By Gregor Nassief
Re: Heads must roll
I respectfully ask you, on behalf of the people of the Caribbean, and the people that visit the Caribbean, and especially on behalf of the people of Dominica who depend on LIAT for their travel and also for their tourism industry, to enforce significant change in the executive ranks at LIAT.
This request is being made first because of 8+ weeks of disastrous customer service which continues to this day due to lack of foresight and planning on the part of LIAT’s executives, and second because of LIAT’s disastrous public relations which has revealed the depth of your executives’ indifference to your customers.
It is your duty to hold your executives accountable for their actions and performance.
There has been a complete breakdown in service for over 2 months now, which I and most persons traveling LIAT have experienced. Here is a list of incidents:
20+ incidents in less than 8 weeks related to one island and connected to one person (the affected passengers include me and those known to me). And none of these are related to Tropical Storm Chantal or bad weather.
LIAT introduced the new ATR aircraft in early July. Your executives were well aware that pilots operating the new ATRs could not also operate the Dash 8. LIAT also knew that before the ATRs began operating, pilots would have to be taken off line for training. LIAT also returned Dash 8s that were on lease before the ATRs were operational. LIAT went into their peak summer season with the implementation of new aircraft and with the full knowledge of what they were doing and of the risks involved. There were no contingency plans, and everything fell apart. The result is too few pilots and too few aircraft to adequately meet the demand and cover the routes. The results have been a disaster for the region, and especially for Dominica (68 percent of our arrivals by air are on LIAT).
The inability to properly plan such a major event and to put the airline and its employees and especially its customers through such chaos, further damaging the reputation of LIAT and that of the tourism industry which it serves is, in to my mind, gross negligence. Who pays for the damage done to each customer, and for the damage to Dominica and its tourism industry, and to the region? Who is accountable?
Do you believe a visitor traveling to the region for a hard-earned vacation can separate LIAT’s disastrous service from the rest of their experience? Do think they will return or encourage others to come?
So many that work so hard to bring visitors to our region and to our island cannot and should not continue to the pay the price for the incompetence and actions of your executives.
Disastrous Public Relations
Your CEO has gone on record only once, as far I can see, explaining the crisis as follows: “an increase in unscheduled maintenance at a time when our schedule calls for maximum aircraft availability; crew shortages; bad weather; airport limitations; and delays in obtaining licences for operating our new ATR aircraft in some territories.”
Your Chairman has focused on maintenance issues with the old Dash 8s being the heart of the problem.
This is only part of the truth – poor planning and implementation is the crux of the matter. It is a great disservice to your ultimate shareholders – the people of the Caribbean – to not deal with the crisis truthfully and clearly and to ensure swift correction action. Who is accountable?
In the most baffling public relations event that I have ever witnessed, your Chief Commercial Officer responded via a YouTube video to a customer complaint letter which was publicized by Richard Branson. Your executive said that “LIAT is second only to Virgin to receive the funniest complaint letter every written” and challenged Branson to a race to Necker Island saying that “the loser can wipe the other airline’s tail” or Branson can dress up as a flight attendant for LIAT.
This is your top marketing, commercial and PR executive, the face of your organization, the depth of your indifference to what customers suffer, and for me, the lowest point in my perception of what LIAT stands for. Who is accountable?
Your customer-facing staff, who through this crisis have had to work incredible hours and deal with an unimaginable number of irate clients, are clueless as to what is happening operationally on a day to day basis. They are typically unable to answer customer questions as to when or if a scheduled flight will arrive or depart.
Your customer-facing staff are your public relations link to your clients and are your best hope of lifting clients up in their moments of despair, yet your executives give them no information and no tools to manager your most important asset – your customers – through this crisis. Who is accountable?
A friend once said to me that the secret to a stress-free life is simply to lower your expectations, that way you are never disappointed. I didn’t have to lower them, LIAT’s service to me and several people connected to me, did that for me. LIAT did it consistently, dependably and ruthlessly. Through a crisis like this, LIAT could have recovered at least to some extent the understanding and trust of its customers, through clear, honest and appropriate communication and public relations, followed with decisive action, all of which would have demonstrated that LIAT cares, that you care.
But do you care? Do you care about LIAT’s customers who get on and off its planes every day? Do you care about the disruption to their personal and professional lives caused by LIAT’s incompetence and indifference? Do you care about the damage LIAT’s poor service and reputation does to the fragile economies of island states like Dominica so dependent on tourism and the airline’s service? Do you care that your customers are not getting what they pay for? Do you care that your customers do not travel LIAT by choice, but because they have no other choice? Caring for your customers is the first step and the raison d’être — the reason for existence — of a business.
It is time to care. It is time for change. Heads must roll.
Gregor Nassief is the owner and director of the Secret Bay resort in Dominica and the executive chairman of the Fort Young Hotel in Dominica.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.