Exploitative airline pandemic pricing

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Airline ticket. Photo courtesy of Torsten Dettlaff.

Just last March, Caribbean Airlines reported its reluctance to raise airfares for its customers but locally that promise never materialized. It has been reported that Caribbean Airlines had no immediate plans to raise its airfare, despite surging oil prices sparked by the Russia-Ukraine conflict which has prompted some other international air carriers to up their prices. Many international airlines like Delta Airlines reported that higher oil prices would lead to 10 per cent increase in fares on the airline’s domestic flights in the United States, with a higher increase expected on international trips.

Caribbean Airlines has, again, announced plans to increase its airfare. The increase in ticket prices for the Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) flight between Trinidad and Tobago will come into effect on 1 January. This is a devastating blow to the residents of Tobago who frequently fly to Trinidad for their much needed supplies of food, medicine and other pertinent necessities.

According to the announcement by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, the decision taken was in response to years of losses recorded by CAL in operating the domestic airbridge. He claimed this was an attempt to offset the higher cost of jet fuel and made comparisons with Asian airlines which have also introduced surcharges on their fares, as result of increased fuel costs. The concern here is the falsehood of information told earlier in the year about stabilizing prices only for a “reverse track” a few months later. This is really a middle finger to the people of Tobago who rely on the air bridge as their only lifeline to Trinidad for supplies.

The minister citied the price of oil being consistently high at over USD100 a barrel due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, and hitting USD140, the highest since 2008. Citizens better beware of the “pocket monster” taking away any spare change left from 2022 because come 2023 everything will increase even the very set international airfare for Caribbean Airlines and they know it. All that rhetoric of the carrier not having any immediate plans to raise its fares should be taken with a grain of salt.

Although subsidized by the government, the new domestic fare for flights between Trinidad and Tobago now stands at $300 return. Adults will pay $200 for every one-way flight. That is up from $150, which represents a 33.3 per cent increase and children one-way ticket fares will cost $150, up from $100 and the return fare will now be $300. This seems to me more like pandemic pricing since passenger traffic slowed dramatically during the pandemic and had a profound impact on the aviation industry. Airlines are scrambling to do damage control and the customers are the ones paying for it. The effects of the pandemic cascaded across airports, repair shops, and the entire supply chain. For example, in response to reduced demand, airlines parked or retired many aircraft, which reduced demand for maintenance. Believe it or not, all this downtime costs more money.

The airline has been gradually re-starting routes following the easing of restrictions and the re-opening of Trinidad and Tobago’s borders in July 2021.  In the past two weeks, CAL announced the resumption of service from Trinidad to Ft Lauderdale and Trinidad to Curacao, whilst in February the airline announced the commencement of a non-stop service between Houston, Texas, Trinidad and Guyana.

If CAL is owned by the people of Trinidad and Tobago, then why are the people of Tobago paying for it? Obviously, the people of Tobago pay more for imports from Trinidad, and for goods and services. So, if we’re not planning to build a connecting bridge from Tobago to Trinidad, then I suggest we do more to protect the pockets of our brothers and sisters in Tobago.

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York. 

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