Guyanese Flying the Friendly Skies with Caribbean Airlines – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Guyanese Flying the Friendly Skies with Caribbean Airlines

– by Francis Quamina Farrier

Before Caribbean Airlines flew into the Friendly Skies of the wide blue yonder, there was the British West Indies Airways (BWIA). Back in the day, BWIA was regarded as the analogy of, “But Will It Arrive”. Fun was poked at that airline on the streets of Guyana and even on the Theatre Guild stage with the popular BRINK SHOWS because of the constant late arrivals of BWIA flights.

During that period of the 1970s and 1980s, Guyanese complained bitterly about being treated very shabbily by British West Indian Airways (BWIA), even though the Airline regularly stated that Guyana was its most profitable route and source of income. Nonetheless, shabby treatment of the Guyanese passengers never relented. BWIA continued to “Bite the Hands” which fed their coffers handsomely and made their Bottom Line very impressive year after year”, according to a veteran BWIA customer.           

There have been many horror stories; especially during the period of The Guyanese TRADERS with their red, white and blue jumbo bags. That was a period when there were many foreign goods banned from Guyana; a time when foreign currency was not available for the ordinary citizen; a time when the Guyana dollar was no longer accepted in the Caribbean as it used to be.

It is not so well-known that the Guyanese Traders suffered many hardships at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. Many of them claimed that some Customs Officers and some Security Officers at the Piarco International Airport would blatantly steal their goods. When they protested, they were threatened with arrest and imprisonment. “It wasn’t easy” a former Trader told me. “We were at their mercy. And they were merciless”.

Meanwhile, the airline – BWIA- which profited so much from their regular travels, never stepped forward with conscience, or moral obligation, to say a word on their behalf. The Traders were “on their own”. They were treated like “Children of a Lesser God”.

Let’s now fast-forward, from the demise of BWIA, to the birth of The Caribbean Airlines (CAL), which was actually just a change of name from BWIA to CAL. Guyanese travellers were promised and expected better treatment as paying customers. Their support of CAL was similar to their support of BWIA. So, was the service improved? Most regulars with whom I spoke were not ready to respond in the affirmative.

The majority of the complaints are about the treatment CAL gives – or don’t give, to their “Valued Customers”, when on the ground. The in-flight service gained fairly high marks.

Since 9/11 – one of the saddest days in aviation history – there has been a quantum leap in terms of Security Checks of passengers boarding commercial aircraft worldwide. Since it was in New York that most people were killed on 9/11, let’s commence the following, at Terminal Four of the JFK International Airport.

You have just completed checking-in at Caribbean Airlines and now about to interact with the professional TSA personnel at the Security Check Point. You have already removed your headwear, your coat, your belt and your shoes. You have also emptied your pockets and placed everything in the rectangular plastic bins, You go into the X-Ray equipment with your arms above your head as instructed. You step out and you are patted down by one of the TSA officers. You are then waved on as someone who is SANITIZED and considered by some of the toughest Security Personnel on the planet, as being safe to board a commercial aircraft. You are SANITIZED.

After waiting in a designated area, where you remain sanitized, you hear an announcement on the PA system to board the CAL aircraft. You enter the sanitized aircraft. You take your designated seat. You get a series of instructions as to what you should do, and shouldn’t do during the flight, should the aircraft experience any challenge. The plane is pushed out from the gate. The Captain comes on the plane’s PA system and welcomes you on board, giving you a few more necessary safety instructions. You remain pure and sanitized. Just before the plane takes off, you are given a few more instructions such as to turn off your cell phone and other electronic equipment. As a law-abiding person, you comply. You are then told to “Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight”.

The voice of the Captain is heard once again, instructing the Cabin Attendants to take up position for take-off. Shortly there-after you hear the power of the aircraft’s engines as the plane speeds along the runway and lifts up, up into the wide blue yonder, heading for Piarco in Trinidad. You fly for over four hours in that sanitized aircraft cabin. You remain sanitized since the TSA Security Check at the JFK International Airport.

There is no way that you could become contaminated as you are now flying at over 30,000 feet in the Friendly Skies above the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. During the flight, the Captain comes on the PA system and alerts you that there will be some turbulence and advises you to “Fasten your seatbelt”. You willingly comply and shortly after experience a bit of bouncing around for a few minutes, which then comes to an end. Later, you are served some tasty snacks by the professional Cabin Attendants.

All is well. You are flying CAL in one of its sanitized aircraft. You doze off. Piarco International Airport in Trinidad gets closer and closer. You remain SANITIZED in your slumber – so too your neighbour, who might even be snoring in their beautiful, sanitized condition.

The voice of the Captain on the PA system interrupts your dose. Instructions are given that the aircraft is about to land at Piarco International Airport. Many more instructions are given by the pilot and a cabin attendant. However, there is one vital piece of information that is with-held, which is that you are about to face one of the most terrible on-the-ground turbulence; a yet-to-be-explained SECURITY CHECK, by some very arrogant and unprofessional Security personnel.

However, still having the feeling of being a very SANATIZED traveller, you deplane and proceed into the impressive Piarco Terminal Building. You find yourself in a line. Oh, No! You have to be subjected to another Security Check. “But, I’m sanitized!” you say to yourself. But you are powerless in the face of the POWERFUL FORCES at that Security Check Point at Piarco, who at times are very obnoxious.

You begin to feel extremely stressed out. You get an instant headache. Some of your fellow sanitized passengers accept the situation; probably singing inwardly, “Do woh yoh waan’ wid meh”.  Other passengers grumble. A few like myself, voice that this Security Check is absolute nonsense. Some of the Security Personnel threaten to have the vocal passengers arrested and locked-up.

The Sanitizing by the TSA at the JFK International Airport means nothing to those Trinidad Security Personnel. You either comply with the Trinidadian Security or risk being arrested and thrown into jail. After all, you are in a sovereign state. You ask a question and are told that the Security is of CARIBBEAN AIRLINES. You are puzzled in your SANITIZED CONDITION. You know that you and other Law-Abiding Citizens are encouraged by International Security that, “If you see something, say something.” Yet, here you are being treated shabbily by Security.

In order to garner some sense out of this amazing controversy, I decided to interview a very Senior Officer of Caribbean Airlines in Georgetown. The gentleman expressed concern. He listened graciously to the concern of CAL passengers which I related to him and offered some sympathy. He then suggested that I speak with a Senior CAL operative in Trinidad, even sending an e-letter of introduction; and so I fly over to Trinidad – on CAL, of course.

However, just before that trip to Trinidad, I mingled in the crowd at the promotional Fete which CAL staged one evening under the Stabroek Market Tower in Georgetown. Among the audience were some government officials.

Over in Trinidad, I found it more possible to have my meeting with the CAL Management representative, on the phone. The voice sounded more like a recording. No genuine apologies or promise to make the Piarco experience for the Guyanese passengers of Caribbean Airlines any better. I later spoke with about a dozen Security Operatives at different areas of the Piarco International Airport and the majority of them expressed the view that it was America which was ordering that second Security Check.

In an online survey, I garnered the following comments; Don: “That should be an issue for the (Guyana) Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look into”. Dencol: “Guyanese need their own Government run airline again.” Brian, “It is one of the most ridiculous Immigration stunt. It makes no sense to me”. Pansy: “They stole money from my brother. He has the receipt”.  Carmen: “On my last trip, they were horrible on our layover in Trinidad.” And Hilton: “Guyana Foreign Affairs Ministry has to stop the b…s to address this which has been going on for years.”

So, who will look into this puzzling situation? The Trinidad and Tobago government?  The Guyana government?  Caricom?  The Caribbean Airlines Management? Or will this situation grow and fester into infinity? However, there is a call by a growing number of Guyanese that the now defunct Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC), should be back and flying the Friendly skies for the benefit of the Law-abiding and Paying Guyanese travellers who are SANITIZED by professional Security personnel every time they present themselves at an International Airport Security Location.

Farrier at the Caribbean Airlines Check-In at the Piarco International Airport, Trinidad, February 11, 2019

The Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC) jet aircraft which operated non-stop flights from Guyana to Miami, New York and Toronto.

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  • John O'Connor  On 03/11/2019 at 8:10 am

    Francis, I agree completely… and it is rue for non-Guyanese travelling from Toronto. This is true both ways… Maybe the only thing worse is having to wait in the plane with no air [sometimes] and keep moving around the cleaners and the security people who “need” to check your ticket and passports again! As you said I have been sanitized. We could get off in to the secure waiting area without having to walk all over Picarco before coming back tot eh same departure place. It was so much nicer flying direct to GT. Ah the good old days.

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