Thursday, December 27, 2012

Caribbean Airlines craziness: “How would you like it if I took this plane up and got tired and crashed it into the Atlantic?!”

Published:  Thursday, December 27, 2012
On December 19 my journey to Trinidad started at 5.19 am on the New Jersey transit line towards New York. In the cold winter winds, I cheerfully dragged my suitcases along because by 4.30 that afternoon I would be in my precious homeland running into the arms of my loved ones. I could already almost taste the three doubles with slight pepper on my tongue. However, fate (and Caribbean Airlines) had other plans.

After two train rides and a line through security, I was posted at my gate at 7.16 am, a safe three hours before my 10.30 am flight, Caribbean Airlines 501. At the gate, the atmosphere was ripe with Christmas vibes. As I greeted fellow passengers, we spoke of all the pastelles and black cake we were going to obliterate and all the family members whose homes we’d be paranging.

A customer service representative’s voice cut through all the ole talk and said that our flight was slightly delayed. No-one reacted because truthfully, I don’t think anyone cared. As long as we got to Piarco within a reasonable time frame, we’d be fine.

Boarding did eventually start at around 11 am and by noon we were buckled in and ready to go. Having not been home for Christmas in the past three years, I was overwhelmed by anticipation and sheer glee. We never took off.  After 30 minutes of sitting still, we heard the pilot’s voice explaining the there was a problem with the hydraulics system on the plane, that he had alerted a maintenance crew and that it should be a quick fix and we’d be in the air soon. I thought to myself, “No worries; life happens.”

Little did I know that this pilot would make me eat my words. Fast forward to three hours later and we’re still sitting in the aircraft, waiting, just waiting with no word from anyone about what was going on. Hungry and thirsty, we asked for an update from the flight attendants. The pilot returned his attention to us and informed that he would let us off the aircraft into the terminal and that the airline would provide us with meal vouchers so that we could eat and relax a bit while the plane was being serviced.

As a Trini, you would expect a bit of grumbling from the passengers, but other than a few people sucking their teeth and complaining of being tired, we calmly filed off of the plane, ate, and awaited an update. The Caribbean Airlines representative said that we’d have more information in an hour. Three thirty came and went and then she said we’d know what was happening at 6 pm; and so the story goes until 8 pm when we were told that we’d be able to re-board the plane.

I’ve lived in the US for almost eight years and I have never seen a fleet of Caribbean people load an aircraft so quickly and so efficiently. I allowed myself to fantasise about still being able to find a late night doubles vendor when we landed. I texted my older brother who had been primed to pick me up at Piarco and told him that I’d be home around 2 am.

Again, I didn’t care that it was nine hours later than planned. I buckled up, leaned into my seat and waited for take-off. Two eerily quiet hours went by and the plane didn’t move. A passenger, who became our freedom fighter through all the ensuing madness, politely asked a flight attendant if everything was ok and if the pilot had arrived.

The flight attendant said that some passengers were missing and so we were waiting. I looked ahead suspiciously because unless we were expecting President Richards or Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, I couldn’t imagine waiting two hours for a passenger. That’s when all hell broke loose.

To a calm crowd, the pilot came on the speakers and said that there was a legality issue arising from the amount of time they had spent at the gate and that he wasn’t sure whether or not we’d be able to take off that night. Silence. And then upheaval. “Didn’t you know this before you corralled us back into the aircraft like cattle?” “Don’t you think we had a right to know earlier?”

In response, the pilot again came on the speakers, yelled at us and basically said that we were being petty and over-reacting. He went on a miniature tirade about also being up at 5 am, leaving his wife and children at home and then he yelled: “How would you like it if I took this plane up and got tired and crashed it into the Atlantic?!”

I was appalled! And so were the parents who had to try without success to rid their children’s minds of the image of their flight crashing into the deep, dark ocean.

Off the plane and into the terminal we went to wait for a Caribbean Airlines representative to grace us with his presence. After 45 minutes went by, I had had enough and with my lack of sleep and lack of food, I blew my gasket. I ranted about the absolute lack of respect by Caribbean Airlines for its passengers, the callousness they showed towards the children who had probably suffered the most, and the disgraceful attitude of the airline to make me stand there and wait at 10 pm for a representative to answer simple questions about the next steps, like what the possibilities were for getting home anytime soon or where I would sleep or what was happening with my luggage.

Finally, at around 12:30-1:00am (20 hours after I had taken my first train), the airline carted us off to a hotel and ensured that we’d be able to leave on a 10:30 am flight on December 20, which we did.

Our new flight crew was amazing and both my luggage and I arrived safely at Piarco International.  I am a ridiculously proud Trinbagonian and anyone who knows me even remotely will vouch for that but I refuse to be proud of incompetence and a lack of accountability by my airline. Caribbean Airlines showed absolutely no respect for my business and my time.

As a student, it’s no small sacrifice to buy a ticket to Trinidad for the holidays but I do it because my heart and my navel string are planted deep in Trinbago’s soil. My dearest Caribbean Airlines, you must appreciate that our loyalty, much like your tickets prices, does not come cheap.

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