The Government of Barbados, which is the single largest shareholder in regional airline LIAT, thinks some criticism of the airline is “disrespectful” but has urged the carrier to adjust its operations and customer service to meet customer demands.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made that appeal today, while at the same LIAT Chairman Jean Holder formally apologised to the airline’s customers in light of recent difficulties, which had sparked numerous passenger complaints.
The two officials were speaking this morning at the Caribbean Development Bank’s Wildey, St. Michael headquarters shortly before they and other officials signed US$65 million in loan agreements for LIAT’s Fleet Modernisation Project.
Stuart said LIAT could not have survived since the 1950s if occasionally it did not have “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune hurled at it”, something he said had intensified “thanks to the developments that have taken place in this region at the social and economic levels”.
His advice to the carrier was to “reconcile itself to the scrutiny and the outspoken, sometimes disrespectful comments, of those whom it serves”.
“And what it must do is, like a sensitive seismograph, register the fluctuations, the changes taking place in the tastes and expectations of those whom it is required to serve and adjust its operations and its customer service accordingly because ultimately, right or wrong, the customer is always right,” he said.
“So it is within the context of that general understanding that we execute this loan agreement this morning and we look forward to the continued service of LIAT to this region. Regional transport is an indispensable prerequisite to the development and the forward march of our island nations here in the Caribbean,” he added, noting that Barbados remained committed to the airline.
Holder promised customers an ease was around the corner, principally the fact that seven of an overall 12 aircraft being sought, would be in service by January. He acknowledged recent operational difficulties were hard on the company’s passengers and staff and said in hindsight improved communication might have assuaged customer outrage.
“Apart from the monumental challenge of negotiating the money, I wish to put on record that changing all your old aircraft for new aircraft of a different type, while training all your pilots and all your engineers in France to operate and service the new aircraft, while having the regulatory bodies in 21 different countries certify each new aircraft before it can operate in their country, simultaneously with continuing to operate a scheduled service to all the countries at the busiest period of the year, and while the old aircraft continue to break down everyday is an extremely difficult task,” he said.
“It has been hard on the public for which I apologise and it has been hard on the LIAT staff. On reflection, the public should have been made aware much earlier of what LIAT was attempting to do, largely driven by external circumstances, and that disruptions in the service would be inevitable.
“I promise you, however, that LIAT must and will do better.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that by January 2014, thanks to what is happening here today, some seven new aircraft out of the 12 that we anticipate getting, will be in place and providing the public with a better and more comfortable air transportation service across the Caribbean,” Holder stated. (SC)