“[…] As a publicly owned company which has sought and been granted a bailout in the form of a loan facility by the government this week—and by extension the taxpayers of this country—has proper justification been provided for our support of this airline to the tune of US$65 million, especially in these challenging financial times?”
In the following letter to the editor, Anthony Gafoor criticises Caribbean Airlines for its supposed failure to be transparent in handling complaints from the public, even as it requests financial bailout from taxpayers:
As a fundamental principle, our publicly funded institutions are required to operate transparently and to be accountable to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. However this is not the case with Caribbean Airlines.
As a publicly owned company which has sought and been granted a bailout in the form of a loan facility by the government this week—and by extension the taxpayers of this country—has proper justification been provided for our support of this airline to the tune of US$65 million, especially in these challenging financial times? How was this figure arrived at?
Moreover, if one has a dispute or complaint against the airline, it literally investigates itself and claims that such complaints will be used to guide its staff. The hapless passenger is left without any redress save to take legal proceedings, which are both costly and time consuming.
Contrast this with other airlines that operate in the Caribbean like British Airways, which uses an independent third party, mediation and other neutral forms of dispute settlement so as to ensure impartiality and objectivity.
The British Airways website states that: “If you are unhappy with our response to your complaint, you can refer your complaint to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), who are approved by the Civil Aviation Authority to provide an independent resolution service for complaints about airlines. You will need to refer your complaint to them within 12 months.
“CEDR will be able to advise you if your complaint falls within the scope of what they can deal with. Alternatively, you may use the European Commission’s online dispute resolution platform to submit your complaint.”
American Airlines offers a complaint board online whereby both positive and negative reviews can be posted. Its website assures passengers that those responsible for resolving complaints have some 16 years’ experience in successful complaint resolution and each complaint is handled individually for free. There is therefore transparency in how such matters are handled.
Moreover, a passenger is reminded to also file a complaint with the Department of Transport, which at least provides some reassurance that a governmental agency will be aware of and consider the complaint separate and apart from the airline itself.
Compare this with Caribbean Airlines which requires you to submit any complaint in writing only through its website and does not enable a copy to be retained by the complainant unless uploaded as a separate document. No assurance is given as to the timeline for resolution or the person who will deal with the complaint and their expertise. Instead, matters are handled behind a cloak of secrecy at the end of which the passenger is merely ‘thanked’ for bringing matters to the airline’s attention and told that such complaints will be used to guide staff in future.
In effect, we have no assurance that any complaint will be acted upon and compensation offered for any inconvenience or ill-treatment suffered by passengers.
In seeking this further tranche of funding from the people of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean Airlines continues to be a burden on the state, even taking into account the challenging issues brought about due to the closure of the country’s borders.
It is time for the airline to truly earn its keep as a viable commercial entity which operates transparently and can live up to its claim of complying with the highest international standards and best practice within the airline industry.
It is no longer sufficient to expect the people of this country to support the airline out of some vague sense of national pride.