I should first admit that airlines are a passion of mine, and their operations in remote and tricky locations of particular interest.
I should also point out, in the interest of fairness, that my own international flight (Fortaleza to Praia) with onward connections to Mindelo via Praia worked like a charm; my second attempt at inter-island travel, however, did not, and a one-hour journey became a twelve-hour slog.
Sadly, however, for reliability, TACV (Transportes Aereos de Cabo Verde) is, however, in a league of its own.
When it comes to scheduling, adherence to these timetables, indifference to their passengers, and let’s be honest, sheer thoughtless incompetence, TACV are the gold standard. In comparison, carriers that service Canada’s Arctic, the Scottish or Greek islands, the remote South Pacific are paragons of virtue, but let me expound.
The three major points are Sal (the holiday island), Mindelo (the cultural capital) and Praia (the country’s capital city). Traffic between these three islands is heavy due to the lack of alternative ferry options, and flights are regularly full; flights to the smaller islands are heavily used as well, but not to the same degree as the main line points.
The inter-island flights are used, of course, for a multitude of reasons. Straightforward inter-island travel, of course, but also the thorny issue of connections, and it is this latter usage that is the most concerning.
When an airline publishes a schedule that indicates that a flight will operate between Point A and Point B at (say) noon, given the vagaries of the weather and destination, wiggle room of an hour or so is reasonable, and connections or other arrangements can be made accordingly.
What is entirely unreasonable is to then confirm 72 passengers on a 42-seat aircraft, with no further flights that day. Further, when the previous day’s overbooking is taken into consideration, there could well be a further 40 passengers on a “wait list”, also hoping to travel.
Logic would determine that in instances like these, the cream of the TACV fleet, one of their Boeing 737 aircraft with 160+ seats, be pulled in to operate an extra section and clear the backlog.
Bearing in mind that the stage-lengths are only about 150 miles, and a complete rotation from Praia to Praia could be achieved in about 90 minutes (if, one must add, there was a degree of order in the boarding process) and passengers would be generally happy.
Alternatively, their ageing ATR42 aircraft should be traded in for a more suitable ATR72 plane, offering thirty more seats.
But no; neither their leased, Slovakian aircraft, complete with friendly, competent staff, slightly bewildered by the African Way, or their Cabo Verdean-crewed Boeing 737-800, complete with flashy winglets that seem altogether too advanced for these islands, would be brought to service.
Passengers are simply left to rot. Their onward connective issues are met with industrially-sympathetic smiles, and in the most egregious case some Significant Tutting, but to no avail.
Even trying to get a letter from TACV indicating that the passengers were stranded through no fault of their own, a document that insurance companies require and TACV should be printing by the tens of thousands is impossible.
Surely it should not be too difficult to anticipate traffic loads and schedule the appropriate aircraft; surely it should not be too difficult, given the indifference displayed, to prioritise those passengers with connections to services that only operate on a weekly basis; surely TACV should by now, with decades of experience, be able to streamline the process of denied boarding and compensation.
There is no competition. TACV is government-owned, and vastly over-staffed, spreading through the “benefits” accruing to their staff and their extended families a patriarchal comfort.
Revenue passengers’ needs take second place, it seems, to the needs of the staff, their families, and (should one be so cynical?), their votes. Competitors come and go, but competing with a government agency with deep pockets has, for years, been a problem with the global aviation industry.
There are extremely valid reasons for governments to have a significant role to play in the provision of aviation in regions and countries that are completely dependent on such service. There are, however, even better reasons for excercising this control through regulation rather than ownership.
These reasons, however valid, in no way obviate the requirement to operate in a professional and reliable manner.