Monday, April 23, 2012

Opinion/Letter: Caribbean Airlines ground staff at Piarco behaved callously

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dear Editor,

Yesterday morning, Sunday April 22nd, I arrived on Caribbean Airlines Flight 662 at Piarco International, Trinidad and Tobago as an in transit passenger. As far as one can tell, most in transit passengers coming through this airport are either headed to Guyana or coming from Guyana. Perhaps this explains the behaviour of the ground staff.

In order to get to the in transit lounge, one has to take a small elevator that can hold no more than about 10 – 12 persons (frequently less, depending on how much hand luggage people have). This means a number of trips to clear one full flight coming from Guyana; an architectural design that I would respectfully submit makes absolutely no sense.

The small delay that this requires is, however, compounded by the attitude of the ground staff, since one cannot get to the lounge without them using their key to operate the elevator. This has not been the first time that I have noticed that they behave as if attending to those coming from and heading to Guyana is the last priority. After waiting more than ten minutes for the elevator (by now at the end of a long line of passengers, including the elderly and at least one woman with a young child in her arms), I approached the in transit desk where a young man and woman were casually talking and one presumes completing paperwork on the flight. The young woman – I hope Caribbean Airlines gets a copy of this letter and checks to see who was on duty this morning – looked irritated at being interrupted, and rather than apologizing to those of us in the line, informed me in a dismissive tone that we had to wait for the elevator. At this point I responded that Trinidad and Tobago must be the only airport where there is one small elevator to take all in transit passengers to the lounge, and likely the only place where it took more than ten minutes for an elevator to take passengers up one floor.

The point I want to make is that the ground staff operate the elevator. Professionalism and good service would suggest having someone promptly getting people upstairs, in order to clear the line as quickly as possible. In other words, the delay was simply due to the don’t give a damn attitude of those who had to deal with us. I should point out that after I spoke, and others in the line joined me in loudly expressing their displeasure at the treatment, the young woman sullenly walked over, stayed by the elevator door, and got everyone upstairs (three to four trips) in less than five minutes.

Perhaps if those in transit passengers looked different, or were coming as tourists from outside of our one Caribbean, an airline that sees itself as the flagship of the region would have been bending over backwards to accommodate them. Instead we are being asked to wait, and when we refuse to accept this treatment, we are seen as the ones with the problem.

I want to tell my fellow Guyanese that when this happens to you, do not remain quiet. You have paid for your ticket and your seat on that plane, and you are entirely within your rights to demand a level of professionalism and service as a customer. To the gentleman who furiously said at one point, “we should treat them like this,” as tempting as this seems, this is not the answer. We should model the change we want from others, and never repeat the mistake or original injury because we all lose out in the end.

To the Caribbean Airlines female ground staff who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, and who rudely commented to passengers “obviously the first time you have been on an elevator” when they did not press the button for the first floor (she had not  told them to, and they did not do anything because they assumed she was operating the elevator), Caribbean Airlines should tell us if this is how they train their personnel. Or if perhaps in training school they are told that this is how one should treat Guyanese. They should instruct the young woman – and it should not be difficult to identify her given that I have indicated the date and time of our arrival – that decency does not come from the fact that she was dressed up in a nice uniform, wearing heels, and speaking proper English.

Decency has to do with how you treat and respect persons, and in this case especially when you are the face of an airline that calls itself our regional carrier, her attitude was positively indecent.

Yours faithfully,
Alissa Trotz

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