Editor’s Note:This is a guest post written by Keith S. Greaves; one of the Airline Passengers affected by the closure of the airports during President Chavez recent visit to Dominica.
On Saturday June 13 I was among a group of passengers booked on LIAT 368 â€“ scheduled to depart Grantley Adams International airport in Barbados at 2pm enroute to V.C.Bird International airport, with a single stop at Melville Hall airport, Dominica. I had an onward connection later on the same day to Anguilla.
I duly arrived checked in; went through all the security checks; and awaited my boarding call. I arrived at the gate around 1.40 pm as was clearly stated on my board passing. I waited along with the other passengers for the announcement to actually board the plane. At around 2.35 pm we were told that the flight is delayed at Grantley Adams and would now depart at 3.30pm.
A little pass 3.30 pm we were finally told to board the aircraft. We all went on board. But I noticed that for more than 20 minutes we were just on the plane, nothing was being said to the passengers, plenty of hot air and the discomfort was beginning to get a little unbearable.
Still no word from either of the two pilots (one Grenadian, the other Bajan) or the air hostess (Barbadian). On board were more than a dozen nationals from the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Many of the passengers including myself were clearly getting more and more agitated. Normally, one would see at least one of the engines fired up; but on this occasion both engines were off and forty plus persons bunched up in an aircraft —on a hot, humid Caribbean day.
One of the pilots left the aircraft and returned a short time after with food and a drink. Still no word about why the plane was not in the air —having long pass the scheduled departure time.
I reckon it was after 4 pm when the air hostess inquired about all the passengers from the Dominica on the flight. They all promptly identified themselves. It was then that they were told that they would have to remain in Barbados because the air space and be extension the airport in their country was closed or had been closed since 12 noon due to the visit of President Chavez of Venezuela.
One of the pilots later indicated that they were not informed about the closure of the airport until very late. The Dominicans were furious. One lady said she wanted to go home because she had a sick daughter who needed her care. As the Dominicans reluctantly got up and left the aircraft, many of them could not hide their frustration and anger and in fact had some â€œchoiceâ€ words for their prime minister and what would happen to him come next general election.
Meanwhile, the remainder of us on board the plane was informed that the flight would now go direct to Antigua. What we were never told is how soon the flight would depart from Barbados. So we waited and waited. I deduced that perhaps the Liat people were possibly adding some other passengers booked for a later flight into Antigua on our flight 368. My thinking was correct. In fact, only one person joined us on board. Imagine the feeling of having to wait all this time on board with the temperature climbing all the time. We never left Barbados until about 4.35 pm. It meant that my 5.05 pm connection to Anguilla was out the window. Both captain and air hostess apologized for the delay after we took off from Barbados but blamed the whole affair on the authorities in Dominica closing their air space/airport to accommodate Mr Chavez. I recalled the pilot saying jokingly, donâ€™t blame Liat blame your politicians. He was right!
We arrived in Antigua close to 6.30 pm. Checked with the Liat rep at the Intransit area. There were three other persons and myself who had missed our late afternoon connection to Anguilla. We identified ourselves and were told to occupy an area away from the desk without any proper communication as to what will be our next move. At the same time, a group of Americans who had arrived on another aircraft and were booked to travel to Dominica that afternoon/evening received the bad news that the airport was closed due to the visit of the Venezuelan leader. The Liat rep quickly assisted the visiting Americans providing information about a hotel for them to stay overnight, taxi arrangements etc. The passengers from the Caribbean were still being kept off to the side of the reception desk —nothing said. After complaining about the shabby treatment, we were eventually processed and told a taxi would take us to a local Antiguan hotel for the night.
The following day Sunday we were told to be ready for pick up at 2.00 pm. We had a flight for 5.05 pm out Antigua to Anguilla. The deadline came and went, still no pick up. We made several calls to the Liat office at the airport only to be told the taxi was on its way. At about 3.45 pm I called a friend for a lift to the airport. Just as my friend arrived at the hotel â€“ the taxis which were told was sent since 2 pm arrived. No apology, nothing. I went with my friend; my Caribbean colleagues boarded the taxi.
Liat has to treat Caribbean nationals with more respect. Customer service is one of the biggest problems faced by Liat. Our political leaders must also share the blame. The Dominica incident with the Venezuelan leader is a classic example. I could understand the airspace/airport being closed for a short time for security reasons while he is physically in the area but to reportedly close an airport from midday is absolute rubbish. When will we learn here in the Caribbean? Is the airport in Caracas closed when our leaders travel to that South American country?