With its expensively maintained asset in Caribbean Airlines, Trinidad and Tobago cannot be spared the stresses and agonies that attend regional air travel. State-owned CAL can depend on being kept in the air, for as long as the T&T taxpayer can afford the cost.
Cost must, however, be measured against service provided. And since service involves more than just T&T travellers, how CAL is evaluated for its performance around the region must concern T&T taxpayers.
The escalated level of unhappiness in Guyana with CAL’s service must represent a source of some anxiety. For hopes here persist to enable the airline to make its way, assuming lessened Treasury support.
Last week’s near-crisis meeting in Georgetown between CAL directors and executives and Cabinet-level Guyanese officials should not be taken lightly. As reported in that republic, the meeting weighed “customer service... in-transit process and security checks of Guyanese passengers at Piarco... CAL capacity, airfare, and (its) flag carrier status”.
CAL chairman Philip Marshall must have been left in little doubt about the seriousness of Guyanese concerns. From the T&T airline, designated national carrier for Guyana, an acceptable level of service is expected.
That such service has been falling short was the clear message delivered by Guyanese officials. Clearly, they were having second thoughts about the privileged (flag-carrier) position accorded the T&T carrier, in light of “negative perceptions” at large in Guyana.
The meeting occasioned an eye-opening for T&T officials, long complacently assuming that Guyana was being done favours, as in direct flights between Georgetown and New York. In Georgetown, however, the prevailing view was of a T&T airline that so violated the spirit and the letter of its Guyana flag-carrier status as to provoke officials to invite other airlines to take up the slack.
In a promising response to justifiable complaint, CAL chairman Marshall undertook to review the airfares demanded of Guyanese travellers. He was contending against the implication that the airline may be exploiting its near-monopoly status to make a killing off Guyanese passengers.
Moreover, a lingering sore point that showed no signs of improvement was presented by the bad treatment of Guyanese in-transit at Piarco. Nearly one year ago, such mishandling had been eye-witnessed by Guyana’s Foreign Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, who condemned it as “hurtful” and “discriminatory”, and took it up with her opposite number in Port of Spain.
Evidently so little has changed for the better in the period since, that repeated abuses inflicted on Guyanese at Piarco figured in last week’s bilateral Georgetown talks. With its vested interest in winning and keeping the business of Guyanese, CAL must inevitably show concrete signs of embarrassment with how the people it thanks on board for “choosing us” are treated on the ground in Piarco.
The T&T airline should not wait to hear from Guyana a blunter message to shape up or ship out.