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The issue of high airline ticket prices

A Virgin Atlantic flight shortly after it touched down on the tarmac at MBIA

A leading player in the local travel industry has lamented the fact that Grenada is in no position to influence the “crazy airline prices” that are now being forced on travellers, especially by airlines operating out of the United States and Britain.

In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY, the industry official said it is “absolutely ridiculous” the fares being charged at the moment by those airlines like JetBlue, American Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operating out of the Metropolitan cities like New York and London.

He disclosed that last week an individual had to pay over EC$5,500 for a one-way flight from the United Kingdom to Grenada on Virgin Atlantic.

“All the airlines are price-gouging and I suppose they feel they could in this region simply because there is no alternative – and when you have no alternative it is supply and demand,” he said.

According to the airline industry official, the cost of an airline ticket for inter-regional travel is also very high and pointed out that an individual had to pay EC$2,600 to travel from Grenada to Antigua.

He said that a fare of EC $3800 from Grenada to New York in this climate is an “amazing” price for a much longer destination because New York is four times the distance.

“So if it is relative to distance it is not bad (a price for a ticket) in the grand scheme of things,” he remarked.

The industry expert recalled that around this time last year and the year before in 2020 there were summer flights daily into the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) especially on Jet Blue but Covid-19 changed the situation.

In addition, he said the problem is compounded by the fact that due to the coronavirus pandemic when all flights were grounded, a lot of the airlines were forced to pay-off pilots and now they cannot get many of them to report back in time for work.

The official charged that a lot of the laid off airline industry workers have realised that the pay “was not too hot” and due to manpower issues some airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights.

He pointed out that even at Heathrow in the United Kingdom, the management there have been urging some airlines “to take a voluntary cut in all their flights,” when the norm is that airports always tend to urge airlines to increase flights.

“So, it is rather bizarre that you have airport operators in Europe telling airlines that they must curb their enthusiasm and cut their services because they cannot cope,” he said.

The official stressed that related to this problem is the fact that airports can make twice the money in one flight as two and there is no incentive for them to “dilute it.”

“It’s about high yield and the airlines are mercenaries – they are not doing us any favours,” he remarked.

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The airline industry official acknowledged that the frustration “is real” for the travelling public in trying to move around in the region.

“You have people wanting to go to Barbados whether for surgery or to the Embassy and they’re paying $1,800 or more,” he said.

He also cited an issue with a party of six people who wanted to move from Trinidad to Grenada and had to pay $2,200 each.

He said the passengers had to travel on British Airways from Port-of-Spain to St. Lucia, overnight there and the next day get on British Airways that came down from London en route to MBIA, and that was the only way they got seats which highlighted the serious connectivity problem within the region.

The official felt that Grenada has been placed in this embarrassing situation due to a lack of discussions with the airlines over their fares to the destination.

He pointed towards “a definite lack of promotion and trying to encourage airlines to increase” their flight in this busy period by those in charge of the industry including government, the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) and the Airlift Committee.

He said it is now too late to engage in this kind of discussion with the major airlines given the way the industry operates.

“You can’t call up on Monday and say can you put on a flight for next week- you need to be working on this six months ahead. They would have known – the Tourist Board would have known, Airlift Committee would have known but it is a s…tshow – you have people in committee that are just attending meetings with the little subventions that they get whether it is $400-$500 that they get and don‘t know the a… from the head and they need to change that”.

The official called for the newly elected Dickon Mitchell-led Congress government to address the issue in order to bring about a better organised tourism sector in Grenada.

He lamented the fact that the same set of people have been on the Airlift Committee for years and it is time for change in personnel to take place as “they just prodding along relentlessly”.

He said the new administration needs to take decisive action and make a change in the way the tourism industry is going forward and move away from “the same old players”.

“You have people from Nawasa on the board, a taxi driver, a person in insurance who doesn’t know anything about the airline industry – it’s a laughing stock.”

The official stressed that the only thing that seems to change in the airline industry in Grenada in recent times is the ministers and their portfolios, but it is the “same ole, same ole” that remains in place to run the sector.

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