Such a cruel, inconsiderate decision

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 31 October 2017, 12:00AM

Oh how gullible we are! Just when we started to think the government has finally got it right by allowing free flowing competition among airlines – if and when Samoa Airways eventually hits the skies in 13 days – we get a reality check chucked in our faces.

For the past few weeks, we have been delightfully watching how low some of the airfares between Auckland and Faleolo have dropped, some of the lowest we’ve seen in fact, since Samoa Airways launched it’s end of year sales. 

And with that we started to dream that perhaps our government has finally grown up after all these years in power. We thought they were finally starting to walk the talk when it comes to the value of fair and uncompromising competition so that customers and members of the public become the ultimate beneficiaries.

But how foolish we were. 

Yesterday, reality returned to bite where it hurts the most. And for more than 6,000 travellers whose plans have been affected, that’s in their pockets and hearts.  

You see the cruel blow came in an announcement from Virgin Australia.

 “Virgin Australia wishes to advise you that the Samoan Government has denied authorisation of our scheduled services between Apia and Auckland,” the message reads. 

“We are disappointed by this decision and are working in conjunction with the Australian Government to explore options to encourage the Samoan Government to reconsider its decision.”

“Unfortunately, this means your upcoming flight with Virgin Australia will be affected and we are genuinely sorry that this outcome has resulted in a disruption to your travel plans.”

“We would again like to apologise for the disruption to your travel plans however the situation is unfortunately out of our control.”

Now there are always two sides to a story. So it will be interesting to see what the government, namely Prime Minister Tuilaepa, has to say about this. 

But purely judging from the message to thousands of customers, it’s cruel. Downright gut wrenching. Which explains the frustrations and anger members of the public have expressed on the front page of the newspaper you are reading, social media and elsewhere online. And it’s not hard to understand.

We are a month away from December and the Festive season. 

Many people had bought their tickets to travel back and forth between Auckland and Samoa and have been joyfully counting down to the day. Alas their dreams have been dashed. Many of them will have to make alternative plans, they will lose money and the list of negatives goes on.

Virgin Australia of course will be held accountable to a degree for selling the seats without securing prior approval. But that’s not the point here. 

At the end of the day, the headache and heartache will still be noticeable and carried by innocent travellers who are ordinary people of this country. They are the ones who bought the fares and were not privy to the inner workings of the officials who have eventually made the decision. They should have been given prior warning.

Even better, couldn’t the government have waited until people have used up their tickets? Couldn’t they have come to a solution with Virgin Australia that perhaps allowed the airline to still provide the service they had sold to their customers?

The Samoan government and Virgin Australia have been in partnership for 10 years. We know it wasn’t the best of relationships at times but surely they could’ve held on for a couple of months more for the sake of our people.

We accept that the consideration is largely due to finances and perhaps the competitive nature of the aviation industry. Besides, at the end of the day, the government has the ultimate final say, which is the card they have pulled. 

But it’s hard to ignore the political element to the decision. Right from day one when the government knew that Virgin had put in an application to continue their services to Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has been issuing veiled threats about declining the application. 

Which is why the decision we have today is hardly surprising.

But is it the best decision? Has the government done the right thing for and by our people? 

Don’t be shy to write and share your thoughts with us!

In the meantime, have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 31 October 2017, 12:00AM

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