6 Tips for Surviving LIAT Airlines

by Chris on January 10, 2010

Tips for surviving a trip on the unreliable LIAT Airlines

liat

For those unfamiliar with LIAT Airlines, the Caribbean carrier has a less-than-stellar reputation. Nicknames for its incompetence are legion – Leave Island Anytime, Luggage In Another Town, Lost In between Antigua and Trinidad.

Yet the flight prices are cheap and the destinations - LIAT has hubs in Antigua and Barbados, and flies to almost all of the Caribbean’s smaller islands - are hard to beat. If you decide to take LIAT,  especially from one of the bigger islands, be prepared. In November, my husband’s bag didn’t make it to St. Vincent from Barbados until later in the evening and I spent last night without my bag here on Grenada.

The airline is also dodgy with arrival and departure times. On my trip between St. Vincent and Grenada last November, one flight left one hour late – and the next left 20 minutes early! It seems that flight times with LIAT are more of a suggestion than an absolute.

If you are traveling on LIAT, here are a few tips to make your experience less frustrating.

1. Hang on to your bag at all costs. This may be hard to do, as LIAT’s small planes have a 15 pound weight limit. That meant my bag that easily fit in the overhead on US AIR from the States had to be checked in Barbados. I got around this last time by getting it to the gate, where it was handchecked. It’s sneaky and the airline folks don’t like it, but it works.

2. Check in early and stick around the gate area. Because of LIAT’s size limitations, bags get on the plane in a first-come, first-serve manner. But the real reason to get there early – and stay at the gate – is the airline’s loose definition of arrivals and departures. I would have hated to have been the passenger in St. Vincent who watched that plane pull out early. And I’ve seen more than one harried passenger running across a small island terminal as they realized their flight had already been called.

3. Travel on earlier or later flights that aren’t as full. LIAT would rather take paying passengers than bags, so if you’re on a full flight like I was yesterday (students from St. Georges medical school are returning to Grenada), there’s almost no way that your bag will get there. It may mean giving up your Happy Hour rum punch to arrive a little later, but it’s worth it to have your bag.

4. Pack enough clothes and toiletries for at least a day in your smaller carryon bag. I always plan to do this and I always leave something out: Last night, it was my contact lens case. Make a list if you have to.

5. Give yourself some time before going to your next destination. When my husband’s bag arrived late in St. Vincent, we took it in stride as we weren’t moving on to Bequia for another day or so. And I felt a little better last night knowing that I didn’t have to be on my Island Windjammer cruise until 5 p.m. today.

6. If your bag is lost, get as much detailed information from the airline representatives as possible – as nicely as possible. The airline makes you return to the airport to get your bags, and cab fares can add up. When you are filling out your lost luggage form, ask the attendant for the specific times that the next flights are coming in, a direct phone number that you can call, a manager who you can ask for and what time the airport clears out for the night. Usually people are more than willing to give you this information, if you phrase it in a way that makes it clear that you don’t want to waste their time.

(This next week will be a light posting week for me, as I’ll be on an Island Windjammers cruise around the Grenadines. Happy travels, and I’ll have plenty of photos and information when I return!)

Do you have a LIAT horror story of your own? How did you cope? Leave it below!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

brian January 10, 2010 at 8:05 pm

So so true Chris. Coming into St. Thomas it seems all their flights are late. In fact, anytime I’ve ever had to pick someone up from Charlotte Amalie, always late. The worst was 5 hours.

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Suzi January 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm

These are great tips for anytime/anywhere travel! Always be prepared, even when you’re going with the flow. ;-)

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Jim Lynch January 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

You can take it from a West Indian and a former employee of LIAT (now retired) that this airline – whether you like it or not – is an inter-island bus service.

A survey taken of LIAT’s passenger count just a few years ago showed that close to 100% of LIAT’s passengers are regional – between the eastern Caribbean islands – and just going from one island to another (not making international connections for locals and tourists).

Recognise also, please that most of LIAT’s flights are also “milk runs”. That is, not hub and spoke or direct flights, but island-hopping – they stop at almost every island in the chain on the way to their turn-around point – like a subway train – and just a couple of short delays en route can turn into a long delay near the end.

If you are unlucky enough to join the aircraft near the end of it’s sectors and the flight is late, that’s what you are complaining about. When this happens, ask yourself instead “Why didn’t I take the earlier flight???”

And if you are especially unlucky, by the time the aircraft gets to you the (limited size) baggage hold may already be full and your baggage – in whole or in part – may have to come on a later flight.

So, if you are supposed to leave on your international flight from another island at 3:00pm DO NOT leave your departure from the island where you are living or visiting at noon to give you only an hour or so to connect (and then blame LIAT for your grievances)… get the earliest flight that will get you there will much more time than you need.

Locals in that island have to be there 3 hours before departure – what made you so special?

The Caribbean is NOT, repeat NOT, Kennedy, Chicago, Heathrow or Pearson. Efficiency is not to be expected in the region – and face facts, the laid-back atmosphere is the reason you came to visit or love to live there.

So get with the program… LIAT is too busy performing a safe inter-island bus service, it is NOT a first-class jet-powered reliable connection to your international flight, it is a Third World bus turboprop airline trying to satisfy everybody within their regional mandate with a limited budget and government-limited fares.

Just like it is at home – wherever you may live – concerning the urge to get to work on time, it is YOUR responsibility to get to your flight home on time… so be there early and make allowance for delays.

When you are at home, your Boss doesn’t give a rat’s poop about your sleeping in or your traffic on the way, so you should not start thinking it’s OK to chastise LIAT because you don’t want to leave home or your vacation spot until the absolute last possible moment – and then expect everyone to rush around making sure your needs are fulfilled.

Just like at home, it ain’t gonna happen…

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youpi January 31, 2010 at 2:27 pm

where have you seen low fares for LIAT ?
the third world bus turboprop cost the same price as a fist class jet powered.

just check prices with taxes from guadeloupe to antigua ( 25 min flight ), 300€ minimum the return ticket !

the only reason to take LIAT is there is no alternative…

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Patrice April 16, 2010 at 10:24 am

I’m flying Liat from St. Thomas to Anguilla in May and hope it will go smoothly. I heard horror stories about Air Sunshine and had no problems with them on a previous trip so I hope the same will go for Liat.

Do you know if the 3oz liquid rule applies to Liat’s routes? I will likely carry on more than usual in case the luggage is delayed.

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Chris April 16, 2010 at 10:49 am

Patrice – When I’ve been in the islands recently, security procedures were the same, except in Grenada I didn’t have to take off my shoes. So the liquid limitation was in effect.

You should be fine – just make sure you get to the gate early and be prepared that things might not run as smoothly as another carrier. And report back on your experience – I’d love to know how it goes!

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Ethan July 8, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I’d avoid Liat at all costs if possible. We had a situation with them recently where we were mischarged (they only charged us 50% of what they should’ve) for an international reservation, then were repeatedly told that everything was fine until we were denied boarding on a return leg, held hostage by the airline until we paid (requiring intervention of the US Embassy), then forced to buy tickets home with another airline.

We called a month before departure to inquire about the undercharge and were told “it won’t be a problem; because of our mutual billing agreement with USAir, you’ll be automatically charged the remainder the day of departure when they get their paper ticket.” On the outbound legs, they told us they needed a physical impression of our credit card to complete payment (“oh, that explains it”). They took it and told us everything was fine.

On a stop-over in Antigua on the return legs, we were pulled out of the boarding line and a Liat agent demanded $900 cash before we would be allowed to board. There was no way we could come up with this in a few minutes so we missed the flight. We tried buying a one-way on AA to SJU so we could make our connection, but the Liat agent tried to stop us, then had us held by immigration officials for attempting to rob their company. This required intervention from the US Embassy – at which point the immigration supervisor apologized to us and told us we were free to go. We had to buy one-way tickets home on another carrier for more than the original trip was supposed to cost. All our friends who live in Dominica told us “don’t take Liat – pay more and take American if you can”, but we booked our travel with Liat anyway (their flight schedule was more convenient). I wish we would’ve listened…

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Chris July 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Ugh. I think this is the worst story yet that I’ve heard about them, Ethan. I hope it didn’t ruin your time in Dominica (an island that I love!)

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Ethan August 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Chris -

Fortunately the issues with Liat happened on the way home, so they didn’t ruin the trip at all (though my sister says she’s never traveling internationally again). Usually I don’t care what happens on the way home (it’s just delaying my return to work!), though hearing the Liat station-manager at Antigua tell the immigrations supervisor “don’t let these people enter the country or fly anywhere. They’re not allowed to leave the airport until they pay us – they’re trying to rob us” was one of the biggest shocks I’ve ever had traveling (fortunately the embassy was amazing and had us released within an hour or so). I’ve flown a lot of third-world carriers, but Liat was by far the worst. Liat was entirely unhelpful after our trip (at first they insisted that they’d actually flown us home – since we were pulled out of the boarding line, I don’t think our names were ever taken off the manifest), but Orbitz (who sold us the ticket) intervened and finally forced them to refund us the entire original charge (it finally happened this week – it only took three months and the assistance of our credit card company, since Liat apparently doesn’t know how to issue refunds), so we ended up only being out a few hundred dollars in the end (plus hours emailing and talking on the phone – I have 22 emails from Orbitz about this case and spoke with them on the phone a comparable number of times, plus another half dozen with the credit card company). I’m immensely thankful for (and feel sorry) for the supervisors at Orbitz and USBank who helped us – they sounded exasperated whenever they discussed talking to anyone at Liat.

I’d love to go to Dominica again – the diving was great and the waterfalls and other scenery were spectacular. I’d really like to get back and o do the hike to the boiling lake and see more of the south side of the island. I’d go back in a second (but only on American Airlines), though the flights are rather prohibitively expensive for me.

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T Gill-Barnett August 20, 2012 at 10:30 am

What surety can one received when flying with LIAT that your luggage will arrive. There is no serious investigation being carried out in regards to missing luggage, many travellers with this airline has had their baggage either ripped opened, damage, or missing without compensation. Surely there must be a system that will give travelling passengers assurance that their bags will arrive at their final destination on LIAT. This is the only airline that covers most of the Caribbean region and for persons to be subjected to their luggage missing or stolen should not be swept under the carpet. Passangers flying with this airline should be warn of this situation happening to them. A group of friends recently travelled from St Vincent to Barbados and in that short flight one of their suitcase is missing and no trace can be found of where in that short travel distance the suitcase disappeared without trace. Claiming compensation for the loss of the luggage is so pitiful ($9 Eastern Caribbean Dollars for 50 lbs) cannot compensate for the items in the suitcase it is far less that the cost paid for excess baggage. Some stringent measures need to be taken by LIAT. Baggage attendant must be held accountable to show proof of how many suitaces was loaded on the aircraft and how many were taken off at the destination. Someone should be able to have some knowledge on how a suitcase coming from St Vincent to Barbados that was paid for as excess baggage vanished into thin air without trace. $450 cannot compensate for over $3,000 US dollars of clothing and other items in the missing suitcase. Some private investigation suould be carried out as some person might be bring the airline into question by carrying out the disappearance of passengers baggage and subjecting passangers to stress and hardship.

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Peggy Predhomme October 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm

We got caught in Tropical Storm Rafael, so it took us 4 days to get home from St. Kitts to Detroit. I have an idea of how to survive Liat, AVOID them, please! I’m not going put all the blame on Mother Nature, as we saw many other airlines informing the passengers of what is going on, and eventually moving them like they should. Liat never gave us updates, and their hook is to string people along for hours and hours with delays, and never really tell people the truth. They kept telling us that connecting Liat flights were on time, but NEVER were, so we kept missing our Delta flight home until the 4th day. We went from St. Kitts, spent an extra night there due to weather, to St. Maarten, spent the night because they were untruthful about the flight to St. Thomas, and a night in St. Thomas because we arrived so late in the day we missed the only Delta flight. Because they were late getting us to St. Thomas, we had to get to San Juan on our own dime to meet up Delta. I can’t tell you how little they tried to move passengers where they need to go. Instead of avoiding the islands with the worst weather, they kept trying to go there and just delaying ever other island flight, all the while lying to everyone waiting for the planes. It’s simple, just AVOID AVOID AVOID. I took Seaborne from STT to SJU and it was awesome- love that airline.

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Marshall November 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm

To the ex-liat employee. Please man…..you are still apologizing for this airline even though you are ex. Enough already and please don’t try the ‘ole “laid back islanders” routine…..that is for the beach, not for the airlines getting people to and fro. The employees at Liat, by and large, simply do not care about peoples grievances and problems. I recently got off a Barbados-Guyana flight that lost 76% of all checked luggage (about 40 pieces) The insolent employees in Timerhi took thier sweet time filling out the useless forms and never once offered up anything remotely close to an apology. There is nothing laid back about Liat and many of their employees…unless you think lazy and insolent is laid back. Even the old Guyana Airways was superior and too bad that Redjet closed because for a very brief time while Redjet operated ……Liat seemed somewhat better.

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Marshall November 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm

As I wrote a comment on Nov 4 that complained bitterly about Liat employees and their response to lost luggage, I felt I should at the very least comment on getting my luggage back today. I emailed a number of people on Liat contact list and recieved a positive reply and an apology from the baggage manager in BGI. That was a little different and very welcome. I should not have commented when I was so steamed at some uncaring employees of Liat in Guyana.

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Chris November 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Marshall – That’s ok, everyone needs to let off steam sometimes! And the LIAT situation can be very stressful. I’m glad that you got your luggage back and that the employees apologized. Here’s hoping that your next trip goes better.

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Emmanuel September 10, 2013 at 6:22 am

Marshall, you must be talking about Mr Oliver Haywood. He is one of the best Managers Liat has.

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Fa May 5, 2013 at 10:45 am

These tips are so helpful! I’m traveling to Grenada from Barbados next month and now I will definitely pack everything in a carry-on. Thanks in advance!

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Emmanuel September 10, 2013 at 6:30 am

LIAT LIAT LIAT… I was meant to travel with liat from bgi to skb(barbados to st kitts) August 13th, only to be told that the flight was overbooked, liat provided everything I needed, and put me on the next available flight which was scheduled to leave BGI on the 14th. On the 14th, the flight got canceled, and I was put on the next flight for the 15th. I finally arrived in St kitts on the 15th, but my luggages were no where to be found, I complained and filled the Property Irregularity Report. After 21 days, still no signs of my bags(I had called so many times and was told my bags were Lost!). On the 22nd day, I went to the airport and wrote a formal claim. The next day I received an email saying my bags had been found, and they never left Barbados because they were UNTAGGED… I clearly remember I had tags on my bags before leaving my bags in the care of the airline officials. Anyway, I was so happy and relieved!!! One thing I would like to know is If I would be getting any compensation from LIAT for delaying my bags for 25 days?

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