The short end of the flying stick

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Lately, the world of aviation in the Caribbean has been in the news.  If it is not our love/hate relationship with LIAT, it is something else.  Most recently, the topic of fares came to the fore.  Not the online line petition initiated by Theodore White regarding fares on the UK carriers British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic (we will get to that in a moment).  No!  We are talking about a very interesting comment from LIAT management that has people abuzz.
In an attempt to provide perspective on the numerous issues facing the regional carrier, LIAT’s outgoing Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Lloyd Carswell made a starling admission when he revealed that it is cheaper to fly to New York and to shop there than it is to go to San Juan.  This, and the increase in online shopping were apparently some of the factors contributing to the termination of the Puerto Rico route.
Okay.  We admit it.  It was not so startling because people have been saying that for a long time but it was a bit shocking to hear it come from LIAT’s management. They have always defended their rates as being globally competitive so this is a turnaround.
The distance from Antigua’s V C Bird International Airport (ANU) to New York’s John F Kennedy Airport (JFK) is 2,853 kilometres.  The distance from ANU to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) is 469 kilometres.  Some quick math will tell you that New York is about six times farther than San Juan from Antigua, yet, it costs less to get to New York than San Juan (on LIAT).   Somebody please explain that to us?  Please?!?!
So that we do not suffer from frustration overload, we are going to leave that situation right there and move on to the previously mentioned petition.  Mr Theodore White, a concerned Caribbean traveller, is demanding an explanation and transparency from the two large UK based airlines regarding what he perceives to be discriminatory pricing for flights originating in the Caribbean.
According to White’s online petition (available at change.org), “Both companies operate a fares policy which discriminates against travellers who begin their journey in the Caribbean. For example, a passenger starting their journey in the Caribbean has to pay up to 80% more to travel on the same plane, at the same time and on the same day as a passenger starting their journey in the UK.
“This unfair discrimination should be stopped. Passengers starting their journey in the Caribbean should have access to the same fares as those starting their journey in the UK,” he concludes.
Like Mr. White, OBSERVER media sought to get answers but we were frustrated by the numerous referrals and scant to non-existent information available.  There was no detailed breakdown of information related to taxes, landing fees, etc, to aid in the determination of where the fare differences originated.  Differences that were proven to be significant by our investigations.
OBSERVER media visited the websites of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to book a return flight from Britain and also from Antigua.  We sought to travel in Economy class and utilised June 30 to July 30 as our travel dates.   Flying out of London Gatwick (LGW), BA’s website quoted EC $2086, with taxes, fees and carrier charges coming in at EC $1,053.  Leaving from Antigua, saw the price rise by EC $1,571.  That’s 75%!
Things were no better at Virgin; actually, they were worse.  Fares for flights out of V C Bird were EC $2,236 more than those out of the UK.  (EC $4,389  versus EC $2,153).  That is more than double!  How do we end up with the short end of the stick?
Mr White said that every Caribbean national including the heads of government should be clamouring for an explanation and he is very right.  Somebody needs to tell us why there is such a difference.
But it is not just the UK carriers that owe us an explanation.  A visit to American Airlines reveals another oddity in fares.  Using the same dates, we quote return fares to Miami, Florida (MIA) and New York (JFK).  The fare to Miami was US $100 more than the fare to New York (US $968 versus US $868).  Again, for comparison, Miami is 2,158 kilometres from Antigua.  New York is 2,853 kilometres.
Those were direct flights so we haven’t even come to the crazy part yet.  Take a flight to New York that stops in Miami and it is still about US $100 less than the airfare to Miami (US $874).  How is that possible? Is the fare set that way because there is no competition on the Miami route?
Someone really needs to look into the fares and report to the people.  Is this simply a case of Caribbean people being taken advantage of or are there legitimate reasons for the fare disparity?  Either way, we want to know and we are pretty sure everyone else wants to know as well.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.
 

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