it relates to funding, which for some persons has been dwindling.
“Because of how the semester has been extended and how the drawdowns work, that they’re in a difficult position, especially now given the fact that it’s not as easy as it was before to say let me depend on a friend, maybe they might cook and bring food for me,” she explained.
She also said that people who rent may have only budgeted up to a certain time and with the uncertainty of when they will be able to go home, persons will have to find money to pay for an extra month.
Another student also expressed concern as it relates to funding, noting that there are no provisions in place to possibly subsidize students who will remain in hall accommodation at the UWI, Mona campus.
“The point is students just want to go home. I know it’s a lot of mental gymnastics that’s been going on, especially now given the increase of cases here in Jamaica. At first it wasn’t so bad but now, its just grown so exponentially” the concerned individual said.
Up to press time, Jamaica had 478 confirmed cases of COVID-19. So far, 57 persons have recovered and nine persons have died.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that he was awaiting details on how much students in Jamaica could afford to pay for the chartered flight.
He acknowledged the cost of US$75,000 and said “that’s only 56 for Jamaica and then you have to put on another plane for the remainder. It’s a big number”.
Gonsalves also spoke about the issue while at NBC radio on Wednesday, May 6, where he explained that there were a total of 72 students at various institutions in Jamaica who wished to return home.
And that LIAT would bring 56 persons on a 70-seater plane with each student travelling with 50 pounds.
“To help to take care of that 16, I’ve been in touch with prime minister Mottley (of Barbados) because I was informed by Pam Barbour that they may have 30 Barbadians who are organising to come back so if they are organising, we can get some seats on that,” he said in relation to the remaining 16 students.
The prime minister said this was in addition to 16 students in Cuba. And he noted that the cost for those students would be even more as it was a further distance.
Gonsalves noted that it would be an expensive venture for the government to help all students who were pursuing studies in the region to return home on chartered flights.
“It’s a complicated business, it’s not simple,” he said.
And he added that while Barbour said that some parents have indicated their willingness to pay, “I told her I would like to hear the cases individually because I am sure that some parents will be able to pay the money, but I will wager, I will guess that though some can pay some, they can’t pay all that. And that there are others who can’t pay anything at all”.
A date is yet to be set for the return of students to SVG as conversations are ongoing as it relates to the cost of the chartered flight.