ST JOHN’S, Antigua – LIAT returned to the skies Thursday after some of the pilots who staged a two-day sickout reported for work.
The pilots were standing in solidarity with Chairman of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) Chairman Captain Michael Blackburn, who was terminated on Monday.
The company said the outspoken senior pilot had irreparably damaged the employer-employee relationship with his public comments about the airline’s safety record among other matters deemed vexing.
The resumption of service was anything but smooth sailing though with LIAT Chief Executive Officer Brian Challenger putting passengers on notice that it would take a minimum of two days for normality to return to the schedule.
Reports indicate the passengers’ frustration remained at a high across the region as travellers stranded since Tuesday had to queue up, in some instances, behind those booked to travel yesterday.
LIAT said that 50 per cent of the flights scheduled to leave Antigua took off.
Meanwhile, media reports out of Barbados and Dominica provided a snapshot into some of the chaos caused by the protest action.
Ticketing agents at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados had to call police to keep order. Irate travellers in Dominica were equally boisterous as they vied for the limited seats.
Passenger dislocation and catching up with the schedule were not the only kinks remaining on Thursday.
Representatives of LIAT and LIALPA met for a marathon session mediated by Minister of Labour Dr Errol Cort.
Sources told OBSERVER there was no agreement reached and the session will resume on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) weighed in on Blackburn’s termination, calling it absurd and unacceptable.
The TUC said LIAT’s management violated “decent labour relations process” and assured LIALPA of “unequivocal support.”
Whereas the TUC’s support was solid, there were signs that the membership of the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) was on less certain ground.
A source told OBSERVER that at a meeting on Wednesday night, while some people were staunch in support, others wanted to know what would happen if Blackburn is reinstated.
The source said the ABWU decided it would continue to press on with the issues directly impacting its membership.
Meanwhile, reports also surfaced yesterday of a cold front between LIALPA and the Leeward Islands Flight Attendants Association (LIFAA) after the later declined to join the two-day protest.
Another twist in the salvo came from Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Speaking on OBSERVER AM yesterday, he expressed the desire to liquidate LIAT and move to another iteration, LIAT 2012, with additional shareholders.
Gonsalves specifically mentioned Dominica and St Lucia, saying he was aware that the leaders of those countries are keen to invest in the regional airline.
In addition to St Vincent, the other shareholder governments are Antigua & Barbuda and Barbados.