Air travel woes in the Caribbean

Grenada PM Dickon Mitchell addresses town hall at Brooklyn College on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022.
Photo by Nelson A. King, file

Not for the first time, a Caribbean leader is bemoaning the state of inter-island, inter-Caribbean travel since the 2020 collapse of the lifeline but problem-plagued, money-losing LIAT commuter airline.

Clearly angry and frustrated with the situation, Dickon Mitchell of Grenada told a manufacturers association function in Trinidad on Wednesday night that he was only able to make it to Trinidad because he was rescued by an aircraft from the Barbados-based Regional Security System (RSS).

Bemoaning the paucity of direct flights to and from the two neighboring islands, he said he could have easily turned down the invite from the TTMA by citing the near impossibility of air connectivity with Trinidad but he was able to make it because a VIP aircraft was provided for him.

“I’m only here because I’m the prime minister of Grenada, because I can come on the aircraft used by the RSS to fly me in and out of Trinidad. Otherwise, it will literally require me to spend an entire week. The options for getting to Trinidad require me to get to Miami and then fly back to Trinidad. That is how difficult it is to travel within the region,” he said.

Mitchell, head of government in the ‘Spice Isle’ only since winning general elections in June, has been persistently railing against the state of air travel ever since regional shareholding governments of Antigua-based LIAT decided to collapse the airline in the wake of nearly $100 million in debt and the woes that had sprung from global airlines being grounded during the toughest period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

He and Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne have both threatened to take their own individual action to iron out current difficulties if LIAT cannot resume flying like before or if some other amicable solution is not found.

“If by October, November, we don’t have an arrangement then it means if Grenada has to go and lease the planes so that we can fly between Grenada and Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago we will have to do so,” he told reporters recently.

For his part, Brown told local ABS radio recently that if LIAT is not back up to near full strength as prior to 2020, then Mitchell has a strong point about taking action to lease planes to fly between Grenada, Trinidad, Barbados and other points.

“I think we are going to have a very strong tourism season in 2022 within the Caribbean and we can’t have LIAT with three planes and just sit back. So what we plan to do is that we are going to add about two more planes within the next few months, hopefully we can get them in place for the next season. We are currently negotiating with a lessor.”

Mitchell’s remarks come amid mounting complaints from regional citizens about the cost of air travel with air fares from one island destination to the next costing up to $1000.

Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines and recently established Inter Caribbean have been ruling the proverbial roost since LIAT collapsed, filling the void but offering air fares that citizens say are beyond their reach.

And making the link between reliable transportation and trade, Mitchell said that “if we can’t even move people, then it’s obvious that we can’t trade. And if I’m seeing that much trouble, imagine what the citizens of the region have to go through. We don’t ask whether the roads are profitable. I don’t think we ask ourselves, are we making money from asphalt on the roads?’ So it’s difficult for me to understand why we ask. Are we making money from airlines?”