EDITORIAL: LIAT, the joke no one finds funny

On Friday when we heard of strike action by LIAT’s pilots, the first thought that came to mind was…AGAIN?

And then, when it came time to report on it, our newsroom went to the ‘LIAT-strike-action template,’ changed the date and the issue that caused the strike, added a few more details and it was done … it was somewhat like writing a report on West Indies losing a match.

The situation has become so common and predictable over the years.

The latest spat escalated to the pilots refusing to fly on Friday due to their disagreement with management over whether LIAT had a right to train a non-LIAT pilot (an instructor from a U.S. based training institution) so he could obtain a specific type rating license to fly an ATR (600).

Julie Reifer-Jones, the chief executive officer (CEO), told us that “the action taken [by the pilots] is disproportionate to the issue at hand” and based on the information put out there so far, many tend to agree.

The bad news is that the public continues to lose, and LIAT too, every time the pilots decide to strike when management doesn’t give them what they deserve or think they deserve.

We agree that employees must stand up for their rights, and in so doing, will leverage what’s available to them, based on the circumstances, to ensure parity (and success) at the bargaining table.

Unfortunately, what’s leveraged each time is travellers, be they holidaymakers with limited time and money to spend in islands they should have long departed or businesspeople for whom time is money and upon whom opportunity does not wait.

The least the cash-strapped public should rightfully expect and receive from the cash-strapped airline is basic reliability – but that seems to be something LIAT is incapable of delivering. Unfortunately, we have come to grudgingly accept that cancellations, late departures and arrivals and other travel woes form part of ‘the LIAT package.’

On Friday, Reifer-Jones did what LIAT always does … she apologised. Just imagine if there were an account holding a dollar for every apology from LIAT and whichever association is responsible for the wildcat strike du jour, the airline would need less subsistence.

On the other hand, if LIAT were to follow through on the plan it had in June, to give back cash or credit towards future flights for every passenger whose flight was disrupted, it would have gone out of business already … or most people would be flying for free, indefinitely and shareholding governments would have to inject even more funds to keep LIAT in the air.

That’s why it had come as a surprise to us when the company told us in June that from July 2017 it would start the ‘give back’ programme because we all know that the relationship between staff and management is “combative” as Reifer-Jones had herself said, and it almost, always involves strike action.

We are also wondering what exactly happened in the one on one meetings with LIAT’s  management and staff to address their strained relationship in June, because we are yet to see any fruits of those meetings. Those sessions were organised because LIAT was “working to change that [combative] climate because the current approach doesn’t help anyone.”

Fast forward now from June to November, and the situation has not improved. The weekend headlines across the region all had something on LIAT – passengers say LIAT messed up their travel plans; hundreds of passengers stranded; flight Disruptions due to industrial action at LIAT airline; and LIAT apologises to everyone affected – just to highlight a few.

Hence, people are stranded at an airport and their plans and money are going up in smoke, yet again, sorry doesn’t cut it. LIAT, its shareholders and all of the airline’s agents must understand that we demand better, not just better, but the best service.

The four shareholder prime ministers and the board at LIAT cannot continue making a case for more money and for other islands serviced by LIAT to step up to the plate with their cheque books if LIAT insists on proving that there is no guarantee of value for money.

The public has had enough of the apologies and explanations. It’s high time we get service.

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