Nervous passengers beware

The challenges of travelling in the Caribean

My regular holiday sojourns in the Caribbean make modern travel seem so easy, almost effortless. Even in the depths of emotional despair, following my sister's death, Mrs Howe and I were able to change tickets from one company to the next without fuss or fanfare.

I had to write off my Virgin airline ticket to get me to Trinidad instead of Barbados, as we had planned. We booked a ticket with British Airways to Trinidad, and from Trinidad to Barbados we were placed on Liat, the Caribbean airline. I would meet up with Mrs Howe in Barbados for our two-week holiday.

A telephone call from London warned me that there would be all manner of shenanigans getting from Trinidad to Barbados. Departure time from Trinidad was 6am. Knowledgeable Trinidadians warned me to get to the airport at 4am, if not I would be bounced off the flight. The verb (to bounce) involves every shady activity imaginable.

I arrived on time, made my way to the ticket counter, only to be told that my British Airways ticket, bought and paid for, was not appearing on Liat's computer system. No one could say why this was so, only the statement delivered hesitatingly that my ticket had somehow disappeared into thin air.

I was furious. I huffed and puffed and confrontation seemed inevitable. Failing to meet Mrs Howe in Barbados was not an option. I tried to purchase another ticket, and such was my determination to get out of Trinidad that the Liat staff finally caved in - not before charging me for a single piece of hand luggage, a suit in a holdall.

I called my friend in London on my way to the departure lounge, and he suggested that all I had needed to do was slip the Liat staff a couple of blue notes (TT$200) and the problem would have been solved.

I had no intention of ever doing any such thing; I told him that I would prefer to develop wings and fly.

I met Mrs Howe at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados on time. We hugged and kissed. She was as warm as a Caribbean afternoon. We travelled to our destination in the parish of St Philip. On arrival, as she unpacked, she suddenly screamed that her suitcases had been tampered with.

Tags on the handles indicated that her luggage had been searched after check-in and without her presence. One tag gave the reason: the passenger was nervous. And the suitcases were not simply searched - they were ransacked as she relaxed in the departure lounge. The staff of the security company who went through her luggage had re-packed the suitcases, moving around her belongings from one bag to another.

We have travelled through the Caribbean for more than 30 years, to almost every island state. We have been to Africa and to Turkey. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

I questioned Mrs Howe closely and all she can remember saying was that she wanted to travel at the front of the plane because she feels uncomfortable at the back. This simple request made her a terrorist suspected of carrying a bomb in her suitcase.

She had brought with her a copy of the New Statesman, which carried a flier advertising a book about "fascist Britain". I do not agree with this bold claim, but a creeping authoritarianism is certainly upon us. A ticket-counter clerk, with no training in psychology, made the decision to violate my wife's possessions without any reasonable cause whatsoever.

Whatever happened to the slogan, Power to the People? It has been supplanted by another, Power to the Counter Clerk.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Election fever