Its never been about money


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Category: Reflections 08 Oct 06


This is the last of a four-part requiem to BWIA, the flailing 66-year-old national airline. I start with two comments from readers:


“This was a soulless act, one in which our children will suffer the consequences for a long time to come.


“It is ironic that we chose to close down the national airline in what is described as one of the richest times in the history of our country.”


BWIA employee


“BWIA’s CEO, Peter Davies, must have known for some time of the airline’s impending closure. My question is, knowing the end was near, why did he sign a US$20 million advertising contract with a British firm (Cagney plc) in June?


“Now he is talking about marketing the new Caribbean Airline aggressively. It seems to me that he is working for these advertising companies.


“And why should Caribbean Airline be any better than BWIA?”


Concerned Citizen


Finally, a first person response from Dionne Ligoure, head of corporate communications at BWIA.


“Negotiations with unions came to a close September 26, and some 1,800 BWIA employees started signing up for their VSEP packages from October 1.


“I have grown up in BWIA and feel a real closeness with my co-workers. It’s as if we speak a common language and share a bond that people looking on the outside don’t understand.


“Every time we see a plane in the sky, we know someone’s mother, husband, child, or wife is in there. Planes don’t fly themselves.


“Somebody is loading baggage, checking them in, doing safety checks, flying the plane.


No glamour


“The airline business is seen as glamorous, but there is little glamour when you get a call at two in the morning saying: ‘There is a disruption, and you need to be here now.’


“If you work here, there are chances you will miss your anniversary.


“You may miss your child’s graduation; you walk out of a major argument with your spouse because you need to get a flight off the ground.


“If you call in sick, you might jeopardise a flight involving hundreds of passengers, so you get yourself to work, no matter how you feel.


“In 2004, when we had a problem with baggage-handlers, when we were flying planes without bags, our airport manager was in the cold, in the snow in New York loading bags.


“I and many other employees spent Christmas morning in 2004 in Piarco away from our families. It was a bad, bad time.


“Employees were getting cursed. For many of us, it’s never been about the money. It’s about the passion of being in this business.


“We all operate with the built-in dysfunction of this business and get on with it. That’s our bond.


“What CAL will have that BWIA never had (with its antiquated systems) is a positive balance sheet, with equity rather than loans, which will allow it to improve technology, set up modern-day systems.


“The fleet will be smaller; the Washington route discontinued. CAL will fly to New York, Miami, Toronto, London and current Caribbean routes. There is value in the BWIA brand.


“With respect to safety, CAL will be held to the same exacting and high standards with stringent built-in checks and balances.


“Everybody is free to apply to CAL, which will employ some 500 workers.


“The British firm Cagney Plc was initially contracted to do a BWIA revamp, but will now market CAL.


“My major concern is that this first lady of the Caribbean is put to rest with dignity, and those who have served her well will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur