Eastern Airlines abruptly suspends flights to Guyana
…Govt reassures bond in place to protect citizens
Less than a year after commencing flights to and from the United States, Eastern Airlines has abruptly suspended services to Guyana, leaving scores of passengers stranded.
On the airline’s website, several flights to and from Guyana, as well as other destinations, are listed as cancelled. These include flights initially scheduled for the remainder of February and up to March 23.
However, it was noted that the suspension is temporary.
“We are temporarily suspending Georgetown, Guyana flights until further notice,” the website stated.
However, according to the Public Works Ministry on Tuesday, the decision by the United States-based carrier to suspend its service to Guyana with immediate effect “is yet to be officially communicated to the Government of Guyana.”
In fact, officials from both the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) told Guyana Times on Tuesday that they were also unaware of the suspension.
Moreover, the Ministry pointed out that within the past few days, the GCAA has held several discussions with the company and during those discussions, there wes no mention of the suspension of flights to Georgetown.
Protection to passengers
On this note, Government is giving assurances of protection to the scores of passengers who have been left stranded as a result of the suspension.
“Notwithstanding, the Ministry of Public Works, Cheddi Jagan International Airport, and the Guyana Revenue Authority currently have bonds in place with Eastern Airlines to help protect passengers and State agencies,” the Ministry assured.
Eastern Airlines, which was re-branded from trouble-riddled Dynamic Airways, commenced flights between Guyana and New York on March 5, 2020, and was required to post a US$450,000 bond before starting operating here.
It was one of the few airlines that operated scheduled repatriation flights between Guyana and the United States to bring home Guyanese who were stranded abroad following the closure of Guyana’s borders after the COVID-19 outbreak here.
Eastern Airlines’ last flight operations were on Saturday, February 6 and their next scheduled flight was expected on Friday, February 12.
The airline operated four flights weekly in January 2021 but this was significantly reduced in the last two weeks, the Ministry noted.
No official word
In fact, Director General of the GCAA, Retired Lt Col Egbert Field indicated to this newspaper on Tuesday that there was “no official word” from Eastern Airlines as to the status of their operations, noting that no flights were cancelled since the last scheduled flight.
According to Field, the airline had reduced the frequency of its flights a few weeks back and seemed to have consolidated several recently scheduled flights last week into last Saturday’s flight.
“I know that those [passengers] were dropping because it is not only the low season but also the competition has picked up with American Airlines and JetBlue together with Caribbean Airlines in the market. So, I imagined Eastern Airlines has consolidated their flights. I’d be unable to say much more without any official communication from them,” Field related.
However, after local media reports of the suspension of its services on Tuesday, Eastern Airlines wrote the GCAA.
The airline said that the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the new travel restrictions implemented in the US last month caused forward bookings in the Guyana market to plummet.
“At the present time, Eastern Airlines is seeing more cancellations than confirmed bookings. Eastern Airlines regrets to inform you that we will be suspending service to Guyana for the next few months due to the ongoing pandemic and new travel restrictions in place. When travel restrictions are removed and air travel is able to begin, we will gladly consider re-starting our service,” the airline indicated to the Civil Aviation body.
In the meantime, Eastern Airlines said it is in the process of reviewing all liabilities and ensuring all its obligations have been met in Guyana, while assuring that “refunds for all impacted passengers are being processed.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in a statement on Tuesday called the airline’s behaviour “inconsiderate, callous and inhumane”.
The Opposition’s office pointed out that the affected passengers were given no notice by Eastern Airlines of this decision and several of them are now stranded in Guyana, unable to make their way back to the United States to return to their families and jobs.
Only in December, Eastern Airlines had promised to improve flight tracking mechanisms and communication with passengers after developing mechanical issues with its engine causing the aircraft to be grounded. This had resulted in a 14-hour delay affecting approximately 100 passengers and the expiration of the maximum number of hours for the flight crew.
The GCAA, in a subsequent statement, said the airline has committed to improving communications with passengers after recognising the frustration felt as a result of the extensive delays. (G8)