Caribbean Airlines confined Guyanese passengers to plane at 3am while they cleaned it

Dear Editor,

I am appalled and disgusted by the atrocious treatment of Guyanese by the management of Caribbean Airlines.

This airline is pocketing billions of dollars from Guyanese and they are laughing at us all the way to the bank, while treating us like beggars and low-class people. They clearly think we are lesser beings who do not deserve top quality service.

On Friday March 23rd, the management of Caribbean Airlines, also known as Bee-Wee, refused to allow Business Class and Economy Class passengers travelling on BW-601 to step out of the plane during a stop in Trinidad, en route to Guyana. I was one of many Guyanese men and women, senior citizens, business people and others, who were forced to sit on the plane for three long hours while the airline’s management ordered the plane to be cleaned at 3am and simply did not care about keeping us disturbed and inconvenienced.

I was a Business Class passenger on that flight (not because I can afford it, but my children usually upgrade my ticket out of appreciation and affection). We were imprisoned there for three hours and the airline would not allow us to leave the plane to stretch our legs, use the lounge or browse the duty free shopping section. I was told that Caribbean Airlines’ management was afraid that the three business class passengers would want to eat the food if they let us off the plane to use the lounge. Let me inform them that Guyana is blessed with food, so they did not need to worry about us eating up whatever food they had there.

The trapped and frustrated Guyanese passengers could not even use the washrooms because the airline ordered that the facilities must remain locked to be cleaned. This would have been no problem if we were allowed off the plane, but since we were confined to the cabin, we had no choice but to restrain ourselves! Why couldn’t they allow the people travelling to Guyana off the plane rather than forcing us to wait on the plane in misery? Does the management of Caribbean Airlines think Guyanese are not worthy of basic humane treatment?

Caribbean Airlines decided to clean the plane at 3am simply because that is what suited them. Their position was clear: To hell with the tired Guyanese on board! If some had been travelling for several hours, so what? They did not care that the Guyanese passengers could not even rest or use the washroom while they waited for the cleaning to end. Let me say that three hours on the plane under these circumstances is like three hours in hell. I say categorically that this is psychological pressure.

This is not an isolated incident; it happens all the time. Not long ago, Caribbean Airlines took a group of passengers off a plane in Trinidad and forced them to go through customs and immigration needlessly, then put them back on the very same plane to fly to Guyana! This makes absolutely no sense. Is this airline’s management incompetent, foolish, or mad?

Let me make it clear that my concerns are with the management of Caribbean Airlines, not the staff. The airline’s staff members are actually very professional, polite and helpful, from the time I embarked at JFK Airport to the time of disembarkation in Guyana. The pilots, hosts, hostesses and everyone else are good people who, during our three hours of hell, even tried without success to make representation to the airline’s management for us to be allowed to disembark from the plane. I believe that were it not for the staff, Caribbean Airlines would have been out of business by now.

Furthermore, I also hold our Guyana Government officials partially responsible. I heard that Caribbean Airlines is more flexible with persons classified as ‘high-ranking officials’ and would have allowed such dignitaries off the plane in similar circumstances. Our government officials know this and they must not accept special and preferential treatment knowing that ordinary Guyanese have to endure being treated with utter contempt. Our government officials must use their authority to insist that Caribbean Airlines treats ordinary Guyanese with due courtesy and respect.

Why doesn’t Guyana have its own airline? I marvel that many smaller countries, some that are known to be virtually bankrupt, like Suriname, have their own airline. Little islands have airlines. What is wrong with us? We once had a famous and competent airline called Guyana Airways. Why can’t we have our own again? If we had our own airline, Caribbean Airlines could not take advantage of us. And what hurts most of all is that Caribbean Airlines is cushioned by Guyanese money. The Guyana route is one of the most profitable of all the routes where the airline operates. In fact, I believe Guyanese travellers’ money is keeping Caribbean Airlines afloat.

If we cannot establish our own airline, we should invite African, Arab, Chinese or Indian investors to invest in an airline here or to partner with us. Star Alliance, one of the world’s largest global airline alliances has links in Canada, Africa, India and South America. They were interested in partnering with Bee-Wee, but the deal fell through. Why don’t we approach them and get something going? We need to prepare for the future, especially now that Guyana is on the brink of becoming an industrialised oil producing nation. We cannot sit down idly and let Caribbean Airlines make huge profits from Guyanese travellers while treating us disdainfully and disrespectfully.

It is my solemn wish that we will get our act together and set up an airline soon so that we would not have to depend on Caribbean Airlines and endure shoddy service. To the Government of Guyana, I say: let us make our move now to do better. Let us end Caribbean Airline’s stranglehold on our jugular veins. Meanwhile, let us raise our voices in protest and make them pull their socks up and stop treating Guyanese as second class people.

To give the devil his due, I am fully aware that many airlines started up in Guyana then went bankrupt. It is good that Caribbean Airlines stayed with us and we have to compliment them for that. But, trust me, they would not have stayed if they were not getting big profits from the Guyana route. So while we are grateful that they stayed, this does not mean that they have the right to  us. We will not shut our mouths and let Caribbean Airlines’ management treat us anyhow they want.

To the management of Caribbean Airlines I say: stop treating Guyanese like second class citizens. We are your valued customers; you get good money from us. Treat us with dignity and respect. We will not keep quiet until you do.

Yours faithfully,

Roshan Khan Sr

Editor’s note

We are sending a copy of this letter to Caribbean Airlines for any comment they might wish to make.

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