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Saturday 17 March 2018

Poor, weary travellers!

The year 2017 was a bad one for travellers on land, on sea and in the air.

There was chaos this week with the airbridge to Tobago. The inter-island ferry was beset by scandal. Immigration officers stayed away from work, triggering long airport lines. State-owned Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) was among the national entities listed as a “rogue enterprise”: it introduced a new “change fee” without input from the Tobago House of Assembly. Traffic on the roads continued to eat into precious time. Taxi fares increased. And there was even a multi-million-dollar heist on the precincts of the Piarco International Airport, something that rivalled the Ocean’s Eleven Hollywood film franchise. Poor, weary travellers!

What more can be said about CAL? When will the airline iron out all of the issues relating to the airbridge? The scenes that unfolded on Wednesday and Thursday were simply unacceptable. Action must be taken to rectify CAL’s apparent inability to get to the bottom of the issue.

In the meantime, there are several possible explanations for this week’s chaos. It is one thing to say people who book seats are not occupying them; it is another to consistently overbook. In addition, the national carrier should have enough resources in terms of aircraft to be able to avoid uproar if a plane must be taken out of rotation for maintenance or repair. In the event that no such additional aircraft are available, it is unfair to charge passengers the new “change fee” when the flights on which they made confirmed bookings are cancelled – through no fault of theirs.

At the same time, the attitude of passengers needs to be kept in check. Standby passengers cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot make demands for concessions to which they are simply not entitled, given their chosen mode of travel.

The coming year will be an important one for the Cabinet committee that is looking into these issues. One hopes that it will be able to assist in unravelling the morass of issues that have resulted in these difficulties and that they will be an item of the past. The future of the tourism industry depends on it, as does the viability of the efforts to diversify the economy.

That said, there were, however, some bright spots for the travelling public in 2017. The speed limit was raised, at last, to 100 km per hour. And the year ended with road traffic deaths down 13 per cent, a remarkable change by any standard.

Let us have more of this good news in 2018 and less travellers’ chaos.


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