To some extent, Caribbean Airlines Ltd’s (CAL) introduction of a change fee comes at a bad time. The unreliability of the inter-island ferry continues to create uncertainty. Through no fault of their own, travellers sometimes have to change plans.
Now, those changes will come at a price.
The $50 fee might seem like small change to some, but at a time of economic decline, when most are judicious about spending, an additional fee can become the straw on the camel’s back. It can discourage spending.
But if not now, when?
No one can deny the fee is justifiable and in line with the international market. While some airlines boast of being able to facilitate changes without charge, most, like American Airlines and British Airways, impose a fee for last-minute changes to domestic and international flights.
In the case of the CAL air bridge, a change fee will go some way towards increasing certainty and, therefore, security.
The air bridge suffers from a high rate of missed reservations, some of which is attributable to factors beyond travellers’ control, but most due to our laissez faire approach.
This laxity creates needless challenges. And it is unfair on passengers who are deprived seats on earlier flights under the assumption that passengers will keep their bookings.
The new fee underlines today’s changed security environment.
Travel — even domestic travel — is serious. If CAL has judged a change fee an enhancement of its systems, this must be supported. It is notable that the airline has introduced this ahead of the New Year’s holiday and the busy Carnival season.
Where CAL has misjudged, however, is in its failure to consult with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
While no one expects CAL’s management to notify the State of every single matter within its purview, the introduction of a change fee represents a profound shift in local practice. Such a shift, which has a direct bearing on the public, merited some degree of consultation with THA officials and the Ministry of Finance.
As the ferry fiasco demonstrates, travel between Trinidad and Tobago raises complex issues. It is important for all the relevant stakeholders to be on the same page when fundamental changes are being made.