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ON REFLECTION – Airfare war good for the flying

Ricky Jordan

ON REFLECTION – Airfare war good for the flying

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THEY SOUND ridiculously sweet, these prices! And while some fine-tuning has to be done regarding REDjet’s proposed flights into Trinidad and Tobago, I cannot fault anyone for lapping up the low airfares now on offer.
It is simply the result of competition. What wonders it can work in “the heavens”!
Imagine flights as low as BDS$20 on the region’s newest player REDjet, followed by the region’s leading airline LIAT, and Caribbean Airlines announcing the slashing of its own fares by more than half – a feat once considered an impossibility. 
It’s mere competition; and even with the “fine print” charges expected on passenger service, security, baggage, concourse and sales, regional airfares are looking better than ever.
Before this month, I would have had to pay BDS$600 plus to get to my island’s closest neighbour St Vincent, after spending a mere 35 minutes in the air; while a four-hour trip to New York would have cost me just over BDS$500 around November for Thanksgiving. 
And to mention the $850 airfare to Trin-bago to enjoy Carnival in February, compared to prices to New York and Miami around the same time, sounds even more ridiculous in retrospect!
But we Barbadians travelled to festivals, friends and family in the region at those merciless prices, and put up with shoddy customer service and long lines too, just as we took whatever the one-time sole telecommunications giant Cable & Wireless dished out to us for more than a half-century – simply because there was no other option.
With all the vagaries of airline life, LIAT and Caribbean Airlines are all of a sudden, able to fly travellers from Barbados to Trinidad for about $210 – less than half the regular price – and if REDjet decides to expand as a result of the overwhelming response by Caribbean people, who are hungry for low fares within the small expanse of these islands, LIAT’s boast  of operating “1 000 flights weekly and transporting over a million passengers annually to 23 countries” will sound like nothing more than a stuck record and a lame excuse. 
The airfare “war” should also impact upon service, since this aspect has for years been akin to rubbing salt in the raw and painful wound of high airfares. The complaints have been endless about travellers having to wait in long lines at boarding gates, and then being herded into uncomfortable and hot cabins to wait for a second time.
I have personally experienced it, and recall a diabetic not even being offered a meal by the region’s leading airline after a flight was delayed for three hours.
And what about the “penalties” if you missed a flight or had to shorten your stay in one of our neighbouring territories? A veritable injustice! And the free boxed juice or $2 Coke was no compensation either!
While LIAT’s coverage of the entire region, including the non-lucrative routes, was admirable in bygone years, the airline, repeatedly subsidised by regional governments, made a mockery of its own attempt to unite the Caribbean via transportation. 
Easier on pocket
For, at the end of the day, it was easier on the pockets of hardworking citizens to travel to parts of the United States than to get to St Kitts-Nevis; while St Lucia complained about losing “over 50 000 passengers in two years” following the demise of Caribbean Star. 
This day has been long in coming, but as the song says “a change gon’ come”, and the airline and telecommunications examples show clearly that competition will always redound to the benefit of the consumer. 
And if these so-called business “wars” never materialize, then our citizens will continue to be exploited by the conglomerates and established monopolies in small societies, where it is often mistakenly believed that the market cannot sustain more than one player.
I say bring on the competition, and I look forward to it in the food industry as well. 
Prime Ministers have, over the years, pleaded with supermarket owners and other food industry leaders to show mercy to the consumers, and the excuses have always included high costs of fuel and import duties  – even when oil prices were down and before the excise tax was implemented in the last Budget.
However, if food industry competitors were allowed to step in tomorrow, the merchants of Barbados would immediately slash their prices and make the necessary sacrifices to stay in business.
So, where is the low-priced warehouse-styled Cost-U-Less promised three years ago? Where is the low-cost supermarket chain proposed just off Warrens about ten years ago? 
With competition, we will again see that monopolies cripple the consumer and that there’s nothing such as “fairplay” without other players on the field. Continue to have a blessed week.