Steinberg Henry
Steinberg Henry

In Dominica's carnival spirit and season of humour, wit, satire and drift, I reach for my January 2014 publication titled "Calypso Drift" to find lines belonging to the consummate performer, calypso-named Daddy Chess.

From his 2010 song on Leeward Islands Air Transport, I glean critical lines -- lines marking continuation of a wrestle Caribbean citizens in a single market and economy have had to wage with one of their once-venerable institutions. The text read:

'Daddy Chess critically and prophetically examined Leeward Islands Air transport (LIAT), the primary Caribbean airline supported then by the governments of Antigua, St Vincent, and Barbados.

'Chester sang about "frustration at every port," "disgruntled employees," "leaving island anytime," "stuck with no luggage and dirty clothes / ain't no privilege," "bitter water and a dry cracker if you lucky ..." (Segment 12/Chapter 104).

In this piece on LIAT, I move the service issue, given my experience as a person with a sight limitation travelling from Atlanta to St. Maarteen and from St. Maarten to Antigua and then Dominica. The return trip took me by way of Barbados and I will tell of my serious experience involving a Delta assistant there. Finally, I gather that a few recommendations will be in order as far as disability training for airline personnel is concerned.

Arrival at St. Maarten

A beautiful soul by the name of Susan Ruan picked me up in a wheelchair when I landed in St. Maarten on November 12, 2015. She found my suitcase and proceeded from American Airlines carousel to LIAT's departure lounge.

We checked into LIAT bound for Antigua then Dominica. The man at the counter did not say much, you know, the traditional LIAT welcome, its cheerfulness. I informed him that wheelchair assistance was part of the travel arrangements, but it did not seem to matter to him. He simply nodded, unlike the American attendant in Atlanta who called for wheelchair support immediately.

Susan Ruan who worked with American Airlines, assured me that someone from LIAT would come to my assistance at departure time. I got out off the American Airlines wheelchair and sat in the LIAT departure area where a friend in the days of the RSB Band noticed me. David Terrel came across to say hello. He was coming in from New York, heading for Dominica.

While we chatted and I autographed a copy of "Calypso Drift," LIAT announced it would be one hour late. Frustrating. Instantly, I remembered Ruan asking me why I did not take WINAIR straight to Dominica from St. Maarten in the first place.

By the time LIAT announced its departure, no one had arrived with a wheelchair. David Terrel grabbed my carryon. I placed my fingers on is shoulder.

When we got to the plane, the hostess took me by the wrist and proceeded to lead me by the hand. Quickly, I suggested to her that I would rather place my fingers on her shoulder or hold her elbow. She agreed to the finger/shoulder combination, leading me to the seat.

When we arrived at Vere Bird International – that's international – all other passengers left. You know, in the airline industry, people with disabilities board first and disembark last.

After standing in the plane for about fifteen minutes, I asked the hostess whether she could take me to the terminal. By then the cleaners had arrived. She told me that even if she took me out, she would not know which section of the terminal to take me to. We continued to wait.

The woman who announced herself at the bottom of the stairs was short. She too took me by the hand and I asked to place my hand on her shoulder. She said she was short. I replied that that was cool and we headed for somewhere.

She took me to what seemed to be some kind of buggy, but with the evening glare so strong to my eyes, I could not configure how to board the contraption. The sole male occupant kept telling me come on board. I placed my cane on the floor of the buggy, realized its dimensions, boarded facing west. The front of the thing faced north. Immediately, I turned as it began to take off.

The male occupant, apparently disgruntled, pulled my boarding pass from the passport held in my hand, saying in the process that he understood I was having a number of issues. Who told him that?

Not only was I thirsty; I had been travelling since seven that morning and it was after five pm. An you know what's worse: the gentleman took me to the wrong plane!

Just as I was about to disembark from his buggy, he took a second look at my boarding pass. We had to drive another minute or so to get to the correct flight heading to Douglas-Charles Airport, Dominica.

When I boarded the flight, again, the hostess took my hands and proceeded to pull me in. I said to her again, I would rather hold her shoulder and someone at the back of us shouted "I've heard that trick before." I was in the Caribbean for sure!

When we arrived at Douglas-Charles Airport, she walked down the stairs with me. Another gentleman from LIAT, I assume, came to meet me. I asked that I rest my fingers on his shoulder. He took my carryon. Along the way to Douglas-Charles arrival lounge, we met David Terrel. The LIAT assistant asked Terrel to take me the rest of the way abdicating his responsibility. Then, my suitcase – that of a sight limited person – did not come with the flight. I was speedily reminded that it happens to everyone!

I did not expect a cracker and, I do not drink while in the air. It became clear to me however, that the staff encountered on my way to Dominica all did the wrong thing. They have not been trained to deal with persons with disabilities. If they were trained to take a sight limited person by the hand and pull them along, they were and are badly trained.

And, it was amazing how they did it with a smile indicating their willingness to help and care the passenger with special needs. Those I met on my way to Dominica were loving people. That was clear to me, a sight limited person. They simply needed to know techniques for enhancing their communication with a sight limited person. This should be standard airline requirement inscribed in contemporary policy.


I was scheduled to leave Dominica on December 10, 2014 at 11 am, but LIAT announce that its 11 am flight to St. Maarten was running three hours late. Three.

That 11 am flight arrived at 1:34 pm. I didn't want to take the chance to go into St. Maarten hoping to catch American at 3:30 pm. Furthermore, LIAT said they would not be responsible for me if I did not make my connections -- stranded and sight limited in unfamiliar spaces.

That's not all. They went ahead, rather arbitrarily, to book me for a Thursday morning flight from Douglas-Charles to St. Maarten, not caring about the American connections; not knowing whether I had a stay-over connect. As a consequence, because I did not appear on Wednesday in St. Maarten and on Thursday morning in Dominica, we lost the American and LIAT tickets and all monies.

Another ticket had to be bought to Atlanta and out of the Caribbean. This time, we decided on Dominica/Barbados and Delta to Atlanta straight. That ticket was expensive. The whole matter just hurt me.

It is worth noting that LIAT arrived on time for Barbados. At Grantley Adams International Airport, a gentleman walked with me from the steps of the plane and I boarded a wheelchair in the terminal through immigration then went out to meet my pickup.

I spent a few hours with Dr. Addison Jolly and his family. When we returned to the airport, a gentleman came to the Delta counter with the requested wheelchair placing it to my left side.

He said that I should sit. I rested my hand on the arm of the chair. The chair rolled and I fell to the left side. The gentleman made speed to help, but I was not hurt and said I would get up on my own.

In a telephone conversation from Atlanta with Dr. Jolly, he told me that the airport wheelchair assistant had not locked the chair! Crucial!

A few particulars

LIAT's board of directors should structure and adopt updated policy to provide inflight and ground staff with skills to handle persons with disabilities.

An airline of LIAT's standing should introduce its relevant staff to the basics of communicating and dealing with persons who are sight limited. In these times, it is unacceptable when an air hostess takes a sight limited person by the wrist and proceeds to pull him/her.

Caribbean Council for the Blind-Eye Care Caribbean thrives, with its Secretariat in Antigua. Moreover, Antigua has a Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture. Culture and Aviation!

Barbados' Civil Aviation Department was created to advise the island's Ministry of International Business and International Transport. International standards touching attitudes towards persons with disabilities are written into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Barbados, as a founding member of LIAT, ratified on February 27, 2013.

Indeed, CCB-Eye Care Caribbean, given its historic experience, has and can access persons regionally and internationally who are quite capable of hosting training sessions for relevant LIAT personnel. But that Board 'of Control' must be willing to see the need; must begin to care first for the way its staff is perceived behind their uniforms and bold discomforts.

There is a clear disconnect from one port to another. Check-in does not inform hostess that there is a special need and, hostess does not immediately inform arrival about the need for a guide or wheelchair though that requirement is written into the ticket-travel arrangements. It seemed to me that this was communicated when for instance we arrived in Antigua from St. Maarten and not from St.Maarten as point of embarkation.

LIAT may wish to think differently about boarding and disembarking arrangements for persons with disabilities. Bring them on first and let them out first.

In its "conditions of contract" LIAT notes that "If the passenger's journey involves an ultimate destination or stop in a country other than the country of departure the Warsaw Convention governs and in most cases limits the liability of carriers for death or personal injury and in respect of loss of or damage to baggage."

LIAT provides the meaning of "Warsaw Convention." It means "the Convention for the unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air signed at Warsaw, 12th October,1929, or that Convention as amended at The Hague, 28th September, 1955 whichever may be applicable."

LIAT needs revisit these contracts as signed at Warsaw given its current late arrivals; passengers missing their connections; a significantly enhanced communications environment; developments in law over matters touching rights of persons with disabilities and human life in general.

Clearly, LIAT's Board of Directors needs take utmost responsibility for its employee's communication practices, their levels of efficiency, their alertness to special needs and, the concomitant impact these when attended to, are likely to have on a Caribbean airline's outlook.

I return to "Calypso Drift" and Chester Letang's calypso. ' … Chester's launch tells us about Caribbean air travel standards and what customers demand these days, the interconnectedness in global travel trends, the impact of global markets on transportation even in small-populated regions as the Caribbean's, the need for upgrading Caribbean travel using alternative methods such as ferries, the need to upgrade LIAT's fleet of planes, its brand, and outlook in light of a culture definition of Caribbean consciousness incorporated' (Segment 12/Chapter 104).

They have upgraded those planes, you know, leather seats and so on. Thing is, people with disabilities internationally, are travelling increasingly.

In her 2015 Message, we are reminded by Kerryann Ifill, President of the Caribbean Council for the Blind that there are "more than 180 thousand persons with blindness or severe visual impairment in the English-Speaking Caribbean." What happens when 40% of these decide to travel annually throughout the islands for purposes of advocacy, or to discover nuances and depth-meanings in island music cultures?

Not only will they be looking for ramps, telecoms friendly services and rehabilitated sidewalks in Caribbean capitals; they expect a small airline to be cutting edge in its services even as its planes engines thud silenter!

There's time to adopt, adapt and practice since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities describes disability as "an evolving concept."

In the Preamble to the Convention, it is stated at notation {e} that "disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others …."

Who knows, LIAT might well be anticipating a sight limited person capable of maneuvering down their stairs to terminals, through immigration and into cabs with no assistance. Such persons are living in the Caribbean too ready to advocate on behalf of those hearing and speech impaired who someday, will come fearlessly to LIAT's points of entry and departure.

My trip to the Caribbean was made possible through the kind services of vfinc ( which hosted the November 2014 Phenomenal Caribbean Men's Symposium at which I was a guest speaker.

(Steinberg Henry is writer, emerging disability advocate, media and communications teacher from the island of Dominica. His books "An Unassuming Love" (2011) and "Calypso Drift" (2014) can be sourced at and .

Steinberg D. Henry