Friday, December 25, 2015

Dominica & LIAT: A Marriage made in Hell

So I'm thinking of carnival 2016 and I'm in pain; I need to take a mortgage to pay for my airfare. Anyone traveling to Dominica from North America knows that it is just as expensive to fly from, say, New York to Melville Hall (DOM) as it is to fly from New York to Tokyo, or close by. The point is; we all recognize that LIAT is going to extract one of our kidneys while breaking both of our legs the moment we decide to fly on their aircraft. So how can I reduce the possibility of going into that operating room?

While on Facebook, I came across a post from Dominica's illustrious Tourism Minister, Robert Tonge, pushing a story from about lower airfares to the Caribbean that will be beneficial to Dominicans. The story is about Norweigian Airlines planned service from the eastern seaboard of the US to the Caribbean. So with a bit of consternation (Norweigian Air, as the name implies, is from Norway, not the US, so I was intrigued) and curiosity, I delved into the story.

Robbie Tonge's Idea For Boosting Tourism

The story says  that Norweigian airlines will be having low airfares from the US; but it's to Point-a-Pitre (PTP) and Fort-de-France (FDF), from Boston (BOS), New York (JFK) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI). Then it suggests that upon arrival in the French islands, you have a choice of taking Winair, LIAT or the ferry. Ferry? Really? Why not suggest I could choose to swim across the channel as well? It is an option, isn't it? Anyhow, as much as this new air service sounds promising, in my opinion, the fact that the tourism minister is promoting this convoluted travel route to Dominica instead of looking for more viable options for Dominicans tells me how bankrupt of ideas he and his government is. Didn't they learn anything from the prime minister of Grenada when he said that getting to Dominica was like doing complicated math equations? (something like that).

It is not a secret that I have major issues with the manner in which the country is being run. The people in charge are corrupt and have no idea about what they need to do to bring the country out of the doldrums they've put it in. Here is a tourism minister pushing for Dominicans to do a hop, skip and a swim to Dominica; I guess that's better than not having the international airport the country so desperately needs, right? But I'm going to do Robbie a favour; I am going to point out to Robbie how he could soften the systematic carnal abuse of travelers to Dominica by LIAT.

Robbie, your government has been plunking millions of dollars into LIAT with practically no positive returns on that investment. You jump for joy when LIAT decides to add another flight to Dominica at their whim. You play trumpets when the airline lands at Melville Hall at 6:30pm. Here's a better idea; why don't you use your tremendous financial stake in the airline to force changes in its operations that would significantly benefit us? And if they don't want to, withdraw your investment. What are they going to do, pull out of Dominica? Their most profitable route? I doubt it. You're a businessman, you ought to know these things. I have some ideas; take a look Robbie.

Instead of relying on Antigua (ANU) and San Juan (SJU) for most of our connections, why not give us the option of using Barbados (BGI) and St. Lucia (UVF)? For example, jetBlue flies from New York into BGI and UVF frequently. These flights land in the early afternoon, anywhere between 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Why not have LIAT schedule a direct flight mid-afternoon from either of these airports into DOM? For one thing, it would be very convenient and would alleviate issues at ANU and SJU. Furthermore, it will be a lot less expensive for us. Robbie, take a look at this; let's see if you can grasp what's at stake here.

New York - Tokyo on United Airlines
I decided to look for a ticket from JFK to DOM for Carnival 2016. I'd leave NY on January 28, the last Thursday in January and return on February 10th, Ash Wednesday. So I pulled up jetBlue's system and plugged in the dates. The cheapest flight I could find with one stop costs US$1,367 through SJU. That is slightly less than a round trip direct flight from JFK to Tokyo using the same dates. That's sick. Then I looked at a round trip direct fight from JFK to UVF, same period. I'd leave NY around 8:00am and arrive in St. Lucia around 1:30 in the afternoon. The cost is $368.20.

Round Trip Comparisons: JFK, SJU, UVF, DOM
WOW! That's $1,000.00 less. Surely it cannot cost US$1,000.00 to travel from St. Lucia to Dominica round trip, can it? No, not even close; US$236.94. Now added together, that's US$604.10 round trip; a savings of US$762.00.

LIAT airfares, SLU, BGI, DOM
But there are three problems; First, I'd have to leave UVF and travel to SLU to catch my LIAT flight (you see, the geniuses at LIAT cannot figure out that it makes sense having a flight from the same airport the big jets land at, so I have to leave the big one in the south of the island and take a taxi to the north of the island to catch my disconnecting flight. Sharp people running that airline, can't slip anything by them). Secondly, I'd have to overnight because the one flight from St. Lucia to Dominica leaves Castries at 10:00am. Thirdly, my flight from St. Lucia to Dominica, a distance of 107 miles, lasts 5 hours and 20 minutes, longer than the flight from New York to St Lucia, a distance of 2,011 miles, because it first takes me on a tour of Martinique and Barbados before I arrive in Dominica. That is incredible.

Which brings me back to Robbie Tonge. Why can't Robbie exert sufficient influence on the board of LIAT to operate a direct flight from UVF around 3:00pm to arrive into Dominica less than an hour later? Common sense, right? To you and me yes, but not to these imbeciles in the Dominica government. Too much brain work.

Round Trip Comparisons: HFJ, SJU, BGI, DOM
The situation is similar if traveling through Barbados; JFK to BGI costs $403.20 on jetBlue. It costs $340.13 from BGI to DOM, but here too we unwillingly embark on a tour, first flying past Dominica on our way to Antigua, and then back to Dominica. The JFK to BGI flight lands in Barbados before 2:00pm, so here's an idea; why not have a LIAT flight from BGI around 3:00pm landing in DOM 45 minutes later? Am I asking too much here?

Come on Robbie; do the math. When will your government stop the rape of  the Dominican traveler by LIAT? When is this going to end?  When are you going to exercise our vote on the board of LIAT to the benefit of Dominicans; in fact, all travelers, including the tourists we will so desperately need to fill the hotel rooms that are going to be constructed in the phantom hotels your government say they're going to have built? Sir, please stop posting pictures of a Bailey Bridge over a gorge in Boetica and concern yourself with your job, which, in case you have forgotten, has to do with tourism, not public works construction projects; leave that for the minister responsible for that government department. LIAT has millions of our dollars; if they are not willing to work with you, withdraw our money. It's as simple as that.


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