“Fasten your safety belts!” Those words could spell the end of a wonderful Caribbean vacation and the start of a near-nightmare swirling in the airline industry’s equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. I was reminded yesterday that I do not have to weather the storms that are brought on by flying with LIAT (aka “left in another terminal”, “lost in-between Antigua and Trinidad”, or other variants on the acronym).
Yesterday, a friend mentioned that “LIAT broke down in St. Kitts….so we’re stuck indefinitely now!”, then “12 hrs and counting and cannot reach home yet…thanks LIAT!!!” Passenger reviews show LIAT to be one of life’s hated organizations. It hit one of its recent low points this past summer, epitomised by a now-famed letter from a passenger. The passenger noted: “I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday… And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!” It ended “So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are ‘The Caribbean Airline’. P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.”
The Wikipedia page on LIAT pays it few compliments: “LIAT has a very poor reputation among both locals and visitors to and from the Caribbean Islands. Their flights often operate irregularly, with inconsistent arrival and departure. They may depart even if all ticketed passengers are not on board. Baggage is often misdirected or not loaded entirely. They are known for having very poor customer service, late departures, flights cancellation and their staff is thought by some to be surly and unhelpful.” No endorsements, there.
During 2013, the then-CEO, Capt. Ian Brunton, apologised for what he described as a ‘meltdown’ around a re-fleeting exercise, with LIAT changing aircraft from Dash-8 types to ATR-42 and ATR-72 types. The troubles, which stranded thousands of passengers across LIAT’s 1,300 miles of network, started in early August and continued for two months while LIAT struggled with crewing both types and deliveries of the new aircraft. Problems were compounded when an engine of one of the new aircraft took a week to be replaced, and one of the new aircraft was chartered to the Prime Minister of Taiwan in the middle of the debacle. The CEO blamed the numerous flight delays and cancellations on “unscheduled maintenance … crew shortages … bad weather … airport limitations … obtaining licences for operating our new ATR aircraft … Tropical Storm Chantal … strong surface winds … unfavourable weather conditions … airport limitations … and runway lights”. Did he miss anything? Capt. Brunton resigned from LIAT, effective on October 1, 2013.
One of the key shareholder governments acknowledged the real problems, when St. Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves stated: “LIAT was terribly disappointing to the people of the Caribbean over the summer… It is a difficult airline to manage; and it is an airline which is not a financial proposition, but one which is socially and economically necessary.”
So, As I ponder flying with Caribbean Airlines soon, I give thanks that it’s not going to be with LIAT.
Joking aside, the region will be grateful to LIAT for its efforts to help islanders affected by the recent floods in the Eastern Caribbean, where they are working with the Red Cross to move food supplies.