This is a Finnish blog but this article will be in English to inform anyone planning to book a flight with Caribbean Airlines.
After a lengthy trip a traveller would expect a smooth ride home. After any trip anyone would expect a ride home after booking and paying for an airline ticket. Our group of six spent February touring around South America. All of us were very experienced travellers in all continents (but Antarctica) so we know how these things work – and how they don’t work.
We took the Caribbean Airlines flight BW 522 from Georgetown (Guyana) having a stopover of one hour in Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago) to New York. Caribbean Airlines is a Trinidad & Tobago based company with a slogan ”warmth of the islands”. In their planes they show over and over again films bragging how they use ”cutting edge technology”. So there wouldn’t be anything to stop us getting to New York in time, would there?
Well, the 25th of Feb 2011 we woke up early in Georgetown and took a taxi to Cheddi Jagan airport. As expected we got to Port of Spain (Piarco Airport, the main hub in Trinidad and Tobago). There we were told to get off the plane and were given the forms to be filled to get to Trinidad and Tobago. At the same time we were issued new boarding passes with new flight time (2.30 pm), so we would spend six hours in Port of Spain – and therefore we would miss our connecting flight to Finland in New York. All this happened without anyone informing us anything, by chance we saw the new boarding time (as people tend to look at their boarding passes). We had planned our schedule to have ample time at JFK to make to our connecting flight back home.
After inquiring the reason for the delay we were told that there was ”bad weather in New York”. Of course we went to Caribbean Airlines desk and asked to reroute us to our final destination. The person in the desk simply refused and told us to buy new tickets. New tickets -really? We already bought a ticket. The supervisor of the desk officer refused to show up and talk about the situation. Well, our only option was to fly to New York since getting a new ticket home would be cheaper there than in Trinidad. So into the plane we went. During the flight I spoke to a Frenchman who had already booked – and paid – another ticket because he was missing some business meetings.
We arrived late that night to JFK and spent considerable hours at the Caribbean Airlines desk to arrange us an accommodation that evening, which they did reluctantly after explaining that we would not be entitled to anything. According to Caribbean Airlines the reason for the delay was an ”Act of God”. It didn’t take long for us to find out that no else – and I repeat – not even one – other airline had cancelled nor delayed their flights to JFK New York that day. We arrived at our hotel 11 pm that night. The Caribbean Airlines officer told us that he reserved (whatever that means) us seats next day for the Finnair flight.
We were wondering what was the real reason to delay our flight in Port of Spain. Would it be that they combined two flights together to get one full plane? Bad weather was only a convenient excuse to leave their passengers with connecting flights stranded in New York.
Next morning we found out that Finnair didn’t know anything about our ”reservation”. We returned to JFK and queued again to the desk of Caribbean Airlines. One of our group had called to his lawyer who advised us to maintain our claim to reroute us. After lengthy negotiations Caribbean Airlines wrote a Flight Interruption Manifest addressed to Finnair (after presenting this FIM form we would be taken to Finnair flight on the expense of Caribbean Airlines).
This FIM form must be filled to a specific airline and to a specific flight – and as a matter of fact – the airline company issuing the form must do the research for free seats and make the reservation. As we soon found out – in terminal eight at JFK – the Finnair flight of the day was fully booked (actually it was overbooked), so we had to return to terminal four and again queue to the Caribbean Airlines desk. They refused to find out how we could fly back home, so we had to make several phone calls to Finland (after spending hours at our hotel’s computers to find out about possible flights) and find out how we could get out the United States.
Eventually we discovered that Lufthansa would have free seats for our group to Frankfurt and further on to Helsinki from Germany. So I went to terminal one to Lufthansa desk to negotiate with them, at the same time Harry and Kaj were in terminal four queuing and arguing with Caribbean Airlines and the rest of our group was in terminal eight with all of our luggage to wait for a solution. Time was running short. Without any help whatsoever from Caribbean Airlines we personally had to find out which airline had seats for us all.
Harry and Kaj were given another FIM form with which we went to terminal one and to Lufthansa desk. They told us that we must have another FIM for our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki. So back they went to queue one more time to Caribbean Airlines. We got another FIM for our connecting flight. Lufthansa checked the form and told us that a stamp is missing. So back we went to terminal four and queued one more time to Caribbean Airlines desk to get the goddamned stamp. After that we returned again to terminal one and finally were given boarding passes all the way to Finland. All this took five hours. To be clear – we don’t want to blame Lufthansa for any part of this, they did more than expected after forgetting that Caribbean Airlines should make the reservation. The ”cutting edge technology” computers of Caribbean Airlines were not able to do this, as they claimed.
Of course at home we wanted to keep on the discussion with Caribbean Airlines. Stacy Suttle from Caribbean Airlines (Customer Relations) answered and claimed that our Finnair flight was not on the same ticket with our flight from Georgetown to New York. This is their excuse for refusing to reroute us on their expenses. We discussed further with our Finnish travel agent who sold the tickets to us and learned that Caribbean Airlines refuses Finnair among many other companies to be written on the same ticket. Our tickets were issued through the American Galileo system (equivalent to European Amadeus system) with one single code (called PNR) which is visible to every flight carrier. Every airline company has it’s own reservation code under this PNR and it is visible to every one else too (especially for an airline company with ”cutting edge technology”).
Conclusion: it is not possible to write Caribbean Airlines booking to the same ticket with many companies – but it’s only due to the policy of BWI (Caribbean Airlines) itself. And it’s a common practice to reroute the passengers in any case. But in our case – our trip of more than three weeks ended up as a nightmare because of Caribbean Airlines. And the major point – they used bad weather as an excuse (it was only a lie) to escape their responsibilities to their passengers. Their second excuse was that our connecting flight was not written on the same ticket.
I don’t think anyone of our group will ever book a flight with Caribbean Airlines and I strongly advise against anyone to do so. We didn’t see how their slogan ”the warmth of the islands” would be true. Unless they are an airline from hell.