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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TACV - Cape Verde's National Embarrassment

I've had it up to here with TACV, Cape Verde's national airline! A national airline carries the country's badge into international destinations and is normally a source of pride for the citizens of the country. In the case of TACV, "Transportes Aéreos de Cabo Verde", it is instead a national disgrace for Cape Verde.

Now don't get me wrong. No airline is perfect. But the question here is this: can an airline be any worse?

I happen to be a travel warrior myself, chalking up almost one million miles of international travel and domestic travel in the USA. I have personally never experienced anything worse. Here is a brief sample of the service issues and horror stories with TACV:

  • Local and international flights are consistently late or delayed. On one trip, the flight from Boston to Praia was delayed to the next day. I've experienced long flight delays in my air travels, for example, because of bad weather or equipment problems ... but someone always provides you with a reason for the delay. I suspect in some cases, they make up excuses. But still, they at least acknowledge the customer. Not so with TACV. They give no explanations. Nothing. Could they care less? What I've heard from others is that this is not an unusual occurrence.
  • Confirmations are needed. If you buy an airline ticket from TACV for a certain travel itinerary, you better make sure that you contact them again and again to confirm that the flights are leaving at the time that they originally told you. In the case of TACV, it's not that they push the departure times back a couple hours. No, in many cases they advance the departure times by a couple hours ... and they don't warn you. Just this week on a trip from Praia to Boston, I was thankful that I reconfirmed because the flight was advanced 2 hours earlier. A couple American business colleagues of mine were not so lucky. On a trip planned trip from Praia to Fogo, TACV advanced the departure time by 1 hour and by the time they got to the check-in desk, the flight was already airborne ... without them. As if that was bad enough, a few days later, my colleagues missed the return flight as well ... TACV pulled the same stunt on the return. My colleagues failed to heed my warning to call TACV to reconfirm their return flight. So was it the fault of my colleagues? Where on earth today do you need to "reconfirm" your travel arrangements. This is a thing of a bygone era.
  • Government officials can "hijack" your confirmed, scheduled, paid-for local flight. Yes, TACV is a government-owned airline and government ministers can simply call the airline at the last minute and force TACV operators to cancel an entire flight, inconveniencing dozens of passengers, so that they can use the aircraft on their own schedule. Imagine that! There is nothing that demonstrates greater contempt for customers. I guess the customers can always book new flights. Who cares what havoc was created by any changes to the customers' original plans.
  • You've paid for your flight and confirmed your departure times. Guess what? That doesn't mean you actually have a seat! That's right .. believe it or not, there are dozens of instances where paid, confirmed passengers are told that their seats have been reassigned to others (typically TACV employees and their friends who didn't have confirmed seats). The dreaded overbooking problem. But they don't tell anyone about the overbooking situation as is the common practice among reputable airlines who will offer to give a free ticket to someone who volunteers to give up a seat on an overbooked flight. To make matters worse, they won't even put you up in a hotel and pay for your meals when they bump you off an international trip. This happened to a friend of mine just today. He sent me a text message about his ordeal.
  • They will leave your bags behind to make the weight clearances. Well, I can understand that in the interest of safety, an airline may be forced to leave some bags behind so that the aircraft is not carrying weight in excess of safety limits. The problem is that Cape Verdeans travel heavy with luggage up to the gills. They will put 10 pieces of luggage plus frozen fish in coolers into the aircraft's hold. Now this is also a practice of eons past. On an international flight, can't TACV enforce some standards? Yes, some ignorant customer may be upset, but would you rather lose your luggage or have someone's fish-water spill all over your bags because their cooler broke in the cargo hold? Look, this isn't some picnic we're going on.
  • The in-flight service is OK but the flight attendants treat people like they are stupid. From the moment you enter the aircraft, they try to force you to show them your boarding pass to tell you where your seat is. Listen lady, I can not only read, I can also count. I can even find my seat in a stadium. I don't need you to tell me how to find seat 15B. I imagine it's right next to seat 15A and both those seats are to be found immediately after I pass row 14. What am I missing? Same thing with international immigration and custom forms. They come, row by row, and ask to see your form to check it. Listen lady, it's really none of your business what's on my immigration or custom forms. If you asked whether I need help filling out the form that's one thing. But, if you insist that I show you the form even after I said, "thank you, but I don't need your help" ... that's another thing.
  • In-flight attendants wear their condescending attitude like some badge of honor. It even extends to the use of the toilets. The one at the front of the aircraft is apparently reserved for the high and mighty crew. The commoners are relegated to the toilets in the middle and back of the plane. So if you happen to be sitting in 3A, there's no chance that you can use the toilet that is a few rows ahead of you. I've never heard of such a thing in my travels anywhere else in the world.
  • I've reserved my worst TACV horror story for last. About two years ago, I was travelling from São Vicente to Praia for a business meeting with the president of the country's stock market. The flight was scheduled to leave near midnight. Now, for such an important meeting I was taking no chances. I arrived at the old São Pedro airport about two hours ahead of time. Of course, there was not a single employee in sight to check me in. I waited in the "lounge" area - really a set of tables near the little restaurant - just a few steps from the check-in area which was blocked from view by a wall. No one announced the arrival or departures of any aircraft. With about 20 minutes to go to departure time, I became quite concerned. I entered the check-in area only to realize that lo and behold, the agent was now there, the flight was there and preparing to depart. The agent said she would not let me board the aircraft with the other passengers although I had no luggage (except a small carry-on bag with my change of clothes) and a paid ticket. She point-blank refused to check me in. There were a total of about 10 other passengers who had already checked in and were waiting just a few feet away from me to board a flight that had 68 seats (including 58 empty ones). I explained the situation to the agent, that I had an important meeting, that she never made any announcements or called for passengers, and that I had no luggage to check. All she had to do was give me a boarding pass and let me enter with the other passengers who were all still standing there waiting to board. She basically laughed in my face and told me that I was at fault. She said I had no choice but to await the next flight to Praia which was to leave at 4:30am. I also had to pay a fine to re-book onto this flight! How nasty and vindictive can you be to a customer? I asked to speak to a supervisor and she sneered at me that she was the one in charge. So I sat there for another 15 minutes watch the other 10 people board and the flight then left without me. I then had to wait another 4 hours for the next flight. I left for Praia on the 4:30am flight, so I ultimately made it to my meeting ... but I must have looked like pure hell since I got no sleep that night thanks to TACV. The nasty and vindictive attitude of the agent that night is something I will never forget. I realized at that moment that TACV could never be a successful business if this woman was an example of the managers of the company.
So what's the source of these problems? The basic issue is that this is a government-owned company (since 1983). It's run by the prime minister's brother ... surprise, surprise! It loses money even though the ticket prices are (too) high. How is this even possible? Well, it happens to be possible because governments are terrible at running and managing businesses.

TACV is a poorly managed, financial disaster - another black hole into which the citizens' tax dollars simply disappear. The airline travels to many international destinations including Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bisseau), Brazil (Fortaleza), USA (Boston), Europe (France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Germany). With all those international destinations, it sounds like a big company, doesn't it? They serve all of these destinations with only two Boeing 757 aircraft! Sounds like a case of spreading oneself too thin to me. In reality, it looks like a strategy of serving the countries where most of the Cape Verdean diaspora resides instead of picking a market in which to compete strongly for customers regardless of national origin. But then again, this is not the case of a private enterprise which has to live and die on the merits of a strong, coherent business strategy.

And in the domestic market, where it has a total of three small turbo-prop ATR aircraft, TACV is being given a royal beating by the local upstart, Halycyonair which started operations in 2005. Halycyonair has two ATRs and serves primarily the domestic market. Its flights are usually on time, the employees actually smile like they are sincerely happy to see you and on top of that, their ticket prices are cheaper. As you may have guessed, Halcyonair is not owned even one iota by the government. It is a private company and an example of what TACV could have become in the domestic market if there was any management competence within its ranks.

Well I am sure that the opportunity here is very clear to readers of this blog: TACV is a dismal failure and cannot be privatized quickly enough! I will give them one compliment, and that is that the airline has only had two serious incidents which occurred more than a decade ago and both involved domestic flights. This is a testament to the work of some of the almost 800 employees, some of whom can hardly be faulted for the failures of the company. A private investor can clean house and retain those employees who do a good job and actually care about their customers. I'm sure there are a few hidden in the crowd.

(Here is a second compliment: in late 2012, after apparently several YEARS in the making, TACV finally has a modern website where you can book your travel on TACV. You can find TACV online here).

I'm interested in hearing from readers: What do you think about TACV's service? Do you have any stories to share? What do you think is the solution? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments. I have also written a second article on TACV to discuss specific solutions. You can read it here.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Something else that should be noted is that TACV has no website. Good luck even making a reservation if you are a tourist looking to fly there for vacation. Horrible company.

Anonymous said...

To continue the incestuous relationships in Cape Verde Halcyon Air is owned by the prime minister's wife's father.

Angelo said...

Thanks for the comments.

Hilarious. In Halcyon Air's defense I'll point out that the prime minister only recently got married to Halycyon Air's owner's daughter. So that airline was around long before. And I'll bet you that if you were the prime minister's new father-in-law that you wouldn't let your son-in-law anywhere near Halcyon Air given how he royally messed up TACV. Too funny.

As for TACV, they do have a website but it is down "for construction". If you are a tourist or businessperson needing to get to Cape Verde from Boston and you have no choice but to book a TACV flight, contact Neves Travel at 508-996-1332. Tony Neves will get you hooked up. He may also have alternatives via Europe (but they may be more expensive unless there is a special).

Otherwise you just have to suck it up and bear it for the 7 hour flights each way.

Anonymous said...

It is worrying. I have had similar experiences with internal flights. I keep hoping each time I plan to fly that there won't be a problem, but you can never be certain of a seat until you are sitting in one!

Here's a different one.........Can't remember if it was TACV or Halcyon Air but the last flight I took from Sal to Boavista I boarded the plane and noticed two seats on either side of the isle, problem with that was I had a seat in row 15E! Yes, the attendant said I was on the right plane and to sit anywhere. You do have to laugh sometimes!

Angelo said...

In their August 8th issue, Atlantico Weekly provides a split second poll.

You can vote or comment here: http://polldaddy.com/poll/5488029.

At this moment, the vote is evenly split between "sufficient", "good" and "bad/terrible."

Read Atlantico Weekly on a regular basis. They do a nice job of compiling all the news about Cape Verde: http://atlantico-weekly.com/

Anonymous said...

You are correct in all particulars. I am an investor in CV, living in Northern California, working hard to help the country of my birth where I think it needs help most (the subject of your other post regarding energy).

TACV is actually more than an embarrassment. The flag carrier of a country has responsibilities beyond simple commerce, though that too is very important. The impression TACV gives to foreigners is of Cape Verdeans as a surly, incompetent and corrupt people; the nightmare DMV of airlines; the first impression that quite a few people get of CV. In General, it is a false impression, but they don't necessarily know that.

While we Cape Verdeans have been long-suffering (which I think TACV mistakes for tolerance), foreign investors have no emotional attachment to CV. In my own experience taking my business partners/colleagues/officials and sci/tech researchers to CV, TACV has made it that much harder to convince them that CV is worth their money and attention.

Add stupidities like the inability to accept most common credit cards (only AMEX), lack of a web site (good luck trying to find a schedule) to the litany you related above.

For example, past summer I went to CV and took two others with me for five weeks. Since we're on the West Coast, I couldn't simply walk up to an office to pay cash for the tickets. So I got an AMEX card just for TACV. Turns out it takes two weeks to arrive; so that wasn't a real option since I had to pay for the flight 30 days ahead (this requirement alone makes TACV a joke for most business travel). The only other option was to transfer money directly to a TACV Bank of America savings account. So I had to get a BA account (!) in order to perform the transfer and guarantee it would get there on time. Normally I'd have family in Boston get the tickets for me and send them the money. But over $5000 was a bit much for me to ask. Hence the extra lengthy nightmare. This is a business that actually makes it very difficult for customers to give them money.

I have an American colleague--a PhD oceanographer and highly respected around the World in the fields of new desalination technologies and various methods of ocean power--I took to CV almost two years ago to go see for himself since I had convinced him that CV was perfect for some of the projects we are involved in (bringing all the investment capital from the outside with potentially massive beneficial impact for CV). Innocently, I booked his flight and gave his secretary TACV's number for payment. Same problem. I apologized on behalf of TACV (and a bit embarrassed myself), convinced that they must be working on fixing this booking/payment nightmare. Apparently not. I mean, how hard can it be to get a merchant account with credit card acceptance? TACV doesn't even have to run the process. It can be done in minutes. For a hot dog stand if one wants.

In my opinion TACV is right up there as one of the biggest drags on CV development. A country must market itself well to attract foreign investment; or at least not shoot itself in the foot continuously with this airline embarrassment. Were it not for my emotional connection with CV (it's my birthplace and where my emotional core was formed), I would devote the ridiculous number of hours per week of my time I devote to CV entirely elsewhere, precisely because of these remnants of dysfunctionality (TACV, Electra, ENAPOR to name just three with direct deleterious effects). Others without the emotional bonds, give up routinely.

Anonymous said...

Edit my last post: "I would devote the ridiculous number of hours per week…" for "I would spend the ridiculous number of hours per week…" :-)

Angelo said...

Dear anonymous, I thank you for your extremely clear and well articulated story to add to the perspective.

I also have to say that you have very compelling story-telling and writing style. You should be a blogger yourself!

Angelo
P.S. Feel free to check out the Facebook page at
http://www.facebook.com/investincv.

I would love to profile your investment projects under the Opportunities tab. Leave a one line comment there on Fb. That way, only I will know your identity. LOL

Anonymous said...

I concord with everything you said Angelo, but the one thing I really have to defend TACV about is their flight attendants and their in-flight service. Compared to any American based airline TACV flight attendants are angels from haven! They are as professional but many times much kinder and willing to help people compared to USA carrier flight attendants. But of course you can't compare them to the highly trained flight attendants from Fly Emirates, from UAE, or Singapore Airlines, from Singapore. One of the example you gave was the custom forms, they have to check the paperwork before sending the passengers out because if there is anything wrong with the paperwork the passenger has to go back to the aircraft, get new paper and redo the forms again. And maybe you don't have the need for help but many people in the flight due need help and many times they do make errors in the customs form. Better the hassle inside the aircraft than having people coming back to the aircraft and redoing the forms. As for the bathroom thing, I'm also not sure why it's like that but I know the bathroom is reserved just for the pilots, I'm pretty sure that it's a mandate by the cape-verdean pilot union and not really the companies' choice. As for the showing your ticket, most airlines due that, I've had to show my ticket in US carriers as well. Whenever there is a full flight they do this. But like I said I am with you on everything else when it comes to this company.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the posts, as they are very interesting and most of them "speak" the truth and reality of TACV’s behavioral and more. I wonder if TACV is also in compliance with IATA???? I don’t even see more accreditations other than IATA. What are TACV’s fines to the airline/transportation communities? It would be interesting to know.
Can the owner of the blog publish/refresh the posts to the public in USA and CV? The same issues are still happening, since your first and last post.
DC/MD Metro area.

Alex said...

Hello, I've been searching about TACV, as they are now starting new destinations from/to Brazil (Recife). I see that the posts are from 2011-2013, so I wonder how TACV has improved to offer these new destinations? Have things improved? I would like to attend a wedding in Brazil in july, and these new destinations have great prices, but I certainly dont want to miss the wedding. Thanks in advance!

Angelo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angelo said...

Hi Alex,

TACV has improved significantly in the management and financial areas over the past two years! How have they managed to improve? Well, they've taken several steps in the right direction:

1. They are looking for a buyer, so they've been forced to clean-house (layoffs and early retirements are ongoing) and take financial actions including a sale-leaseback of the aircraft they own to spruce up the books.

2. They have cut some unprofitable routes.

3. Through no fault of their own, oil prices plummeted since 2013 (LOL).

This latter point perhaps accounts for 80% of the financial improvement even though the management is now boasting about improved productivity and efficiency. The net result was that they still lost money in 2014, but instead of losses in the millions, there were only a couple hundred thousands of red ink spilled. So definitely much better off than they were before.

You see, reality is an unforgiving teacher and TACV's management has been forced to learn some hard lessons.

Yet, if you must get there guaranteed (e.g., for a wedding), I would advise you that TACV would not be my first choice. Or if you make it your first choice, give yourself LOTS of buffer in your travel calendar in case there are any flight cancellations. They don't really give a damn (or at least they did not just a few years ago) and they have no "backup" resources to assure that you will get there on time.

Thanks for your question and I hope this helps.

Angelo

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