Two Hundred Liberians, Others Stranded At Kennedy Airport In New York …As Universal Airline Flight Cancelled


By Josephus Moses Gray
Monrovia, Liberia


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 24, 2005


According reports from New York, over 200 Liberians and other nationals destined for Monrovia are stranded at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. They have been stranded due to the cancellation of the Universal Airlines scheduled flight to Monrovia.

This was billed as the inaugural flight of the Universal Airlines to Liberia; the trip has been in the making for the past several months. It has also been advertised for months and the price of roundtrip ticket for the “inaugural flight” was reduced to under $1000.00. This was a dream come true for many Liberians who wanted to go home either on business trip or for visit.

Among those affected were members of the LIHEDE’s delegation that is coming to Liberia to conduct seminars. Sources close to LIHEDE say that members of the delegation are making other arrangements for them to come to Liberia to conduct the workshop as publicized in Monrovia.

The Perspective was able to get in contact with some of those who were scheduled to be on the flight:

Henrietta White-Holder - (this would have been her first trip to Liberia in 25 years):

“Well we have booked this flight since the early part of February when we heard about it. Everything was all set for us: I received my ticket and everything. Sunday [when] we got to the Airport, my partner told me that there was a message on his answering service that the flight was cancelled – this was close to 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon… We tried to get information as to what was going on, the person that we spoke to basically said that Guyana could not allow the airline to leave once it landed in that country. So there was no recourse for them right now but to cancel the flight. I have been trying to call, and I have not been successful in getting anybody – the phone has been ringing and ringing for the longest time and we can’t get anybody to speak to us and I am quite upset. They were very unprofessional, they un-ceremonially dumped us, got us stranded with not a word of what we are going to do for you people next – it was almost like they didn’t care. I am really disappointed, I am really hurt even to the point that I think that … perhaps we need to get the FAA involved to see what kind of scheme these people perpetrated against us – because something has happened here that we are not getting the right answer for. They need to be held liable for [all our expenses].

“We need somebody to do something about this! It’s wrong! And now we are doing everything we can to try to get to Liberia, but it’s more expenses because it is a very last minute and were are going through hoops right now trying to get to Liberia.”

Henrietta also had this to say in e-mail:

“I am highly disappointed to say the least about the lack of professionalism and the unceremonious way in which Sahara Travel and their cohorts Universal Airlines treated those of us who had made travel arrangements with them to travel to Liberia on Sunday March 20th, 2005, on what was being heralded as their "Inaugural " flight. We received the message at the very last minute, on the answering service while en route to the airport (JFK) from Rhode Island, that the flight was cancelled. One of my companions had traveled from Greensboro, NC to JFK, only to find a sign informing him of this travesty. We (myself and three others) were traveling to Liberia to conduct some business affairs and had made all necessary arrangements with people whom we were to meet there...only to have us fall flat on our face from the embarrassment, time and unnecessary expense that Sahara Travel and Universal Airlines has put us through. And, to add insult to injury, we have not been able to speak to anyone because they are not responding to our repeated phone calls.

“I believe firmly that this act of theirs is criminal and a great scam has been perpetrated against us and feel that the FAA needs to do an in-depth investigation to find out what went wrong and hold these people liable for any and all damages. We need retribution!”

Lt. Jonah Tarley - (Like Henrietta, this was to be Lt. Jonah Tarley first time in Liberia in 25 years. He is part of LIHEDE’s delegation. Lt. Tarley was to conduct a workshop on “Mapping Out Appropriate Strategies for the Restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia”)::

“I have not gone to Liberia in 25 years. So I was going home with Dr. Somah so we [could] hold a seminar on the military – which I was going to do – bought the ticket and we were ready to go. I got a call at about 1:00 or 2:00 o’ clock or so and was told that the flight was cancelled. The lady told me that they had no agreement with the government of [Guyana] for the flight to leave [Guyana] and go to Liberia. I said well why did you announce the flight when you know that you have no agreement because this did not happen just on [today] Sunday? … She said, ‘well I am just telling you what it is.’ It does not make sense to schedule a flight several months ago and then you are [now] calling to say there was no agreement.

“I never dealt with [Bright] at the Sahara International before. Dr. Somah made the reservation with the Sahara International. The guy [Bright] is incompetent. I paid for my ticket and they took over a month – a month and two weeks – before I was able to get my ticket. Everyday, ‘the ticket will be there tomorrow, it will be there day after tomorrow’… So I will advise any Liberian [traveling to Liberia] not to travel on that airline until at least they see a few flights if there will be any. I think there is a lot more going on than just landing rights that they may not be able to tell us but hopefully we will find out in the future.”

Gerry Conrneua - (an American) was to be on the flight:

“I fortunately did not get stranded in New York – I never left my home. The airline called me just before I left my house. They said the Government of Guyana could not let the connecting flight take off for Monrovia…. I am leaving tomorrow, flying from Newark to Brussels, Brussels to Abidjan and then from Abidjan to Monrovia.”

Speaking in a sad and disappointed voice, another victim said, “for now we have not heard from the Liberian businessman, Mr. Ralph Bright of Sahara International Incorporated through whom we bought our tickets.”
According to the victim, the stranded passengers are perplexed and extremely despondent and in disarray and do not know what step to take to enable them to depart the USA for Liberia.

“We have made several attempts to reach the airline’s agent from whom we purchased the tickets but up to date there has been no response as his whereabouts remain unknown”, the distressed traveler said.

Speaking by way of cell phone with The Perspective, a management staff at the Ophelia Travel Agency, the local agent of Universal Travel Airlines denied that there is no landing right between Liberia and Guyana.

According to Mr. Mitchell, the Universal Travel Airlines was faced with some problems which have since been resolved, and added that the flight is due in the country on Monday.

He said the stranded passengers are not in disarray nor despondent on grounds that they are all New Yorkers, else the airline is under obligation under travel regulations to lodge them in a hotel.

When contacted, the head of the Ophelia Travel Agency, Mrs. Ophelia Hoff-Saytumah confirmed that indeed a problem developed with the Universal Airline flight, but that has been taken care off.

She, however, did not disclose the problem. Instead, she also confirmed that the flight is due in the country Monday.

Up to press time, all efforts to contact Mr. Ralph Bright via his office phone number 301-608-0500 in the United States proved futile as it was only a Voice Mail.

Investigation Continues.