The way Caribbean Airlines treats Guyanese passengers makes the case for more competition in the air transportation industry in Guyana. From my own observations, the government never seemed warm to Caribbean Airlines, and I always wondered why. However recent experiences have shown a hidden side of that airline that needs to be exposed to the travelling public.
Being true to cultural and economic patriotism, I used BWIA and now Caribbean Airlines whenever I’m flying a route that they service for the past ten years. They offer a reward for frequent flyers by giving you free flights when you amass a certain amount of miles. What they do not tell you is that you have to practically book your rewards flight more than a year in advance, since they offer very few of them per year. They do not tell you this at the point that you are signing up for the programme. I understand that as a result of recent lobbying they have removed these blackout periods. My contention is why the airline had to be lobbied to remove these blackout periods? I was in Guyana in July 2009, and tried to get a flight from my rewards miles for September 5, 2009 and was told that I couldn’t get any until May the following year! The Customer Service Representative was polite enough to tell me to book such a flight a year ahead of time.
In February 2008, I bought a ticket to travel to Guyana on April 18th of the same year. One week before the flight, I called to confirm that everything was in order. The CSR that I spoke with indicated that I was all set for travel. Lo and behold when I turned up to check in two hours ahead of time, I was told that there is no seat for me. I asked to speak to a supervisor who used different words to tell me that the flight was overbooked. It gets even more ridiculous. He further told me that if I had selected my seat at the time of booking, there would have been a seat for me. What is interesting, is that unlike other airlines, Caribbean Airlines is not sophisticated enough to offer you seat selection when booking online. Even when I called I wasn’t told that advanced seat selection was a requirement. The agents at the airline tend to tell you anything that they want to at the moment. If there was serious competition for the travelling Guyanese public, I’m sure they would pay more attention to the needs of the Guyanese consumers.
What takes the cake is my most recent misfortune. On June 9th my wife and son travelled from Georgetown (Cheddi Jagan International) to New York (JFK) on Caribbean Airlines (BW 522). However upon their arrival one of their four checked bags was missing. My wife filled the necessary forms and they gave us a number to call to check on the status of the bags, indicating that it will come into JFK on the next flight that comes from Guyana. To my mind, this was a simple matter so I called the next day after the flight had arrived, since no one called to give us an update. The agent had no new information and said he would get new information by midnight. I gave him permission to call me at anytime. For the next two days, I could reach no one and no one called me. Whenever I made contact subsequently, I was told the members of the baggage crew were not there, and no one else could give further details. When I finally contacted someone from the baggage crew a week later they said they were checking. I asked how could you not know where a bag that was tagged and labelled is and how long does it take to locate a bag in a bond? To my shock the agent responded that “It depended on who was on duty at the time!!”
I fully appreciate that every airline has baggage incidents, but the manner in which Caribbean Airlines responded in this case shows a callous, uncaring and unsympathetic attitude to customers. No one that I spoke with could give any meaningful information or at least showed an iota of care or concern. This is because they know that they are the lesser of two evils when it comes to the Georgetown to New York air transport hub. It gets worse. I was sent an email advising me to claim the lost items in the baggage. The email contained an attachment which I suspect is the claim form. The attachment cannot be opened. I subsequently received a form from the local office. It doesn’t have enough space for all the items to be listed and only a forwarding address to the Trinidad head office. Further, they stated that the claim will take sixty days to process.
I am painstakingly detailing these facts so that it can be clear that I am not simply bitter over a lost bag, but that a number of practices by Caribbean Airlines in their Guyanese operation reek of corporate contempt. Just look at the state of their main office in Georgetown. It is a small cramped space where you have four agents serving sixty customers at some times. They are locked behind a screen, which I appreciate is for security purposes, but everyone in that cramped space can hear what you are telling the representative, no matter how personal it is. I have visited several offices for this airline and no where else in the world will you find them herding passengers like that in a corral fashion.
Guyanese and the Government should not stand for these forms of despicable treatment from any company that depends on our dollars to maximize their profit. I personally will not tolerate this uncaring attitude, and have already consulted my attorneys and will bring a suit against them in court on behalf of my wife and son, as soon as I am in Guyana in the coming weeks. I chose to do this in Guyana also, so that when the case is heard the details of their operation and their uncaring customer relations practices will be exposed. Other Guyanese should also make a stand against these forms of corporate disrespect to us.
Editor’s note: A copy of this letter is being sent to Caribbean Airlines for any comment it may wish to make.