PILOTS TOO SICK TO FLY – CAL cancels 37 flights amid wage talks

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passengers wait for information after their flights were cancelled at the Piarco International Airport on Sunday. – Ayanna Kinsale

THOUSANDS of Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passengers were left stranded on Sunday when 37 flights – 13 international, 14 domestic and 11 regional – were cancelled after pilots called in sick.

In a release on Facebook on Sunday evening, the airline said it received a “remarkably high volume” of calls from its pilots saying they were unwell and could not come to work.

The calls came about three hours before the flights were set to depart.

“It is to be noted that the airline is currently in negotiations with the Trinidad and Tobago Airline Pilots Association (TALPA) over a collective agreement for the period 2015-2018,” CAL said.

The release was posted at 6 pm, hours after TALPA took to social media to dispute another newspaper’s headline which said pilots were on strike. In its release, TALPA denied any participation in industrial action.

Another release from CAL earlier in the day announced that flights to Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, St Lucia, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami, New York and Toronto had been cancelled. Flights from these destinations to Trinidad were also affected.

The airline appealed to passengers to refrain from going to Piarco International Airport unless they were informed flights had resumed.

To accommodate passengers on the domestic airbridge, an additional ferry sailing from Tobago was made available to CAL customers with a confirmed airline ticket at 5 pm.

A Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passengers make their way through Piarco Airport on Sunday after their flight was cancelled. – Ayanna Kinsale

However, passengers were told the ferry had a capacity of 400 and the accommodation would be on a first-come-first-served basis.

One passenger said he had been waiting at the Scarborough port since 11 am but was only allowed into the departure lounge at 4.39 pm.

He added that people were very stressed about the situation and the inconvenience, especially as the Galleons Passage arrived at around 5.40 pm.

Newsday visited the airport, where hundreds of disgruntled passengers were waiting, hoping for an update on their flights.

Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passenger board a shuttle to a hotel after their flights were cancelled on Sunday. – Ayanna Kinsale

One mother, who was supposed to see her son off to university in Michigan, US, had to take him and her daughter back home to wait for a call or e-mail.

A CAL representative told the woman, “Unfortunately, we have no information as to when a flight is going to leave, but tomorrow, most likely. So I told them (her son and daughter) they have to go home and wait for an e-mail or phone call from reservations. Once there is a recovery flight, they will be updated.”

After the woman complained that this was the second time they had had to reschedule their connecting flight – which she said forced them to spend all their US currency – the representative directed them to customer relations and told them to keep their receipts for rebates.

The woman asked if she would be compensated and was told people in similar situations had received rebates in the past.

The representative could not confirm if there would be a flight out on Monday.

A member of the Trinbago Cultural Ambassador Extraordinaire group said she and a few other members were missing the Tobago Day festivities in Brooklyn, New York, owing to the cancellation.

The festival was organised by the Tobago Empowerment and Alliance Mission. Tobagonian entrepreneurs and musical groups go to Brooklyn to showcase their talents there.

Another woman, waiting on the shuttle to a nearby hotel, said the running around had been happening since 6 pm on Saturday.

GROUNDED: A Caribbean Airlines (CAL) passenger sits on his suitcase in dismay after his flight was cancelled on Sunday. The airline had to cancel 37 flights after a”remarkably high volume” of pilots called in sick hours before their scheduled flights. – Ayanna Kinsale

Venting her frustration, she said, “I went to a hotel and came back. They gave a time twice for when the flight will be leaving and then they cancel it again.

“I am so tired and frustrated. I have to get back to work.”

She said although her accommodation was being taken care of by the airline, the situation was frustrating.

Those concerned over the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) matches should not worry, as the disruption was not expected to affect the games.

CPL head of communications Peter Miller told Newsday, “We are aware of the disruptions to flights and have been in contact with CAL and the various stakeholders involved in our transit plans.

“As things stand, CPL doesn’t expect to be impacted by these flight disruptions, but we have contingencies in place should the situation change.”

Bad weather has already put a damper on the start of the 2023 CPL season, with three of the first five matches in St Lucia washed out. The last CPL match in St Lucia is expected to bowl off at 7 pm on Monday between St Kitts and Nevis Patriots and St Lucia Kings.

CPL teams, officials, broadcast crew and fans will make their way to Warner Park in St Kitts for the next phase of matches, scheduled for August 23-27.

Flights were also cancelled and rescheduled last December when a bomb threat on a CAL aircraft bound for Tobago was made hours before departure.

Last July, there was a backup of travellers from several flights after two of 15 immigration officers showed up for work that night. That issue derived from immigration officers not being paid outstanding overtime and other allowances.