KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – About 50 persons were able to fly from Barbados to St. Vincent on a LIAT flight today, day two into a sickout by the airlines’ pilots.
But at least 25 passengers destined for this country remain stranded at the Grantley Adams International Airport even as scores more are expected to arrive on flights from North America and the United Kingdom this afternoon.
Hundreds of LIAT passengers across the region remain stranded today because of a sickout by the airline’s pilots, in solidarity with their colleague Captain Michael Blackburn, who was fired on Monday.
Vincentian trade unionist Joseph “Burns” Bonadie, advisor to the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves government on labour matters, is among persons destined for St. Vincent who are stranded in Barbados.
Bonadie, in a call to a local radio station on Wednesday, said that things have improved at the Grantley Adams International Airport compared to last night, when 75 persons destined for this country were there.
He said that a Trinidad-based pilot — who is member of LIAT’s management team –and his crew are flying and brought 50 passengers to St. Vincent today.
Bonadie said that the stranded passengers agreed to allow women, children and the ill to board first.
But Bonadie foresaw a “little hope” in the situation as the hotel accommodation of LIAT pilots who are away from their bases expired around noon today.
“One is still hoping that as a result of that, that … at least if they are flying back to base they would leave with passengers from wherever they are. So, that is the little hope we are holding out,” he said.
“I tell you, it is pandemonium up here,” he said, adding that St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica were most affected by the lack of flights out of Barbados.
According to Bonadie, passengers to Antigua and St. Martin were able to travel to their destinations on other airlines, adding that most of the LIAT aircrafts were in Antigua, the airline’s base.
“… apart from the fact that you have an industrial dispute … it puts into the mix the importance of an international airport [in St. Vincent].
“Everybody who was here, that is their view. Whether or not they will get an Air Canada [flight] straight to St. Vincent, we don’t know. But the point is, they are saying, ‘You see how we are being treated?’.
“Because even if you want to put on a charter, you have REDjet in Barbados sitting down here. Everybody could have come down on one flight [but the airport in St. Vincent cannot accommodate the aircraft],” Bonadie pointed out.
“I poke to some of the [LIAT] staff here, … one lady who said she is in charge of bookings out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, she said ‘I never had any idea that St. Vincent an the Grenadines was so beholden to LIAT until I started doing the [bookings],” he said.
Bonadie, who said the situation was “very distressing for some passengers”, spoke of a report in the Nation newspaper where LIAT passengers, complained that they were not offered as much as a bottle of water, even as the cost of using shower facilities at the airport was US$40.
Bonadie said that the implications of the sick out were “enormous”, adding that several passengers missed a cruise connection in St. Lucia because they were unable to arrive there on time.
Noting his trade unionist credentials, Bonadie said that the collective agreement between the airline and its pilots makes provisions to address developments like the one involving Blackburn.
“… we pour a lot of money into LIAT for St. Vincent and the Grenadines because it is necessary that we keep LIAT flying. But it’s a million dollars … they are using every day that the planes are grounded,” he said.
“I am a trade unionist but the point is, you have provisions in the collective agreement between the pilots and the management people for redress. … Somebody is terminated and so on, you want to take some form of action but you don’t shut down an airline and have hundreds of people stranded,” he said.
“I am in Barbados here but the news up here is that you almost had a riot in St. Vincent at the airport. They had to send for police,” he further stated.
Bonadie also responded to Vincentian criticisms of LIAT and the Gonsalves government’s investments in the airline.
“They are cursing LIAT and so on but that’s all we have. And it not a question of blaming any government. We have people managing the airline and the directors and do one they have to sit down and decide how they moving forward. … All the people who came down today thanked Ralph Gonsalves – all the people who boarded that flight,” he said.
Bonadie further said that Gonsalves was last night making efforts to address the situation.
“He wants to get his people out of Barbados. You can’t blame Ralph Gonsalves. Ralph Gonsalves is a pilot? … He has done what is required for St. Vincent: put money into LIAT but he can’t keep LIAT in the air flying. If there is an industrial dispute you can’t blame him,” said Bonadie, who is also a spokesman for the government.
Meanwhile, Elson Crick, communications consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister, speaking on the same radio programme, said that Gonsalves, who is chair of LIAT shareholder government, was “very, very upset” with the satiation.
He said that Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Air Transport here, was “working behind the scenes” to try to get airlines to fly Vincentians home, adding that there will be an investigation.
Gonsalves, speaking on the development yesterday, assured Vincentians in the diaspora that the situation will be resolved in time for them to fly home for Christmas.