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US, Tobago routes hit hard as CAL pilots in sickout

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Passengers and their family members and friends mill around in the international terminal at the Piarco International Airport yesterday. Thousands of passengers were left stranded after domestic and international flights were disrupted by a sickout by CAL pilots. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Hundreds of passengers booked to travel to Tobago, Miami and New York on Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flights were stranded at the Piarco and ANR Robinson International Airports in Trinidad and Tobago yesterday, after 24 pilots who were rostered to fly called in sick. The sickout forced CAL to ground flights to the destinations as the official busy July-August vacation period kicked off.



In an internal memo to all CAL staff, CEO Michael DiLollo said it was unfortunate the action had come at the start of the busy vacation season. “We are naturally concerned firstly for the health and welfare of our pilot body since this is an unprecedented occurrence. “This unfortunate situation has disrupted our scheduled services at the beginning of our critical summer season, during which we count most on our operational crews to demonstrate reliability and service for our loyal customers,” he wrote.


DiLollo also expressed concern about the potential negative impact of the disruptions to passengers, saying: “Many families choose this time to travel and have committed hard-earned savings to enjoy this time together. To disappoint them will surely be a serious breach of our unspoken contract with them, a betrayal far deeper than even our legal commitment to provide the promised service.”


A release issued by CAL yesterday said while the management and the T&T Pilots’ Association (TTALPA), the pilots’ majority union, had been in communication, the airline was disappointed with the pilots’ action. It noted, however, that “Caribbean Airlines will continue to urge further open and frank discussion in good faith with TTALPA while exploring all options available. 



“Caribbean Airlines apologises to its loyal passengers for all inconvenience caused by these delays and assures that all will be done to minimise the delays,” the release added. TTALPA industrial relations consultant Gerard Pinard confirmed there was a meeting late yesterday between DiLollo and Captain David Pereira to discuss the pilots’ concerns.


“We are, however, waiting on formal correspondences from CAL of what was discussed and the agreements reached. The pilots remain guardedly optimistic,” Pinard told the T&T Guardian. He said one of the major reasons for the pilots' actions was CAL’s refusal to sign off on a memorandum of understanding over the weekend. 



“The company reneged and put off the signing upon resumption of negotiations. The association will like negotiations to resume in four weeks’ time. However, the company wants it to be pushed back to September. “The pilots are disgruntled over outstanding payments from 2011, so this too was another contributing factor,” he added. Pinard said he also could not give any assurance the pilots would resume duties today.



...Passengers frustrated by delays


There was chaos at CAL’s airport counters yesterday as frustrated passengers demanded answers and relief compensation after learning their flights had been grounded. Tobago teacher Avion Orr, of Speyside High School, expressed her disgust with CAL.“All they told me was that their pilots were on strike and the next confirmed flight to Tobago was on Thursday (tomorrow),” she said.


Orr, who was in the company of her colleague, Deryck Wright and Form Six pupils—Coryse Wright and Howard Hamilton—arrived in Trinidad yesterday shortly after 6 am to attend a prize-giving function. The pupils had won an art competition hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Orr said: “Imagine we were just having lunch at the Hyatt and having fun and now we are faced with this upset here at the airport.


“I asked them what happens next for us because we have no clothes, no food and no money to stay anywhere in Trinidad because we just came for a few hours. Our flight to Tobago was supposed to be at 2.25 pm on board flight BW1526. “The part getting me vex is that the girls at the counters don't know anything. “They say they can’t provide us with anything in the interim. What getting me more mad is to see them packing up their bags and walking out.” 


Passenger, Malik Pierre, 16, spent several hours at the airport as flight BW524 to JFK, New York, was delayed. Pierre’s mother, who did not want to be named, described the situation as frustrating, although she was not the actual passenger. She said: “All persons are affected when flights are delayed. We left here after 2 am yesterday and returned about 8 am, only to be told that the flight has been again delayed by a few hours. 


“My son is going on a vacation but we are all affected because we have to be with him until he goes up to the gate for departure.” In Tobago, passengers on connecting flights were also badly affected. One of them, who also wished not to be identified, told the T&T Guardian she would most likely miss her British Airways flight to London. 


All passengers were asked yesterday to confirm their flight times with the Flight Status Tool on the airline’s Web site at prior to heading to the airport to avoid any potential inconvenience. 


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