By Kurt Campbell
Several regional airlines received flak from local Travel Service Agents on Monday, who were summoned to a meeting by Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill, following numerous complaints, including their failure to refund passengers promptly.
However, the discussion quickly evolved into one that saw the travel agents lodging complaints with the minister and the Director-General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Egbert Field, about the failure of airlines to process cash refunds.
Among the most contentious issue is the failure of Fly Jamaica, an airline that pulled out of the market and filed for bankruptcy in 2019, to refund its customers. The Boeing 757 crash-landed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) at Timehri, East Bank Demerara, in November 2018 as a result of hydraulic issues.
Travel agents complained that although millions are owed in refunds, Fly Jamaica has not been able to honour repeated promises over the last two years to process those refunds.
The meeting took place at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).
Luana Falconer, from Frandec Travel, was the first to raise the issue surrounding Fly Jamaica as she asked for the government’s intervention to help against daily abuses from customers who remain affected.
“We have a lot of disgruntled customers that go way back to when Fly Jamaica would have closed operations here. Those refunds were still outstanding,” she said.
Falconer explained that Frandec alone owes passengers over $1 million in refunds directly linked to Fly Jamaica. She said, in some cases, the agency went ahead to rebook passengers in anticipation of a promised refund that never came.
She asked Minister Edghill to commit the government’s urgent attention to the issue and, if possible, to utilise bonds to fast-track these refunds. On this issue, the GCCA Director-General said he has written to the authorities in Jamaica and outlined the matter.
Field said he was told that Fly Jamaica is in receivership and there are several individuals still awaiting payment.
“…because it is in receivership, the workers, the airline operators, the airport, even the civil aviation authority, is owed money. So, we will have to wait until that matter has been sorted out with Price Water Hous,e who is handling the matter,” Field said.
Minister Edghill, in turn, registered his disappointment, saying it is a matter that he is deeply unhappy about. Pointing to the fact that Fly Jamaica had no bonds with the government at the time for such an eventuality, Edghill further registered his disappointment.
“We have to protect ourselves,” Edghill said as he asked Field to be more aggressive in handling the issue.
But Fly Jamaica was not the only airline that was flagged for its tardiness in refunding customers. Travel agents said regional carrier, LIAT was also causing them and their customers distress; LIAT also has no bond with the government.
Field explained that according to local regulations, scheduled carriers are not required to lodge bond.
Another regional airline that was accused of causing unnecessary confusion between passengers and travel agents is Caribbean Airlines (CAL). The airline has been accused of lengthy delays in processing the refunds for customers affected by its closure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Civil Aviation Authority will have to look into these matters, including complaints against Eastern Airlines, which has reportedly not offered cash refunds to customers who were affected during its startup glitches in early 2020.
One agent said vouchers were issued to customers since then with several extensions but no movement to offer cash refunds. Again on this issue, Minister Edghill has urged “full compliance” with local regulations.
Edghill said Eastern Airlines has asked the government for a release of part of its bond to address the issue of refund, something Field said the Aviation Authority would advise against since the airline has indicated an intention to operate in the near future.
The minister has asked Field to address all of the issues raised with the three regional carriers and also to ensure that Guyanese passengers receive their refunds from all airlines.