~ 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.