By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamasair’s top executive yesterday revealed more than 1,800 passengers were impacted by Sunday’s flight attendant sickout as he voiced optimism that the airline’s reputation will not suffer long-term damage.
Tracy Cooper, the national flag carrier’s managing director, told Tribune Business that operations had returned to normal with extra flights scheduled to accommodate travellers who were stranded by the industrial action.
Expressing hope that such incidents will be “mitigated and prevented” in the future, he added that the airline was “very close” to concluding the industrial agreement with the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU) that was believed to have sparked the sickout that crippled Sunday afternoon services.
“There were in total over 1,800 travellers there both ways” that were affected by Bahamasair having to cancel all scheduled and international flights during that period, Mr Cooper confirmed yesterday. Asked whether the strike had inflicted permanent damage on the national flag carrier’s reputation, he told this newspaper: “I don’t think so.
“I think the Bahamian people and travelling public understand Bahamasair’s track record and recognise this is something that does not happen every day... Hopefully there will not be any further disruptions from here, and customers can expect we’ll get back to regular quality service from here.”
Mr Cooper conceded that Bahamasair, which is due to receive $32m in taxpayer subsidies during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, will take a financial hit as a result of the flight cancellations but said it was impossible to quantify the extent just yet. Many passengers flew with other airlines on Sunday afternoon in a bid to ensure they reached their destinations.
“I don’t know how many were placed,” the Bahamasair chief said. “We had to put up passengers at all of the stops. There will be a financial impact at the end of the day. Some people would have gone out and they have their own arrangements. It’s going to take a while for us to tabulate all the impact.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’ve had regular operations today. Everything was fine. We were able to adjust the schedule by adding a flight or two, and were able to accommodate all parties affected yesterday. Hopefully we’ll have..... how do I put it, a situation where all of the parties understand what these impacts are and we can mitigate and prevent them in the future.”
Mr Cooper said union executives indicated Sunday’s sickout was related to the industrial agreement that it is negotiating with Bahamasair, although Gladstone Adderley, the AAAWU’s president, again did not respond to calls and messages from this newspaper seeking comment.
“There were two items remaining they were looking at,” Mr Cooper said of the talks. “One of them being the pay structure, and the just had to do with insurance. We were able to come to an understanding on the pay adjustment, and the issue to do with the insurance just requires some industry input to the fact we need to talk to industry partners to make sure we understand and get the best situation in hand as far as the insurance.”
Bahamasair on Sunday hit out at the “unwarranted sickout” by 80 percent of rostered flight attendants. The “unforeseen” industrial action sparked long lines of frustrated passengers at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) after it was forced to cancel outbound flights from Nassau to key Florida destinations including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
One Bahamian airline industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly, said on Sunday of the situation: “This is an action on the part of the stewardesses. The stewardesses themselves have taken action, and the union is trying to get them back in.
“They’re getting some assistance from the domestic operators to complete their flights. I don’t know what triggered the stewardesses’ action. Up until yesterday [Saturday’ everything was running normally. The fact they’ve had to call on the domestic operators is a good indication that they’ve been crippled.”
Besides the three Florida destinations, Bahamasair was also forced to cancel flights to Freeport, Marsh Harbour and Rock Sound/Georgetown. Passengers on incoming Bahamasair flights also spoke of delays. However, the national flag carrier, in a statement issued yesterday, said its discussions with the AAAWU “should prevent such actions from reoccurring”.
The statement, signed by Mr Cooper, apologised to impacted passengers for the disruption. It said travellers were alerted by e-mail or text message as to which flight they had been rebooked on if this was not dealt with by airport agents on Sunday. No penalties were charged.
The sickout, though, was not what is desired a tourism industry and wider economy still rebounding from COVID-19. And Bahamasair’s $32m in taxpayer subsidies for this fiscal year is in addition to the $108m-plus handed out over the previous two for $140m in three years.
Airports, and the departing flight, are the final impressions of a destination for stopover visitors and this will not have been a particularly good one for those caught in the turmoil. The action was also ill-timed given that Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister and minister of tourism, investments and aviation, and his team were last week in New York on a major tourism promotional push following a previous one earlier last month on Florida.