CAL not budging, despite CJIA 21-day ultimatum

Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) remains firm in its position not to flout TransportationCAL Security Administration (TSA) regulations, despite a 21-day ultimatum delivered by the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) regarding duty-free items purchased by outgoing passengers at Guyana’s main airport.

The CJIA threatened to terminate its agreement unless the carrier rectifies a situation where the passengers are forced to relinquish the duty-free items in Trinidad.

“Accordingly, take notice unless CAL remedies its aforesaid default and comply with the said notice of June 15, 2015 within 21 Days of this notice to remedy default, CJIAC will be at liberty to proceed to cancel the air carrier agreement under article 9.3 thereof,” the airport management’s said in a letter to the airline last week

The letter also highlighted that passengers, under CAL and CJIA security supervision, would be allowed to have their duty-free items secured in their checked luggage.

It was noted that before an agreement was made, numerous discussions were made involving local law enforcements, duty-free concessionaires and Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority, Caribbean Airline personnel and representatives.

But in a response, CAL, which has been flying to Georgetown since 2007, said that while Guyana remains an important destination and the airline remains committed to its Guyanese customers, it must comply with all regulatory directives of the sovereign states into which it operates, as do all other international airlines.

It pointed out that one such regulatory body is the TSA, which governs the security processes and conducts audits for all carriers flying into the United States of America.

The airline added that in light of screening rules which are in accordance with TSA measures being applied at any Last Point of Departure (LPD) to the United States, and a recent TSA audit, a restriction on the entry of transit duty free into the sterile holding areas of all transit airports has been imposed.

“Consequently, customers departing from Guyana or any other Caribbean destination with duty free items who are connecting on flights to the United States on any airline cannot enter the sterile holding area of any airport through which they transit en route to the United States,” the airline indicated.

The Trinidad-owned airline said that while it sought to balance its regulatory obligations with its customers’ desire to make duty-free purchases, this proved to be challenging as it resulted in items remaining unclaimed at the final destination, as well as damage to fragile items.

“Customer comfort and convenience are top priorities of Caribbean Airlines and we continue to collaborate with stakeholders, including the Civil Aviation and Airport authorities, to achieve a workable solution to ensure we remain compliant with the TSA regulations and provide quality service to our valued customers,” the statement added.

Last week David Patterson, the Guyanese Minister with responsibility for the aviation sector, explained the genesis of the controversy.

“The issue stems from duty free concessions. There has been a long-standing issue with Guyanese whereas when we travel to Trinidad, we deplane and go through the security checks in Trinidad. What is being implemented now is that when you go through, you’re asked to take out your baggage, and when you take out your baggage it will include the duty-free concessionaries from Guyana. Currently, the regulations are that you cannot carry anything over ten fluid ounces,” he related.

He explained that it became an issue of national interest after travellers complained that when they pass through security in Port of Spain, they are unable to carry their purchases from Guyana; particularly alcoholic beverages even though it is in compliance with the regulations. As such, these passengers lose their products at security after it is rejected during screening.

He went on to point out that even though similar issues arise at other airports, those airports usually make accommodations for these passengers.

Minister Patterson added that on several occasions, the CJIA approached the airline with several suggestions in attempts to resolve the conflict; however, these suggestions were ignored and the issue was left unresolved.

“What is being suggested is that Guyana, CJIA and Caribbean Airlines reach some form of accommodation that if you bought products in Guyana legally, verifiably and it comes in a sealed package, the airport would collect it from you and return it as you deplane at your final destination,” he explained..

This proposal, the minister revealed, was put to Caribbean Airlines and they attempted to implement it but in the end they refused to proceed.

“We do believe that Guyanese travellers have rights as well and we believe that what applies in any other airport and any other airline should apply to us. We do believe that we can have a resolution; unfortunately none has been reached so far,” the minister stated.

Minister Patterson pointed out that the decision to present CAL with an ultimatum was made after months of deliberations by CJIA’s board, as none of the proposals made by the airport were finding favour with CAL.

He further expressed hopes that CAL will seek to resolve the issue within the stipulated timeframe so as to avoid further conflicts.

In 2013, Guyana granted the Trinidad-based airline “flag carrier status” with CAL transporting over 350,000 passengers to and from Guyana annually.