Mr. Gregor Nassief
CaribPR Wire, PORSTMOUTH, Dominica, Mon. Aug. 19, 2013: Dominica hotelier, Gregor Nassief, has issued a second letter to LIAT, this time to the Chairman of LIAT’s Board of Directors, Mr. Jean Holder, calling for his resignation. The letter, titled ‘Blameless and Shameless,’ calls for accountability in “what is probably LIAT’s worst operational crisis in its 56 year history.” The letter calls on the Chairman to address the issues, and adds: “If you are unable to force the necessary executive changes at LIAT then you must step up to take responsibility for the current crisis.” The public complaint is enclosed for publication.
August 19, 2013
Mr. Jean Holder
Chairman of the Board of Directors
V.C. Bird International Airport
P O Box 819
Dear Mr. Holder:
Re: Blameless & Shameless
I attempted to reply to your last e-mail dated August 12th, but this time my reply was returned with the message “The following organization rejected your message: owa.liat.com.” As you have blocked my ability to communicate with you via e-mail, I will respond through this letter.
As a reference, I have attached our e-mail exchanges, including my rejected reply, which you never got. This is not to expose or ridicule you. In fact many may see wisdom in your points and arguments and come to your defense.
I, however, do not see wisdom, I see avoidance, apathy and a clinging to the notion that LIAT’s management is not in control of or responsible for what is probably LIAT’s worst operational crisis in its 56 year history. Worst is that you take comfort in an assumption that we are all better off with LIAT than without it, so we should effectively put up and shut up. That is, in essence, your attitude and your response. And despite your promise to reply to my letter “in some detail in the very near future,” to date you have addressed none of the issues raised.
Address the Issues, Please
I refer to my open letter dated August 11th titled ‘Heads Must Roll’ and ask the questions again:
Did LIAT appropriately plan for the fact that pilots had to be taken off line for ATR training?
Did LIAT appropriately plan for the fact that pilots trained on the ATRs could not fly Dash 8s?
Why did LIAT reduce its Dash 8 fleet before the ATRs were fully operational?
Why was such a high-stakes venture undertaken during the peak summer season?
Was there a contingency plan for things not going perfectly?
Your CEO, in what amounts to a letter of apology to LIAT customers, published in the Trinidad Guardian on August 16th, speaks of “severe weather conditions” and “airport limitations.” Amazingly, the letter ends with “we will be open and honest in communicating with you as we address your concerns.”
Let me ask a direct and open question to you and your CEO: Of the LIAT flights that have been delayed or cancelled since June 1st 2013 until today, please tell me what percent are due to “severe weather conditions” or “airport limitations?”
Another open question – and this one for the benefit of your ultimate shareholders, the taxpayers of the Caribbean: What has this crisis, since June 1st, cost LIAT in terms of having to pay for passenger overnights, food, ground transportation, chartered flights from several other Caribbean carriers to move passengers around, overtime hours, additional contracted crew and so forth?
And then there is of course the unimaginable economic cost to the region as a result of this disaster. Imagine a class action law suit where everyone claimed for lost time, missed connections and mental anguish. Imagine the tourism industry stakeholders of the various islands being part of the suit and claiming lost revenue?
A recent couple visiting Dominica for a vacation experience who suffered greatly at the hands of LIAT wrote us the following: “We truly enjoyed the island and we have been to many of the neighboring islands as well. Each has been a different and equally pleasant experience but we will not be back if LIAT is the airline we have to fly. The people of the Islands may not have a choice but we do and our choice will be to go somewhere where we are treated better by the airline and have a fighting chance of getting to our destinations reasonably on time.”
Multiply this by thousands and thousands. Do you begin to understand the damage and what is at stake?
Your CEO, the key decision maker at LIAT responsible for planning the Dash 8 to ATR transition, who has finally apologized but who has taken no direct responsibility for the planning and implementation errors that have occurred, continues to hold his position.
My letter of August 11th also outlined three incidents/areas where I believe LIAT’s public relations has been disastrous. Your only response to this has been: “I agree that in the circumstances our PR has not been as effective as it should be.” Your Commercial & Customer Experience Director, the depth of your indifference to what your customers are suffering, continues to hold her position.
If you are unable to force the necessary executive changes at LIAT then you must step up to take responsibility for the current crisis.
Napoleon once said: “To get power you need to display absolute pettiness; to exercise power, you need to show true greatness.” I ask you to put the pettiness aside, show true greatness, and resign. Resign because it is the honorable thing to do, resign because it will set an example of accountability to the sitting and future Directors and Executives, resign because the people of the Caribbean and the visitors to the Caribbean need to see that after the more than two months of suffering that LIAT has put them through that at least one person stands tall, takes the blame and feels the shame.
Let’s roll back the clock. It is June, 2013, and LIAT’s latest edition of Zing Magazine has just hit the back pockets of passenger seats. Your Commercial & Customer Experience Director opens the issue with: “We are looking forward to a fantastic summer of service. We hope you’ve realized by now that LIAT is about one thing: YOU! Yes, this year is the Year of the Customer and we want to make you feel special by giving you the service you deserve.”
How did we get from there, to here? Oh yes, right, “bad weather,” “airport limitations.”
It is time to care. It is time for change. Heads must roll.
Owner/Director – Secret Bay
Executive Chairman – Fort Young Hotel
ps: To the staff of LIAT.
A recent visitor wrote to us: “If the governments of the Island who own the airline required that senior management spend some time at the counters dealing with passengers it would at least give these managers a true incentive to improve because the issue stems from the top and not the lower level employees.”
The few moments of calm I experienced in my own tribulations over the last two months were given to me by a member of LIAT staff at the check-in counter in Dominica and an air stewardess on a flight from Trinidad. A caring attitude, a caring smile and clear communication. I thank them for this.
I appeal to LIAT’s staff not to fall temptation to work stoppages and strikes. You will simply be moving the victims – your customers, LIAT’s reason for existence – from the torture chamber to the electric chair. You will be joining your management in not caring. Instead, join the call for an executive shake-up at LIAT.
cc: LIAT Board of Directors
Prime Ministers of Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados and St Vincent & the Grenadines
=== EMAIL EXCHANGE BETWEEN DOMINICA HOTELIER & LIAT CHAIRMAN ===
=== FIRST E-MAIL BELOW IS THE REJECTED E-MAIL THAT NEVER REACHED THE CHAIRMAN ===
=== e-mail addresses and telephone numbers removed ===
From: Gregor Nassief
Date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:11 PM
To: Jean Holder
Subject: Re: Letter to the LIAT Board of Directors
Dear Mr. Holder,
My family arrived last night, and I was very happy that their arrival was only 26 hours late under the circumstances. Really – no sarcasm – I was relieved. Many have suffered much worse. Thanks for your note of concern. It is appreciated.
I think our e-mail exchanges are not productive, and it is better we speak. There is a significant disconnect. From your perspective, your example below of the ATR being down for maintenance proves your point that LIAT management is not responsible while I believe it perfectly proves my point that LIAT management is responsible. As stated in my letter, had LIAT planned all of this properly, had you contracted pilots to support the transition, had you not returned Dash 8s before the new fleet was operational, had you put in place solid contingency plans, then such an event as what you outline below would not bring the airline to its knees. Your executives ignored the advice of many, including your pilots, but you refuse to deal with these issues. Proper planning would have cost LIAT much less and what this crisis is now costing you. Who is responsible? I still await a detailed response to my letter.
If you are not prepared to force executive changes at LIAT then you should gracefully step down and take responsibility for the crisis, and let someone who thinks they can make a difference step up. If I am managing a business in crisis, and I do not feel I can put things right, that everything that goes wrong is beyond my control and ability to improve, then I am in the wrong place, and I need, for the benefit of the business and its customers, to step aside.
Your statement below is interesting: “I hope that when your turn for judgement comes you find a judge with more milk of human kindness than you seem to demonstrate.” If you, your CEO and your chief commercial officer had such human kindness, you would step aside out of consideration for your customers. Where is your kindness to them? As for my kindness, I had a lot of it, more than most, until LIAT sucked it out of me – consistently, dependably and ruthlessly.
My telephone number is below for future communication if you wish to speak, or meet. I am more than willing. This is not personal. I simply believe that the people of the region, and our visitors to the region, deserve better – much better. It is time that LIAT’s management is held accountable.
1 767 XXX XXXX
From: Jean Holder
Date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 2:32 PM
To: Gregor Nassief
Subject: RE: Letter to the LIAT Board of Directors
Dear Mr Nassief
Let me begin as is proper to express my sincere regret for the experiences of your wife and family and I very much hope that they have reached home. I understand your concern and even your anger.
We are not in any disagreements about the broad principles of management and holding staff at any level accountable. There is a lot of work to be done at LIAT and changes to be made. More work is going on in this area than you seem to know.
I also know the value of encouraging staff and not publicly bashing them, especially when they are being attached on every side.
We seem, howeve, to have some difficulty agreeing on what situations are, and what are not, caused by incompetence and at what level.
Let us examine a real and existing case. An LIAT airline with brand new engines and 68 seats arrived in Barbados on Sunday. That airline can move 68 persons at a time and is programmed to do 6 sectors. It is quite capable therefore of making a significant contribution to reducing the backlog of passengers all over the system-north and south- caused by other breakdowns.
When it lands there is a puff of smoke in one engine and oil is leaking. An examination by experts reveals that a new engine is needed. It has to be flown into Barbados and the plane cannot be ready for re-entering the operation until next Saturday 17th August. Incompetence? No. Very bad luck.
LIAT does everything in its power to deal with the backlog , including wet leasing aircraft. Even this proves difficult as all airlines are stretched at this time.
The impact of this, added to less traumatic incidents, is that several people remained stranded both at Barbados and at other destinations. The struggle to move them continues but there is progress being made.
Once people are stranded you seem to judge the cause as major incompetence by LIAT’s management and wish the axe to fall.
I hope that when your turn for judgement comes you find a judge with more milk of human kindness than you seem to demonstrate.
Have a Good Day
Sent: Monday, August 12, 2013 1:12 PM
Thanks for your reply. At this moment, my wife Sandra, and our two Children Gaston (8) and Manuela (6) are stuck in St. Marteen as the flight (LI 509) was cancelled last night. Just a moment ago, LIAT informed her that she could travel tonight to Antigua, and then hopefully to Dominica on Tuesday. What should have been a 1 hour flight is unfolding into a 36+ hour journey. This is happening every day, day after day to hundreds, possibly thousands of passengers.
My letter to you and the board deals with executive incompetence at LIAT and the issue of accountability. This is the matter I would like addressed by you and the board. The issues are specifically outlined in the letter. Do you hold your management accountable for the current situation as well as the PR blunders? And if so what will be done about it?
I am not questioning the decision to buy new ATRs nor am I discussing whether Dominica and LIAT are better off with or without each other.
As long as the board and the executive believes that LIAT’s problems are beyond their control, and that the region on balance is better off with LIAT, then we will get nowhere. We need a board and an executive team that feel that they can make a difference and they can operate an efficient airline that provides great customer service. We all understand weather delays, and the fact that safety trumps all else. We do not understand executive incompetence like what has been demonstrated over the past 8 weeks. This is what I would like addressed.
My choice should not we whether I want to live with LIAT or without it, it should be whether I want to live with an airline that provides disastrous service or one what provides great service. I along with the entire Caribbean of course choose the latter.
As you know, any turn around at any organization, private or public, begins at the top.
I would be happy to speak with you as well to discuss the issues.
Date: Monday, August 12, 2013 9:19 AM
I wish at this time to acknowledge receipt of your email of 11 August 2013 and the letter attached.
I intend to reply to it in some detail in the very near future.
First, however, I wanted to apologize without delay for the problems faced by you and your customers and to any one who has been inconvenienced by LIAT’s present difficulties.
Having been in this business first for 15 years as Head of the Caribbean Tourism Research and development Centre, then another 15 as Head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and almost 10 as Chairman of LIAT, I appreciate that the customer is always right and I apologize if for any reason whatever LIAT has not been able to deliver what it promised. WE are hard at work to deal with the present difficulties and to deliver a better service.
I mention my experience because I am no stranger to Dominica’s challenges over some 40 years with tourism and air transportation and am willing to have either a private or a public discussion about it with you. In experiencing the difficulties you mention it is easy to forget that LIAT has stuck with Dominica whence all others have fled for many decades and that in more recent times as American Eagle has left LIAT has supplied the connection to San Juan thus helping to maintain the connection with the students- a lifeline to Dominica.
The arguments you presented about the ATR and the timing of its introduction sound very familiar to me and this is not the first time nor you the first source from which I have heard them, almost word for word. There are other technical arguments for a contrary position.
Moreover, unless you are dealing with these matters every day, it is impossible to fully understand the chaos which is caused in a complicated network like LIAT, if at the beginning of every day 3 or 4 planes of your relatively small fleet break down and throws out the schedule. Recovery is difficult. This has happened consistently at LIAT. I noticed that in your letter there is no mention of the times that our pilots who make the very challenging landings at Dominica have to contend with weather and sometimes have to divert to another airport for the safety of the passengers. I agree that in the circumstances our PR has not been as effective as it should be.
The question to you is, would you take the responsibility of waiting until there is a major disaster and people die, to replace the old planes? You fortunately do not have to make the choice.
Finally, If LIAT did not fly to Dominica at all would you be better off?
Let us continue to speak, privately if you wish, or in public. I believe you will find that on balance LIAT has done Dominica more good than harm.
Sent: Sunday, August 11, 2013 9:30 PM
Subject: Letter to the LIAT Board of Directors
Please find attached a letter to the LIAT Board of Directors.
It is being forwarded to the media.
The damage that has been done to the region and especially to Dominica over the last 2 months is extensive.
It is a call to action for you and your Board to hold your executives accountable for their actions and I hope it is taken seriously and acted upon.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gregor Nassief is involved in the tourism business in Dominica and the technology business in Latin America. He is the Owner and Director of Secret Bay, the Executive Chairman of the Fort Young Hotel and the CEO of Tecsys Latin America.