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‘LIAT’s turmoil’ – a lesson in effective management of SVG Argyle Airport

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Tue Sep 13, 2013

Editor: Now the very last thing I would like to do is to discredit any leadership, as it is very common for another to think that he or she can be more effective in doing someone else’s job.{{more}}

However, it is mind boggling as to how the process of gradually upgrading and placing new, larger aircraft into operation could create such turmoil within LIAT, especially since such transitions are standard and commonplace within the international aviation transport sector.

Who are these process experts? And who approved the proposed implementation plan? I hope that they will all be fired, as the distress of customers is inexcusable at this point. The reality is that students are taught by teachers and if the head is in turmoil, then can we really expect much of the tail?

I have travelled on LIAT for the past 45 years and will endeavour to endorse its ongoing dedication, especially for us enroute to SVG. I must, however, emphasize that the service provided via Barbados has always been problematic and seems to have reached rock-bottom over the past few months.

Here is the latest scenario, travelling from St Vincent to Barbados on August 2, 2013: the plane was almost two hours late in leaving. It was not communicated to us that our baggage was not on the plane until we got to Barbados. We were then directed to the Barbados baggage agents who gave us a typed piece of paper with their contact phone number and e-mail address and a verbal promise to have our baggage in Toronto by Westjet the next day.

On August 4, 2013, I received a call from a female LIAT baggage agent (name I will not disclose) who apologized for sending my baggage to Miami on American Airlines “in error” and said she will ensure that it gets to me. A few days later, I got an e-mail from the said agent saying that she encountered a minor injury and will not be at work for two weeks; therefore, I could communicate with her at her personal e-mail address in the meantime. In checking on the status several days later, she then again apologized for “still trying to reach Miami and that another Barbados agent (male) will provide the update”.

Well, on August 18, 2013, after not being contacted by the male worker, I called and was told by the said (male) agent that mine is “the only baggage of that batch that cannot be located”. What a coincidence I thought!

However, American and Westjet Airlines’ agents informed me that they do not have any agreements with LIAT and, therefore, have no way of tracing LIAT’s baggage tag numbers. They also confirmed that it is not unusual for the baggage to have never left Barbados. Toronto Westjet said that it is an ongoing chaos at the Pearson Airport, with unaccompanied baggage from SVG via Barbados to Toronto.

Here is the situation that we all should be aware of:

  • LIAT has no agreement with the connecting airlines.
  • In other words, Westjet, American Airlines and Air Canada are only doing a favour to accept and transport the unaccompanied baggage.
  •  LIAT has no agents in the USA or Canada.
  • LIAT’s baggage tag numbers cannot be traced out of LIAT’s service jurisdiction.
  • It is also a breach of security to put unaccompanied baggage on passenger planes.
  •  Therefore, leaving your baggage in Barbados is at your own risk as Westjet, American Airline and Air Canada do not complete a claim if your baggage did not travel with you on their aircraft.

Please note that when LIAT’s baggage agent was asked about compensation for my lost baggage, I was told that I have to call the head of baggage in Barbados. I was told this during a call I made and in a conversation with the said male baggage agent who was already aware of the several calls made at my expense, as LIAT does not have a 1-800 number connection for North America.

After my numerous unsuccessful investigations by phone and e-mail, and prior to perusing the claim process with an already confused LIAT administration, I drove to the Toronto Pearson International Airport on August 20, 2013 (the third week since my baggage had gone missing), and visited the on duty officers at the baggage section of Air Canada Terminal One, then on to WestJet and American Airlines at Terminal Three. I incurred a $30 parking bill, the disappointment of still no trace of my baggage, the negative feedback on my native LIAT air carrier, such as the disregard of policy by my people, who persisted in travelling with raw foods, creating smelly havoc within the baggage compartments of aircraft and the overall inconvenience internationally.

Please note that American Airlines called me on August 21 to say that my baggage had, at long last, shown up on their very last August 20 flight, following an escalated search globally. Strangely enough, a few hours after my baggage was delivered at my expense, the LIAT agent called to inform me that my baggage will arrive in Toronto the following day, August 22, 2013. I said thanks, but my baggage has preceded your information by 24 hours.

Just few days ago, in a SEARCHLIGHT article, Desmond Brown, Head of Corporation Communication of LIAT, stated that “We will also continue to issue timely, informative and up-to-date Passenger Communication Advisories at all stations; and directly to our customers where contact information has been provided.

“We are doing all we can and we will provide open and honest communication to you while we seek to normalize the situation for our valued customers by providing the care and support that you deserve.”

Let me repeat by “open and honest communication” (as is the anticipation of Mr Desmond Brown re his LIAT customer service team) admitting that I have lost all faith in the tracing and or expediting process of LIAT, even with them having my “contact information” for weeks. It appears that nothing was done, except LIAT’s hope that the customer’s baggage will appear out of the blue skies of Barbados and fall into their laps.

Again, I will reiterate …the SVG international airport development has long been over due! So, let us learn from the current LIAT turmoil in preparation of the effective management of a new Argyle international airport, where racism and nationalism have no place in our goal to be a truly world class international airport.

Elma Gabriel-Mayers

Toronto

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