Caribbean Travelers Find Few Choices

Sir Ronald Sanders recently wrote about the difficulties Caribbean travelers face in the context of spiraling costs of travel and few choices for air transportation in the Caribbean. His main point is that the privately-owned, low-cost carrier, REDjet, has been forced to suspend its operations making Caribbean air transportation more problematic. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Over the last 15 years or so, carriers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany have only maintained a regular schedule of flights into certain countries in the region if the governments of those countries guarantee payment for a quantity of seats. When the airlines don’t sell those seats, the governments pay. But, if air transportation into and out of the region from the US, the UK and Germany have been problematic, it has been a lot worse within the Caribbean where governments do not extend the same facility of paying regional airlines for an agreed number of unused seats.

Persons travelling by air within the Caribbean have a choice only between Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL), owned wholly by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, or LIAT, a smaller airline mostly-owned by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines. That limitation of choice has led to high fares. Therefore, the introduction of a low-cost airline, REDjet, into the Caribbean last year was a welcome relief for Caribbean travelers who took to the airline like a duck to water, and cocked a snook at both LIAT and CAL, so delighted were they to travel at lower prices.

The travellers’ vote for REDJet by using its services rather than CAL’s or LIAT’s was directed particularly at CAL because they know that CAL flies on a huge fuel subsidy from the Trinidad and Tobago government, paying less than half the price for a gallon of fuel than is paid by LIAT, and indeed, was paid by REDjet. In the view of most travellers – but especially those from Trinidad and Tobago – if taxpayers’ money is being used to subsidize the cost of CAL’s fights, the subsidy should be reflected in a lower cost of airfares. It was particularly galling for passengers to pay CAL’s high fares when its Chairman announced huge profits (on the basis of the fuel subsidy). As it turns out CAL’s profits are a mirage. Once the fuel subsidy is subtracted from the declared profits, CAL is just another losing airline. The news that emerged that it has also not paid in recent months for the fuel it gets at a reduced price from the state-owned company, National Petroleum, shows that even with subsidized fuel, its operations are not efficient enough to pay its way.

In the case of LIAT, it has been the workhorse of the region for decades, and while its service has been less than exemplary, earning ridicule of its acronym as “Luggage in air Terminal” because passengers’ bags were often left behind, and “Leave Island Any Time” because of constant break-downs of its aging fleet of planes, Caribbean people retained loyalty to it. They appreciated that LIAT flew to destinations other airlines ignored because of the unprofitability of the routes, and that without LIAT movement around the region would be difficult if not impossible. Despite that loyalty, Caribbean passengers were still upset at LIAT’s rising prices [. . .].

So, no doubt, there is both a sigh of relief in the Boardrooms of CAL and LIAT that REDjet has suspended its operations, and a hope that the ‘suspension’ is permanent. For during its period of operation, it caused both LIAT and CAL to drop the cost of their airfares.

For full article, see http://www.caribbean360.com/index.php/opinion/563294.html?utm_source=Caribbean360+Newsletters&utm_campaign=0c9cf4274b-Vol_7_Issue_34_News3_23_2012&utm_medium=email#axzz1q8L4MgXu

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