LIAT receives pledge of more funds to replenish fleet; Dominican hotelier feels too little & too late

Dominica hotelier Gregor Nassief has issued an open letter to the Board of Directors of regional airlines LIAT calling for an executive shake-up, insisting that “heads must roll.” The letter complains of disastrous customer service over the past two months as well as disastrous public relations and the damage this is causing to the region and to fragile economies of island states like Dominica so dependent on tourism and the airline’s service. The public complaint is enclosed for publication.

  • August 12, 2013

Board of Directors
LIAT (1974) LTD
V.C. Bird International Airport
P O Box 819

Dear Directors:

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.

Disastrous Service

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:

DateFlight NumberFirst nameIncident
Aug 11509, SXM to DOMSandra & familyFlight cancelled
Aug 11364, BGI to DOMJohanLeft 4+ hours late
Aug 11523, DOM to BGIJanetLeft 2+ hours late
Aug 8310, POS to DOMGregorLeft 55 minutes late
Aug 7726, POS to DOMDennis & familyLeft 2+ hours late and family had to overnight in BGI before getting to DOM the following day
Aug 7590, DOM to POSGregorLeft 2+ hours late, arrived just before 2 AM
Aug 4565, SJU to DOMJohn & SusanFlight cancelled, arrived on the 6th
Aug 4565, SJU to DOMMelissaFlight cancelled, arrived on the 6th
Aug 4523, BGI to DOMJackArrived 11 hours late
Aug 3310, DOM to SXMMoniqueArrived 11 hours late, missed connecting flight
Jul 23362, DOM to ANUShane & AdamArrived 8 hours late, missed connecting flight to London
Jul 23364,  BGI to DOMGary & familyArrived to Dominica 8 hours late
Jul 23704, POS to DOMGregorArrived 4 hours late
Jul 19362, DOM to SLUAnneLeft 8 hours late
Jul 15361, DOM to POSGregorLeft 2 hours late
Jul 13563, ANU to DOMJenny & BrettArrived 4 hours late
Jul 13563, ANU to DOMNick & wifeArrived 3 hours late
Jul 13563, ANU to DOMRobert & wifeArrived 3 hours late
Jul 20561, DOM to SJURobert & wifeLeft 4 hours late
Jun 21512,  GEO to DOMMahadeo, Rudolph, Tomesh, DoodnauthFlight cancelled for 3 successive days, arrived DOM on 24th
June 15509, SXM to DOMJustin, Mario & FitzroyFlight to DOM rerouted to ANU, 1stovernight in ANU, sent to SLU, 2ndovernight in SLU, arrive to Dominica on the 17th instead of 15th

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% 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?

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?

In Closing

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.

Respectfully Yours,

  • Gregor Nassief

Owner/Director – Secret Bay
Executive Chairman – Fort Young Hotel

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