Guyanese passengers stranded by Caribbean Airlines at JFK International Airport for days, finally got on a plane last evening but only after blocking a departure gate for a flight where mostly Trinidadians were heading to Port-of-Spain.
The protest by the over 200 Guyanese passengers had an impact as CAL later announced that 190 of them would be flown straight to Georgetown yesterday afternoon while the Trinidadians would have to wait for a later flight.
The Guyanese began boarding the plane around 1.50 pm yesterday but they did not take off until around 6.50 pm yesterday as they had to await the loading of their baggage.
Guyanese passengers who had checked in since Monday had argued that CAL had discriminated against them as the airline was ferrying others – particularly Trinidadians and Jamaicans – and leaving them behind.
Matters reached a boiling point yesterday when the Guyanese were again told that their chartered flight home had been cancelled and they would now have to travel at midnight.
“No! We want to go home now!’ passengers shouted at the airport as the airline’s representative made the announcement.
The angry Guyanese then decided that no other Caribbean Airlines flight would leave the airport unless Guyanese were put on it. They then blocked the departure gate for a flight bound for Trinidad and the New York police were called in.
“They have four armed policemen standing here just looking on but they are not doing anything because all we are doing is blocking a gate. This is just ridiculous and we are not going to move,” a passenger told Stabroek News at around 11am.
As the passenger spoke to Stabroek News there was a shout of alarm as a woman collapsed at the airport.
“Oh My God, she has collapsed, she can no longer travel,” the passenger said adding that the woman was later removed from the airport on a stretcher by paramedics
The decision by the passengers to block the gate as the checked-in Trinidadians looked on worked as the airline representatives then decided to put 190 of the 229 Guyanese passengers on the flight instead.
Initially the Trinidadians said they would not move if they were not put on the flight but then they “backed off” after they were told the flight was going straight to Guyana.
“We were not moving and now they told us that they are going to put Guyanese by order of priority on this flight, saying it would be senior citizens first followed by families with children,” the passenger said.
A passenger told Stabroek News that at one point the representatives shifted the Trinidad flight to another gate but the Guyanese also went to that gate and blocked it.
Among the Trinidadian passengers was former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam who was approached by some irate Guyanese passengers. The passengers explained to her that many Guyanese were bumped off their scheduled flights in favour of other Caribbean passengers and were told by the airline that they would all be placed on a chartered flight to Guyana. After listening to the passengers Fitzwilliam said that it was “horrendous” the way the Guyanese were being treated and immediately took out her cellular phone and dialled the number of the Chairman of the airline’s board in Trinidad. However, she got his voice mail and left a message detailing the complaint by the Guyanese while asking him to return her call.
Stabroek News was told that while several Caribbean Airlines flights left since hurricane Irene caused the JFK airport to be shut down on Saturday, many Guyanese passengers were bumped off their scheduled flights. On Tuesday night five Guyanese, including a pregnant woman and her two children, were allowed to leave on a flight headed to Trinidad then Guyana.
“Caribbean Airlines has been lying to us all the time, the aircraft they said they chartered to take us to Guyana has never been fixed and yet they kept telling us that we would be leaving at this and this time,” the passenger said.
She said that they were told that the scheduled 9:30 flight yesterday morning was pushed back to 10am because the aircraft that was leaving before theirs was late in moving off from the gate.
“Low and behold they are now telling us that some flight coming in at 8pm and that we would leave at midnight.”
On Tuesday night the passengers were told that the airline could not put them up in a hotel because all the hotels around the airport were filled because of the backlog of flights in New York City. Some passengers were given one-way taxi fares to travel to their relatives in New York but no return fare to the airport.
And after informing them that they would leave at midnight last night, the airline representatives informed the passengers that they could be put up in a hotel but the Guyanese unanimously refused the offer.
“They could not find hotels for us for an entire night on Tuesday but want us to go for a half night,” the passenger pointed out.
Most of the passengers, some who have been there since Sunday, were forced to spend their nights and days at the airport, some making the airport floor their beds.