November 29, 2007

Edward Harris At Large


LIAT is taking Caricom Nationals and by extension their business associates and friends from outside of the region for granted. Already the high fares have slowed down travel. To add insult to injury, the irregular schedules and down times are causing serious problems in scheduling business and other meetings. What is even more disgusting is the fact that to be sure of getting to a destination for an important meeting, it might be necessary to get there days in advance and not knowing for sure when you will get back to your base. This will definitely increase cost. Already we have increased airfares, now we have additional accommodation and other expenses. The decision has already been taken by many that they will only travel if they must, in cases of last resort. Already I am beginning to hear about telephone and video conferencing. If the latter innovation is taken seriously LIAT could be in serious problems and hotels will suffer. Business travel is a vital contributor to the tourism sector. It cannot be over emphasized that LIAT’s operation is vital to the survival to businesses as a whole in the region.

The management of LIAT has already sent out a signal that the season will be turbulent in relation to their operations. What a time for such an announcement. This is the peak season for tourism. Something must be done without any further delay. A month ago an associate of mine was going to Toronto to see his family and after heading to the airport to make a connection in Barbados, the flight never operated, he had to return the following day. My own experience last Sunday was very frustrating. As usual I was instructed to get to the airport two hours before the flight and recognizing the unpredictability of LIAT, I arrived ninety minutes before the departure time. The monitor in the departure lounge does not keep up with the changes and prefers to maintain on time update regardless. However after an announcement that the flight was delayed, we soon discovered that that flight was cancelled. We were booked on another flight which was expected to pick up the passengers in about two hours. When that flight landed and parked in its ramp position, it was discovered that there was a problem with the radar and the flight had to be grounded. Approximately seven hours after my arrival at the airport, I was finally put on a plane which was diverted from Antigua. However only about 50% of the passengers were lucky to get on the flight. The others had to overnight n St. Lucia. I hope they were able to get on a flight the following day.

While I was having my own problems in getting to Barbados, other persons headed to the conference were having their own. The Trinidad participants had to overnight in St. Vincent and the flight that the Guyanese were on had to turn back to Guyana after almost 50% of the journey. They had to overnight and were fortunate to get to the conference after the opening ceremony. I must admit that I am getting a bit concerned about the safety of passengers. LIAT must do better. What about leasing a few aircrafts to operate the routes until the situation could be brought under control?

I decided to spend an additional day in Barbados after the conference to meet with the management of the Barbados Small Business Association. After visiting one of the Branches in the company of the Field Officer, we went to the head office where we picked up the Financial Controller who joined us for lunch. The two ladies were gracious and they took me to the Hilton where I was treated to a sumptuous Buffet Lunch. We were having a great time when suddenly I began to feel a movement under me as if I was riding a wave. We looked at each other in amazement and I concluded it was an earthquake. My experiences with similar situations in the past were that they were swift. This time it was prolonged and it looked like the end of the world was at hand.

Upon entering the Hilton which is a multi storied building, I enquired from one of the workers as to the amount of rooms. She said it was about 350. As I walk to the dining area, I looked at the massive structure and debated in my mind about the possibility of a fire or disaster and concluded that I would not like to stay in room that is not close to the ground floor. I was thinking about evacuation. However, a few minutes to three o’clock disaster struck the Caribbean with a massive earthquake first reported at 7.3 magnitude. I estimated the magnitude of the earthquake to be over 7 and I was correct. It was definitely a frightening experience for many persons of which I am one. We went back to the office to share experiences about the dreadful moment. One of the ladies had a napkin on her chest when we dashed out of the building. We placed our signature on it and she promised to keep it in memory of the day that Barbadians got an end of the world experience.

A number of short comings were noted. There is no evacuation plan for exiting Bridgetown, I took too long. I was surprised that no one alerted the patrons in the dining area at the hotel as to what was going on. We discovered that the kitchen staff members were out of the building before the patrons. It could have been worse. It is fair therefore to conclude that God is in Charge, we can trust in Him and Expect Miracles in 2007. Let’s give THANKS.

Edward Harris

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