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Dominica News And From Around The Caribbean

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 – 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 “choice” 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, don’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 – 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?

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The Troubled Regional carrier, LIAT (1974) Ltd recently announced changes to its baggage policy. According to the company’s press release the new changes are aimed at ensuring a consistent delivery of service to all passengers, especially t during this busy time of the year.

As a consequence, with effect from December 1st 2008, the free baggage allowance for all LIAT services will be set at one piece at a maximum of 50 lbs (23 kgs.). Further, the maximum overall size per piece will be 62 inches (157 cms).

In addition, passengers will be allowed one piece of cabin baggage inclusive of a laptop at a maximum weight of 15 lbs.(7 kgs.) and maximum overall dimensions of thirty-six inches (36ins) or ninety-one centimetres (91 cms.).

Passengers are also asked to note that extra pieces of baggage (that is, pieces in excess of the above allowance) will be subject to excess baggage charges and will only be accepted on a space available (standby) basis.

LIAT Chief Executive Officer, Mark Darby said given that these changes could have implications for perishable items packed in airline luggage, LIAT also urged customers not to pack perishable items in their checked luggage. He said customers should note that perishable items would not be accepted in standby baggage.

———-My Personal Note———-

Personally, I think company needs a major restructuring – from the LIAT executives down to the ground handling crew, after what happened with passengers luggage during the Independence Reunion Celebrations. I’m afraid a lot of people be looking for alternative ways to get Dominica this holiday Season.

What’s your opinion on LIAT’s new baggage policy, and what do you think of the Regional carrier on-a-whole? Share your likes and dislikes in the comments.

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Your Dominica morning news roundup for Tuesday September 16th 2008:

We begin this Morning Brew with Earl Williams yet again in the news. This time the Dominica Bar Association speaks out on Allegations Made against Mr. Williams. When you think things couldn’t get worse for Mr. Williams.

After listening to Fridays discussion by the Minister for Petro Caribe Reginald Austrie and Energy Minister Charles Savarin, on the issue of high electricity charges – it’s clear to see that the Government has No Close Resolution to the High Rate of Electricity in Dominica.

Carib Aviation, the Antigua based carrier, recently announced the suspension of flight operations on the 30th September 2008. The Airline is forced to reduce its Twin Otter schedule and only operate three Antigua / Montserrat and two Antigua / Barbuda rotations daily. On 12th September, Carib will suspend its Antigua, Dominica Canefield, Nevis, St Kitts and Anguilla scheduled operations. Bumper! Now it’s twice as hard to get into Dominica, especially for travelers coming in from other Caribbean islands if LIAT is over-booked.

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