While T&T students who were studying at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus in Barbados are relieved to be back home, they are unhappy with Caribbean Airlines US$488 fee per ticket to return.
Some students yesterday called the fee unjust, saying some of them had less than 24 hours notice of the cost and were left in a frenzy trying to source the money from their relatives and friends to secure a seat on the reparation flight.
The students were among a group from Cave Hill who arrived in the country around 2.40 pm yesterday and were subsequently quarantined at the UWI’s St Augustine campus for the mandatory 14-days in keeping with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 protocol. Four professionakl ftooballers who were stranded in Barbados due to the pandemic also returned on the flight with the students.
At yesterday’s press briefing, Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh said they were expecting about 85 students from Barbados. On Saturday 140 students from UWI’s Mona Campus were also quarantined at the St Augustine campus after they arrived here from Jamaica.
Given the financial woes experienced by students, the Government on April 27 wired a US$300 to students studying at Cave Hill and Mona who were not on scholarships.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity yesterday, however, the students took issue with the price of the tickets and the limited notice they were given to pay the money.
“For the entire week last week, we tried contacting the airline concerning the cost of the ticket but they did not give us a straight answer. On June 12 at 7.10 pm, I received an email from the airline stating that the cost of the ticket is $487.52 and I had a 14-hour period to pay it because I had to pay the money by 2 pm on Saturday,” one student said.
“I was not anticipating to pay that much. The most I was prepared to pay was US$300 for a ticket. I really believe the airline should at least have given us a heads-up that the ticket was going to be so costly.”
The student said they felt as though CAL took advantage of them because of their situation.
“They realise that we are desperate to come home and corner us to pay that almost US$500. I find that was unjust,” the student said of her particular situation.
“My mother is a domestic worker where she cannot come up with that money in such a short time, banks were closed. There was no way I could get that money by 2 pm on Saturday.”
She said she gathered the money on Saturday with the help of someone but when she called the airline she was told they had removed her from the list because she did not make the deadline. Fortunately, she was able to get back on the flight list.
“Cornering us at the last minute to force us to pay this, it just feels unjust and unfair,” she complained.
She said they were on a group chat with other students who expressed similar concerns. Another student said she only received an email about her flight details, including the cost of the ticket, around 4 pm on Saturday but was aware of the cost from other students who got their information on Friday night.
“My mom kept calling CAL continuously and would be put on hold for a very long time. Saturday when she got through after 45 minutes to an hour, she was put on hold for a while, then the person she spoke to told her they did not know the price of the ticket,” the student said.
Initially, she said, her mother was not willing to pay for the ticket at that cost.
“It is a really distressing situation. So long we studying, we finish our exams and we just want to come home. It was really difficult to make that payment because the impression we got is even if we had to pay, a lot of us were not expecting to pay such an exorbitant figure.”
Thankful for the Government’s care package, she said that money was used to help with her rent, which was US$400. She said she was able to get by with food hampers she got from various bodies but other students had it more difficult than she did.
Criticising CAL’s lack of communication, she said, “All weekend we were running in circles with CAL.”
She said there were also mix-ups with students receiving each other’s flight reservations. “That price, though, was a way to exploit the students, it is ridiculous and they know that our back against a wall.”
At the end of it all, however, she said she and other students were just happy to be home and she was hoping to make the best of her time in quarantine.
When contacted on the issue yesterday, National Security Minister Stuart Young said all the arrangements would have been handled by CAL. However, the minister noted, “Over 100 students were repatriated from Jamaica on Saturday without complaint.”
CAL yesterday issued a release on the matter but recalled it later on. It did not send another release before press time.