(BarbadosToday)LIAT is not looking that bad after all
The ongoing industrial dispute involving flight crew of the Trinidad and Tobago state-owned Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL), is a stark reminder of just how awful the air transport situation is in the region, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean.
At the Grantley Adams International Airport stranded passengers vented at being left to fend for themselves with very little information on when scheduled flights would resume.
The airline’s 93 pilots stayed away from their jobs at CAL leaving innocent passengers without their possessions, lost luggage, and no one to respond to their questions as almost 40 flights throughout the region were cancelled.
In the meantime, Trinidad’s industrial court has granted an injunction sought by CAL against the Trinidad and Tobago Pilots’ Association (TTALPA) and has instructed the airline workers to get back on the job.
With very little reaction from the average man on the street, it appears deep apathy has set in among Caribbean people. They have lowered their expectations to the floor regarding airlines in the region as part of their coping mechanism against being disappointed by the frequently dreadful service that has, sadly, become a feature of travel via our indigenous carriers.
This week St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves suggested on radio that “a new LIAT” could be coming as he awaits an important document from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) which is headquartered in Barbados.
We know that the LIAT 1974, with which Caribbean people have had a love-hate relationship, has become the proverbial cornerstone that the builders rejected.
Rather than share the burden of sustaining the financial compromised LIAT, many members of the regional community stayed on the sidelines and allowed the unequal burden to be carried by shareholder governments Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St Vincent & the Grenadines and the Commonwealth of Dominica.
In an Association of Caribbean States (ACS) publication on air transport in the Caribbean and its impact on tourism, the ACS described the tenuous state of regional travel.
“For persons participating in intraregional tourism, be it foreigners or Caribbean natives (sic), it is known that in order to arrive at nearby, or even neighbouring islands, it can take an average of eight hours to do so. The traveller is sometimes required to stay overnight because the connections that should allow for a relatively short trip, in terms of both time and distance, simply do not exist.”
We have been living through these circumstances for too long. The result has been drastically reduced personal and familial connections between residents of the various islands.
Business travellers, who have no choice, reportedly comprise the bulk of daily travel throughout the region. Those who plan pleasure trips or vacation travel are forced to negotiate and include contingencies for cancelled flights as part of the overall plan.
Since the demise of LIAT 1974 during the COVID-19 pandemic, inter-regional tourism travel has taken a deep nosedive and surprisingly it is happening at the time when international carriers are unable to satisfy the exploding demand for seats.
We are, therefore, forced to question why even in a market where the demand heavily outstrips supply that we cannot enjoy the benefits of a well-run regional carrier.
We, like Prime Minister Gonsalves, eagerly await that CDB report on a possible revival of LIAT. After so many years of criticising the regional carrier, we have come to the realisation that there is bad, worse, and then there is horrible.