Tuesday, Jul 29th

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Higher-priced flight option offered for cancelled charter

~ No more tickets for Let's Travel charter to Guyana ~

PHILIPSBURG--Frustrated customers who booked a direct-to-Guyana charter flight leaving June 23 through Let's Travel (LT) will either have to cancel their trips or pay around fifty to 100 per cent more through the same agency for an alternative travel option which includes date-and-time changes and the use of a commercial flight.

They had booked more than a month ago and the news came to them two days before their scheduled departure.

LT Chief Executive Officer Terrance Rey said the charges must be passed on, because the charter company had failed to finalise paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities who he said were "dragging their feet."

However, two customers who came forward who represent four passenger tickets (plus an infant) said they had been assured by LT agents that if anything were to go wrong, they still would be put through without additional charges.

One passenger in particular, who plans to meet his girlfriend and infant child in Guyana at a later date, had booked the two on a one-way Caribbean Airlines (CA) flight for US $380. However, he cancelled the booking in favour of the LT deal which was cheaper at $257 for a return flight and would land in Georgetown in the afternoon rather than very late at night. The direct flight also would have taken just two hours, so it seemed a logical choice.

He said LT now was charging him $258 more for the alternative option for his girlfriend and child, which would cover a commercial flight from Trinidad to Guyana. His choices are to pay this, take a full refund, or organise another option between Trinidad and Guyana. He now reflects that friends warned him that cheaper is not always better, and may cancel his own ticket set for next month.

The family is heading to Guyana for personal obligations rather than a holiday, so he said he needed to make the trip no matter what. However, he said he refused to pay for the company being unprepared. "They emphasised they were going to take care of everybody in case they were not sorted out properly," he said.

LT purportedly told him and another customer who contacted the media not to worry, because it would transport them for the same price, even if they needed to use another airline. "Now suddenly they say no, you have to pay the money," he said.

This promise allegedly was being upheld for other customers who already had paid, as the company stopped issuing tickets.

Another passenger who planned to use the service to go on holiday with his son paid $764 for the two direct tickets and now will have to pay $352 more for the same alternative arrangements. "I can take my money back, but it leaves me with no options. If I had known earlier I could have made other plans," he said. He has yet to decide what to do. "It's really not fair that they are honouring the agreements with other passengers, but I have to pay out of pocket," he added.

He said LT had told him first that he only could go and come back a day late, but then they said it could be only to Trinidad. In an invited comment, he said that even if there were any sort of legal loophole for charters, they should tell you if there might be a change in price or date.

Documentation presented to The Daily Herald showed no fine print and the rules could not be found on the company's Websites.

He said he had heard from other members of the Guyanese community that they had booked the same direct flights, but had been diverted through Aruba, Curaçao and Anguilla.

Similarly, another flight was turned back earlier this month because landing permits had been requested within less than 48 hours, a requirement that management said had not been made clear at the time.

The two who came forward travel to Guyana regularly and said they normally paid less than $500 for a return with commercial airlines. A SkyScanner search last night showed the cheapest tickets for the same date – obviously a bad last minute option – as more than $1,000.

Rey responded that his hands were tied and that he was being realistic with the cost, as he could not absorb them as a tour operator. He said it was up to the Jamaica-based charter company to handle all paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities and that he had no control over it. "They are still busy with formalities. Authorities want to dot their I's and cross their T's," he said. His company simply markets and sells the product.

He said LT had decided to stop issuing the tickets until paperwork was sorted out, adding that he had turned away four groups recently because the direct flights could not be offered. He said "no more promises" would be made to people and added in an invited comment that there would be no more marketing of the flights. He denied that anyone had been treated unfairly.

He also said the charter was in high demand because of the unavailability of commercial flights, which he said had been an issue for months. The direct flight therefore would have been a solution for a lot of people. "Flights are full," he said.

He added that although the flight had to be cancelled, the company offered the alternative of going through Trinidad as a separate option. The charter has no issues with Trinidad because of an Open Sky agreement. If customers do not wish to use the service, he said they were "simply offered a refund." Customers wishing to cancel can do so without penalties.

Another passenger who also had hoped for a direct flight between St. Maarten and Guyana ended up passing through the British Virgin Islands and Aruba to go there. He said that after the scheduled Caribbean Airlines flight to Trinidad on the way back, the charter plane had had to touch down in Anguilla unexpectedly, albeit briefly, before reaching St. Maarten.

He said that although he was "willing to go with the tide," he thought that it had been handled terribly, especially after a departure tax and taxi transfer between the commercial and charter sections had to be paid separately in Trinidad and the group had waited for more than two hours in the St. Maarten baggage claim area. In St. Maarten, he said, he called his Let's Travel agent, who hung up on him after he became frustrated and requested an explanation for the overly-long wait.

Neither a St. Maarten Aviation Department legal advisor nor a specialist lawyer could be reached for comment up to press time. It is therefore unclear as to whether Let's Travel acted against the law by selling tickets before paperwork was finalised and whether it legally could charge for offering a more expensive alternative two days before departure, even if it were explained as a cancellation and different offer.

The American Society of Travel Agents explains that charters can change itineraries or prices and can cancel for any reason up to 10 days before departure, but must offer customers a penalty-free refund. Cancelling within 10 days can be done only if it is physically impossible to operate the aircraft. This provides some context, although it may not be legally binding in a local setting.

Armed robbery in Cole Bay, Caribbean Cash targeted

COLE BAY--Another armed robbery took place in Cole Bay yesterday afternoon, around 1:00pm as the Caribbean Cash lending agency on Welfare Road became a victim of armed robbers.

Two men entered the office, at least one of whom carried a firearm. The men were not wearing masks. They went to the cashier where one of the men pointed a gun at him and demanded money.

The cashier responded that he had no access to money, to which the second robber said "kill him." The cashier then offered the robbers the small change which he had access to. The robbers took the cash before hitting the cashier and making good their escape.

The manager of the office confirmed the incident. "The Caribbean Cash office at Cole Bay was robbed by two individuals. They only managed to take with them some small change and were unable to take any actual cash," he said.

"The Caribbean Cash Vaults systems can only be controlled remotely from corporate offices in the US. No employees whatsoever on the island(s) have access to the cash inside the vaults which makes it impossible to get access to any cash from the offices from Caribbean Cash."

Police officers and detectives attended the scene to take reports and gather evidence. Two men were arrested on suspicion of the robbery around an hour after the offence took place, as they matched the description given, behaved suspiciously and could not identify themselves.

Police spokesman Inspector Ricardo Henson confirmed that the robbery had taken place, however, he said that it had been established the two men arrested were not responsible for the robbery. They were still being processed at the police station as they had no ID.

Henson confirmed that the Police are continuing their investigation and will do their utmost to bring those responsible to justice. Anyone who has seen anything, or who has noticed anyone behaving suspiciously in the area is requested to report to the Police station.

Man drives vehicle at police officers

SUCKER GARDEN--Four men were arrested for three different offences at Pendant Cactus Drive in Sucker Garden. Officers were sent to the location around 3:30am on Monday, July 21, to investigate a break-in at an apartment building on the road.

In the immediate area, officers noticed a man that fit the description of the suspect that had been given. The man was questioned by police and he admitted that he had committed the act. The suspect A.R. (29) was arrested on the spot and he was taken to the location where the break-in was reported.

At the location, investigating officers located the apartment the suspect had broken into. During the investigation, the officers noticed the scent of marijuana coming from another apartment. When one of the officers looked into that apartment, a man was seen standing in the bedroom with a gun in his hand.

The man was immediately ordered outside, and complied. He denied having a gun in his possession and refused to let the officers search his room. Subsequently, his home was searched by police after obtaining a search warrant.

During the search, a loaded 9mm glock pistol was found under the mattress of his bed. The weapon was confiscated by the Forensic Department for further investigation. Two brothers R.A. (25) and S.J.A. (27) were arrested in connection with the possession of a firearm.

While the arrest was taking place, the officers saw a white Hyundai Accent driving onto the premises at a very high speed. The driver drove this car at two of the officers, causing them to have to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by the car.

The driver of the car J.J.A. (40) was the brother of the two other suspects. He was also arrested for making threats to kill the officers and their families. All suspects remain in custody for further investigation.

Chance-Duzant: ‘Bring back the historical values of Grand Case’

GRAND CASE--Grand Case District Council representative Patricia Chance-Duzant threw caution to the wind and laid out in no uncertain terms her vision for Grand Case during the official Victor Schoelcher Fête ceremonies on Monday.

She began her address by encouraging the Collectivité to get English recognised, not only for bilingual education, but as a regional language included in the United Nations charter on regional languages, noting that a French newspaper is hard to come by in Grand Case as most people read The Daily Herald.

The often outspoken lawyer said she gets goose bumps when she realises the valuable heritage that Grand Case has and which is taking so long to be recognised.

She pointed to a large 1976 original Roland Richardson etching behind her on the podium. "I want the bridge built back; we want the bridge built back. What are you showing our children from our heritage? Are you going to continue catering to investors who are modernising when there are other countries doing more modernising that we could ever deal with?

"The history of Grand Case should be sold. Put back the old bridge, the railings and I guarantee they [tourists – Ed.] will leave the dock in Philipsburg to see this. They are on vacation; they want to see something distinctive, different.

"I want the ravines finished; I want every house in Grand Case to have a heritage plaque attached to it with a little history. Why are we not promoting Grand Case as 'Old Grand Case,' like Old San Juan? Every city has an ancient sector. The island will profit from it if we take a historical image of our country. And it gives the children something that they can be proud of. All the rest they can get on TV, but not this. This is us."

Describing Victor Schoelcher as a revolutionary for his stand against slavery, she called for "an army of revolutionaries" to put Grand Case back into its proper context.

Subjects she touched on also included the bay of Marigot project, water and drainage issues, and noise levels in Grand Case.

Other speakers included President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson, Member of Parliament Daniel Gibbs and Préfet Philippe Chopin.

In her remarks, Aline Hanson disclosed the first phase of rehabilitating the bridge had indeed started and other projects are ongoing, such as work on the lagoon to prevent flooding. She praised the restaurants of Grand Case for making the village the envied gourmet capital of the Caribbean.

She acknowledged that Internet in Grand Case was not at the standard it should be, but is being worked on. The Benjamin family, for their work behind the success of the Gunslingers, and music teacher Paul Emmanuel were individuals also singled out for producing an array of youth talent.

Fighting delinquency is a priority she added, noting the police station in Grand Case will reopen and the presence of Gendarmes will be increased. With regard to the Cultural Centre, she said there are two studies being pursued – one to demolish and rebuild, and one to renovate.

She said she was full of expectation for the Cité Scolaire in La Savane to raise the overall level of education.

"The Collectivité gives out over half a million euros per year on scholarships from Fonds Social Europeene [FSE – Ed.] so we are committed to education."

Earlier elected officials, including former Mayor Albert Fleming, attended a religious service in the Catholic Church before walking back to the head of the boulevard to watch a somewhat-diminished parade, just two troupes led by the Scouts and Guides of St. Martin.

Traditional boat races, games and cultural activities, and live music were on the programme for the rest of the day.

Carnival shimmers through sweltering Rotterdam heat

page10c053ROTTERDAM--Dutch port city Rotterdam has enjoyed a sizzling Summer Carnival. A mile-long procession of 41 floats and carnival troupes paraded for hours through the sweltering city centre on Saturday.

Small Islands United (SIU), consisting of revellers from the Windward Islands St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba, including stilt walkers Kim Verschueren, Maike van 't Laar and Eric Scott from St. Maarten also participated in the parade.

The atmosphere at the 30th edition of the parade was good. Despite the tropical temperatures of up to 34.6 degrees Celsius, there was plenty of partying and dancing going on, in parade as well as among the audience on the sidewalks. Young and old enjoyed the beautifully dressed carnival groups.

Parade organizers Rotterdam Unlimited advised parade participants and the audience to drink lots of water. Still, some people were affected by the heat.

By the end of the parade more than 100 people had reported to the various first aid posts, mainly because of overheating. Ten persons had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment.

At the start of the parade on Blaak Avenue, a moment of silence was held for the 193 Dutch nationals who were killed in the airplane disaster in Ukraine.

The Police said the street parade went by smoothly. Twenty persons were arrested during the day for various offences, including public drunkenness and possession of firearms. A total of 192 persons were searched preventively, Police said. A quantity of drugs and four knives were found in these searches.

The party continued in Rotterdam on Sunday, with numerous musical performances scattered throughout the city. Summer Carnival 2014 was closed off at Hofplein square with a free concert of world famous band Kool and the Gang.

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