Friday, February 23, 2018

Flash Gordon’s ego trip

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Mark Fraser

Absolutely awful airline. Took about 8 hours to get from St Lucia to St Vincent. Avoid at all costs.” Guess which airline? “Plane was 1 hour late (unexplained) on the outbound BGI-SVG sector, but thankfully as flight was not totally full, luggage did travel. No such luck on the return leg. It was all the passengers who were connecting on to UK flights whose luggage didn’t arrive and they had been clearly labelled as connecting luggage in St Vincent. We saw our luggage next to the baggage hold and foolishly thought that would mean it would travel — but no, don’t be fooled! It will now apparently be sent on a day later as it will miss the UK flight — not so great when you have yet another sector at the other end. Not sure if we’ll ever see it again!” Not sure yet? This is the clincher, the answer, game, set and match. “I flew Liat on 26th July and 6th August 2010 and will never fly with them again” or “LIAT is awful, never had a flight that was less than 2 hours delayed round-trip between Puerto Rico and St. Vincent.”

Fortunately, the frustrated LIAT travellers I have quoted never had to travel to or through Antigua. On Monday I had to take my son to the airport to get on board a LIAT flight, for which I had already paid, to return to his homeland Barbados to get a new passport. The catch was that his had expired. The Antiguan immigration authorities assured me that because he was returning home, my son could travel on his expired passport and did not need an emergency travel document. They said there would be no problem with immigration. Unfortunately, LIAT had to issue him a ticket first.

And there was the rub. I had experienced that problem with LIAT in Antigua before and made sure this time to send a text and follow-up e-mail to the ever-helpful LIAT marketing manager, Mr Derrick Frederick, who is a totally dedicated LIAT employee – one of the few that I have met. He never told me, as so many others do, “This is not my area. You should call ticketing or whatever.” He responded immediately to a call on his cell and assured me he would follow it up. But Mr. Frederick is based in Antigua and this is another story. It does not matter which airline, Antigua is the Sargasso Sea where even the best laid plans and the most painstaking and meticulous planning run into a word, which like “harass” and “infrequently” can become two words in the Caribbean. It is “morass.” When you go to any airline in Antigua the one thing you are sure to get is “morass” even though the officials are not swamped with work.

The root of the problem is that the words “official” and “officious” are two different words but Antiguan airline supervisors don’t seem to know that. Richard Nordquist the grammar guru says, “As an adjective, official means authorized, authoritative, or characteristic of an office. The adjective officious means meddlesome—excessively eager to offer help or advice. Officious generally carries a negative connotation. He gives two examples: “With only two days of official negotiating time left, hope of progress was quickly evaporating at the climate talks” and “Official letters and forms sometimes come across as unsympathetic or officious.”

Despite my trying to get the LIAT head office trying to tell the Antigua office that my son should be issued the ticket I had bought, I made sure I reached the airport at four in the morning and stood with my son at the head of the line. I understand that the counter should be open at 4 a.m. but it was not until 4.20 a.m. that a solitary counter clerk opened for business. There were about 12 people in the line at the time. When she heard what I wanted she said she had to speak to the supervisor who would be in later. I was told to stand in a corner with my son and wait. We waited. She called someone who said she did not know anything about my son’s travel. Later, as the staff trickled in, I was handed over to someone who she said would deal with the problem but who later told me he was not the duty manager — a functionary who did not start work until 8 a.m. It was clear why the staff did not turn up on time. The person was adamant that he was not going to allow my son the ticket until he got word from Barbados. I pointed out that my son was a Barbadian returning home and Immigration told me it was not a problem. He would not budge. In desperation, at about five in the morning, thirty minutes before the flight departure time, I called Mr Frederick who not only answered the phone but spoke to the LIAT supervisor who for his airs and officiousness I dubbed “Flash” Gordon because, as some Caribbean people say, “he only full of flash.”

Flash told Mr. Frederick that he would do nothing unless he got a personal e-mail or a command from Barbados. Without that my son, whose appointment with the passport office in Barbados was at 1.45 p.m. the same day, would remain in Antigua. Poor Mr Frederick – he had tried to help me and here he was in morass after morass. I am sure I woke him up but he never complained he just tried to help. Another ten employees like him in LIAT and maybe fifty percent of one in Antigua would do wonders for the airline. However, customer service and LIAT go together like Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Stark.

Just as Mr Frederick called me back to try to reason with Flash again, it seems the duty manager called and told one of the staff that if my son’s passport was a Barbadian passport and he was flying to Barbados he should be allowed to fly. Flash pretended he had not heard and only when I insisted he asked another agent to prepare the ticket. When she saw what the issue was she turned to Flash and said, “What is the problem? Why you keep them waiting so long? We do this all the time.”