We mishandled the October 17 flight cancellation -Constellation Tours Country Manager

Stabroek Business has learnt that the Trinidad and Tobago-owned airline charter service Constellation Tours is to pursue the lease of additional aircraft to ply its routes between Georgetown and North America in an effort to avert repetition of last week’s flight cancellation which left more than 100 passengers stranded at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri and provoked a sharp official reprimand from Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad.

And according to Constellation Country Manager Sharmela Ramsammy the Charter service which has been operating in Guyana for seven years will also be moving to put new public relations measures in place to address passenger concerns that could affect the image of the airline. Ramsammy told Stabroek Business that she could provide no further details including any timeframe for the acquisition of the additional aircraft. The arrangements, she said, were being handled by the Charter’s head office in Port of Spain.

Asked to comment on the reasons for the fiasco that followed the cancellation of the Constellation flight from Georgetown to New York on Wednesday, October 16 Ramsammy said that apart from the cancellation of the flight itself the entire matter may have been “mishandled.” She disclosed that cancellation apart, passengers may have become upset over the fact that “the usual courtesies” that attend such situations were not extended, causing several stranded passengers who had made their way from Timehri to stage a noisy protest outside the company’s Quamina street office.

The move to strengthen Constellation’s public relations machinery comes in the wake of its admission that it had to take full responsibility for the occurrence. Ramsammy said that she felt that the passengers had reacted as much to “a breakdown in communication” as they had to the flight cancellation.

Ramsammy told Stabroek Business that at the time of the announcement of the flight cancellation a number of passengers were already at the airport. She said that when they eventually journeyed to Georgetown and came to the Constellation Quamina street office the office was closed and no member of staff was on the premises. She added that the gathering of the passengers had attracted the attention of someone at a nearby business premises who had telephoned her.

Ramsammy said that Constellation had subsequently discussed the matter with Roraima Airways, the Charter’s ground handling agent at Timehri. A Roraima spokesman with whom Stabroek Business spoke said that its responsibility to the Constellation passengers only involved matters pertaining to the boarding of the aircraft prior to departure. “The cancellation of the flight and the responsibilities that followed would have had nothing to do with Roraima,” the spokesman said. Ramsammy conceded that charter service flight cancellations were not uncommon since replacement aircraft often posed difficulties. “With established airlines it is less difficult to secure alternative aircraft in the event of difficulties. In cases where charter services have just one aircraft available it is much more difficult. While there are cases in which charters may be able to secure a replacement aircraft from the lease or aircraft problems can sometimes mean the cancellation of flights. The aircraft leased by Constellation to ply its Georgetown to United States routes has been leased from Primaris, a Las Vegas-based company. Constellation, which offers two weekly flights to New York and one flight each to Fort Lauderdale and Toronto has had previous difficulties with flight cancellations and Ramsammy disclosed that the owner of the charter service, Trinidadian Muhtaba Mohammed had travelled to Guyana last year to meet with the Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister to discuss the problem.

Charter services operating out of Guyana are required to deposit an amount of G$40 million in a local bank which government can access to defray passenger and other expenses resulting from sudden cessation of service. While government has not imposed a financial penalty for the passenger inconvenience resulting from the October 17 Constellation flight cancellation, Ramsammy said that official concern over the incident was made clear during the Charter’s discussions with Minister Prashad.

The existing service agreement between the Government of Guyana and Constellation expires at the end of October and the latest flight cancellation incident could raise questions about the renewal of the contract.

Meanwhile Ramsammy told Stabroek Business that Constellation was still in the process of determining appropriate compensation packages for the 108 persons who were scheduled to leave Georgetown on the cancelled flight. She said that those packages will not affect the right of passengers to make routine claims that customarily arise when airline flights are cancelled.

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