CAL CEO on flight cancellations: We felt our customers’ pain

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Garvin Medera. – AYANNA KINSALE

CARIBBEAN Airlines (CAL) CEO Garvin Medera said on Thursday the airline management was “deeply sorry” over the disruption of travel faced by passengers last weekend due to a sick out by pilots which had grounded flights.

He was addressing a news conference at the CAL head office at Piarco. “We are deeply sorry they had to face this inconvenience.”

Medera said the incident had been, “a terrible experience” for passengers. “We felt the pain of customers.”

Medera said the number of instances of pilots phoning in sick was 20 last Friday, 19 last Saturday and 54 last Sunday, totalling 93 calls across 75 pilots.

He said the situation had cancelled 60 flights and affected 5,000 customers/passengers.

Medera estimated the cost of the disruption was $15 million, but also with an opportunity cost and a loss of trust.

This included the provision of hotel accommodation for affected passengers and the cost of chartered flights plus ferry tickets for domestic passengers.

He said during the disruption, CAL wet-leased six aircraft flights at a cost of US$350,000 each.

Medera said the pilots’ behaviour had been “deeply regrettable,” had been entirely out of CAL’s control, and had not considered the impact on the airline’s business and on passengers’ lives.

He said CAL had reluctantly gone to court over the matter.

Medera was optimistic the matter could be resolved, pending approval of any negotiated agreement by the CAL board and Ministry of Finance. “I’m fairly confident of an amicable resolution.”

Medera said CAL had a bright future. “We should be profitable in 2023. It’s a good story.

“Today CAL is alive and kicking and doing extremely well.”

The disruption to flights had been very unexpected for the CAL management which had been deep in wage negotiations last week just before news of the disruption began, amid months of talks.

Medera opted not to disclose details to the media of what the airline was offering the TT Airline Pilots Association (TTALPA), saying, “We are negotiating in good faith.” One media house on Thursday reported CAL was offering pilots 7.5 per cent while TTALPA sought 13 per cent, for 2015-2020.

Otherwise Madera promised to provide data on CAL’s financials early next year, noting a big improvement from 2019 to 2023, following hard times during the pandemic.

Medera promised to compensate all genuine claims for reimbursement by affected passengers and promised to soon set a special portal on its website.

He expected compensation claims to be handled within seven-14 days of receipt. The portal will stay open for three months.

“All requests will be refunded.”

He urged passengers to use the facility, saying that, in many cases, CAL did not get the contact details of passengers who had bought their tickets through travel agents.

For CAL’s domestic passengers, he said even those who took up the offer to instead travel between Tobago and Trinidad by ferry, the airline would refund their airline tickets and issue a credit for future travel.

Medera thanked the Ministry of Works and Transport and the Port Authority for facilitating CAL passengers on ferries during the disruption.

He said CAL got a court injunction against the pilots’ action on Monday and it was valid until September 28.

Medera said during the impasse, CAL had wet leased aircraft from two airlines, GlobalX and Avelo. He said during the disruption, CAL had to rely on its reserve pilots, although some of those, too, had called in sick. He thanked staff who had got CAL back up running on Tuesday.

Asked about talk of staff discontent at CAL, Medera said an employee staff satisfaction index for CAL had showed an improvement from 21 points in 2017 to 52 points in 2023.

Asked if CAL had called doctors supplying sick leave certificates, he said some had been called and notified that they could be subpoenaed.

CAL corporate communications officer Dionne Ligoure said Medera would meet the pilots association after the briefing on Thursday. Later at 4 pm she told Newsday the meeting was seemingly still under way.