Tired of Playing Catch Up
Sat, Apr 24, '04
I am an optimist. I will admit that. So even when people from outside the region come in and criticize aspects of Caribbean life, I try to find something positive to counter the detractors, some argument to defend my people.
However, after my experience this morning in Barbados involving two Caribbean airlines, I'm not so sure how much more defending I can do, or am willing to do.
The saga actually started in Kingston, Jamaica from where I travelled to Barbados last Friday. On the day before travelling, I went into the BWIA office to collect a form. Just by the way, I asked the agent to double-check my reservations, which included a LIAT sector from Barbados to Trinidad to see the 2nd One Day International between England and the West Indies. To my surprise, she reported that this sector was coming up as having been cancelled by the system.
Strange, I thought, since the ticket had been printed and paid for from 27 February - two months before. The agent called me later in the day to say that she had put the sector back in the system and that everything was sorted out. She could offer no explanation for the cancellation.
On Saturday morning, I was greeted in the departure hall of the Grantley Adams airport by a very long line. This was at 6:10 am - 1 hour and 25 minutes before my 7:35 am flight. Now one would think that if your airline system were telling you that you have an overbooked flight, all check-in positions would be in operation. Alas, that was not the case. A lone agent patiently checked in passengers for the various LIAT flights departing Saturday morning. Naturally, the line moved slower than the tortoise in his race with the hare.
When I could take this no more, I went to ask the LIAT baggage porter for the supervisor, and why was there only one agent to check in a line of passengers which stretched from here to Timbuktu! "She's busy". Really? Doing what? "In the back, writing tickets". The explanation for only one agent was the usual "we're short staffed".
At 6:45 am, there were two agents. By 7:05 am, there were four. Of course, the line started to move 4 times as fast. I wondered if this was a difficult concept for LIAT to have grasped in their pre-planning for Saturday's check-ins. Oh, perhaps I am assuming. Perhaps there was no pre-planning. The evidence certainly suggested this.
At 7:25 am, 10 minutes before LIAT flight 361 was due to depart, I reached to the counter and handed over my travel documents. The soft-spoken gentleman gave me the bad news. "We are not showing you in our system". What!? You must be mistaken; look again. He confirmed, with who I assumed to be the supervisor, that there was no Michelle McDonald in their system. Further research showed that the reservation had been cancelled automatically by the system, because a ticket number had not been put in the booking. More bad news. The flight was full. When is your next flight? I asked. Not until 5:00 pm!
So, because of the incompetence of employees at our regional carriers, I was faced with the prospect of not seeing any of Saturday's match. Not being even remotely familiar with the airline business, I could not begin to imagine what foul up could have resulted in my being stranded in Barbados.
Now I started out by saying that I was an optimist, didn't I? Well I still have a little bit of optimism and hope left in me.
After receiving that disastrous news from the LIAT agent, I went in search of any other airline which might have had an earlier flight out to Port-of-Spain. First stop was at the BWIA counter, where I was relieved to find a 12:55 pm flight -- on a 'big' plane to boot. The Supervisor, Mark Morris, as well as the check-in agent Jennel Seale, commiserated with me and were able to check me in on the flight which was showing full.
I'm not going to ask any questions about how they pulled off that one. But what I am going to ask Caribbean governments, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and regional carriers like LIAT and BWIA is how do they expect this region to avoid many more stories such as mine being written? Journalists, particularly those from outside the Caribbean, have their laptops ready to spew out experiences which cast the region in a negative light.
Doubts already abound regarding our ability to successfully stage the 2007 Cricket World Cup. I'm being forced to join the Thomasinas as I cannot fathom how we are going to pull this one off. And I'm saying this from experiencing regional travel for over 10 years and seeing little or no improvement.
Perhaps though, like in the fairytale mentioned earlier, all the tortoises in the Caribbean will endure and complete the race and we will bask in glory at the end of 2007.
But at the moment, the hares are out in front and by more than a nose. The tortoises have been left so far in the distance that catching up seems almost impossible this time. Aren't we tired of always playing catch up? I certainly am.