Air Jamaica passengers stranded

Scores of Air Jamaica passengers have been left stranded in Kingston following the airline’s suspension of flights to Eastern Caribbean destinations last week.

The airline, on Friday, suspended with immediate effect all flights to and from Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia until April 16, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

The suspension was attributed to Air Jamaica’s new accelerated maintenance schedule, a mandatory requirement by the United States Federal Aviation Authority. The airline’s 18-month maintenance schedule was cut to 15 months by the Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority, reducing the available fleet from 15 to 10 aircraft.

Charmaine Blackwood, front office manager at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, said that since Saturday they have been accommodating and feeding 20 of the stranded passengers at the expense of the national carrier.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles, head of social work and psychology at the Cave Hill campus of the University of West Indies in Barbados, has been staying at the Altamont Court Hotel in New Kingston with a group of 11 students since Sunday. They had been attending a conference at the UWI Mona campus.

“I am horrified and many of my students have been traumatised,” she said. “My students have commitments in Barbados and I have had to split the group up and get them on the earliest available flights.”

She added: “We are supposed to fly via Miami on Tuesday, but we have no guarantee and we still need (United States) visas, although Air Jamaica is helping to pay for them.”

Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on a visit to Jamaica over the weekend, said national airlines were more vital to the Caribbean than simple profit and loss account could reveal. “Business people, who want to travel between Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean are going to have difficulty because they’re all sorts of different formulations in order to get there, and they’re going to be more expensive, he said.”

The Air Jamaica Flight cancellation also forced the cancellation of a concert at the Hilton Hotel that was being put on yesterday by the Alliance Française de la Jamaïque, the Embassy of France and the Franco-Caribbean Institute for Co-operation based in Guadeloupe. This was because Guadeloupean singer Dominik Coco and his 12-member band are unable to come to Jamaica because of the cancelled flights.

“The suspension will erode confidence in the airline,” said Caribbean airline expert John Gilmore. “This will have an impact on its market in the Eastern Caribbean, as they were the ones sacrificed, and the concern will be when will it happen again.”

He said that as a basic rule, airlines almost never suspend flights for which passengers have already booked, especially for a month and during the peak season. “It will have a wider impact because of the traffic flow through the Montego Bay hub,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Majorie Robinson, Air Jamaica manager of community relations was unable to confirm how many people had been affected by the suspensions, or how many remained stranded.

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