Why Airlines Need Competition

Why Airlines Need Competition

The airline holds a virtual monopoly for intra-Caribbean flights, and it shows. Once they canceled a flight because of “technical reasons”. Most people realised that the real reason was economy as the flight was poorly booked. No apology, let alone compensation. Another time I almost missed a flight because it left half an hour early. Since I only had hand luggage it was so convenient to kick me out. On numerous occasions my luggage was lost and in most cases I had to go to the airport myself. Another time I was refused boarding although I had a confirmed booking even though I could show the itinerary printed by a travel agent.

Today I was on a flight to St Maarten. While in transit in Antigua I was given a boarding pass for a late afternoon flight, while I remembered having booked a 5 hours earlier morning flight.  Initially the check in agent said the flight was full, but later it appeared there was a free seat. The Antigua supervisor on duty, only wanted to put me on the earlier flight without a penalty if I could provide evidence that I booked the earlier flight. She also acknowledged that it could have happened that the reservation was changed because the earlier flight was full and admitted that it would have been illogical to book a flight with a 6 hour transit time. Only by paying a penalty I was allowed on the earlier flight. However that flight did not depart because of engine problems.  

Time after time the flight was delayed with consecutive announcements that the flight would leave in half an hour. When we were called in to go to the gate we were asked to wait in an assembly line. We all had to stand for 20 minutes. Upon arrival in St Maarten after waiting 40 minutes for my bag it was not there. There was no agent to deal with baggage complaints; other agents said there was nobody fromthe airline around and I would best go to the ticket office. They in turn referred me to the (only) check-in agent. After waiting in line for passengers to check in a note was made on a minuscule piece of paper. After arrival of the later flight I called all their numbers in St Maarten; none of the phones were answered. Later, when I took a taxi to the airport, I was told that this happens when they are busy with an incoming or departing flight. After spending some time chatting to passengers who missed their international flights because their Liat flight came in late -they were waiting for hours without any care-, I finally got my luggage at 4:45 pm. My afternoon was ruined.

On the return trip there was only an hour delay but again: no luggage. Two days later I finally got it.

The attitude of their staff is generally friendly, but there are exceptions that I would not call rude, but are clearly not interested in providing  fair service to their customers. Possibly they are instructed by their management to avoid complimentary services at any cost.

After their only major competitor dropped out,they drastically increased their prices. Some time ago, they hired all pilots of a small competing airline -all at the same time-, driving that airline practically out of business.  As sad as it is, there is no alternative for Intra-Caribbean travel, except the boat, which -at times- can be faster and In the Northern Caribbean where several small regional airlines are active.

Tourists arriving in the Caribbean with intercontinental flights usually have 2 free baggages. As this airline does not participate in checking through to final destination anymore (there seem to be no arrangements anymore with other airlines to issue intercontinental tickets including theirs), passengers have to check in again. And get presented with hefty luggage charges which are never waived as far as I have observed.

On the positive side,they provide comprehensive Intra-Caribbean flights throughout the whole region which are a necessity. The moral of this article: Be careful when you fly on routes ruled by one airline only. The lack of competition is not good for their commercial and service attitude.

James Post moved to Grenada after a career in the high tech electronics industry in the Netherlands, where he was called the “Ultimate Frequent Flyer”. In 2000 he felt it was time for a change and moved to the Caribbean to realize his dream: to build a small, sustainable resort (http://www.paradisebayresort.net).