Solving Antigua & Barbuda’s Airline Problem

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Jun 20 2017 – Regional Caribbean airline service continued its good news / bad news pattern this past week as Seaborne Airlines announced the launch of new non-stop service between San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport and Antigua and Barbuda’s V.C. Bird International Airport beginning July 21.

The announcement followed the contentious end of a three-day strike by Antigua-based regional carrier LIAT, which led to flight cancellations and disruption, stranding passengers across the region.

Seaborne’s resumption of service to Antigua follows an agreement with the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority.

“The service will provide increased airlift and convenient connecting opportunities for both visitors and Antiguans and Barbudans,” said Seaborne officials in a statement.

Seaborne will operate four weekly roundtrip flights between San Juan and Antigua under the new schedule, enabling passengers from more than 30 American and European destinations to reach Antigua through San Juan connections with Seaborne partners including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Vieques Air Link.

“A convenient schedule has been designed to benefit local customers with easy access between the ilsands, while connecting passengers will benefit from direct transfers through San Juan,” said Hector Montanez, Seaborne’s Vice President of Commercial.

Antigua & Barbuda government officials are clearly hoping Seaborne’s new flights will ameliorate services gaps created by LIAT’s recent strike and chronically troubled operations.

An agreement between LIAT pilots and management to end the three-day strike was reached June 9. The walkout began June 7 when members of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) refused to fly after the company’s management reportedly failed to honor a salary agreement reached in January 2017.

On June 8, Antigua and Barbuda’s government issued a statement condemning the strike, with tourism officials calling LIAT “too unreliable” and announcing new airlift to “mitigate fallout from unreliable service and periodic industrial action at the airline,” according to a Caribbean News Now report.

Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, told the Barbados Today newspaper his country’s government had been working with other carriers “to ensure that all our eggs are not placed in one basket.”

The three-day strike and the airline’s continued struggles have also negatively impacted travel to Barbados, another of the carrier’s hubs, said Richard Sealy, the country’s Minister of Tourism.

LIAT has a track record of uneven operations dating back to 2013, when then–CEO Ian Brunton admitted to an operational “meltdown” following LIAT’s change of aircraft from Dash-8 to ATR-42 and ATR-72 models. The resulting operational mishaps stranded thousands of passengers across LIAT’s network.

While Antigua’s government will continue to support its locally based carrier, said James, “we also have to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda, which is so heavily dependent on tourism, has the international routes into the destination…so that people can move in and out of our destination quite seamlessly and easily.”

“Additional airlift, which is also competitively priced, is a plus for the destination as we prepare for a busy summer season with visitors traveling to Antigua and Barbuda for vacation,” said Asot A. Michael, Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy. (Travel Pulse)

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