Air Jamaica will stop flying to Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Barbados, Grand Cayman and Grenada in February. Route cuts and lay offs are necessary to keep the beleaguered airline afloat.
The airline business is tough. Sir Richard Branson (Virgin) likes to say if you want to be a millionaire start with a billion dollars then go into the airline business. Among the traditional U.S. airlines, American Airlines remains financially the most stable; not because it is making profits, but because it is the only one that has managed to avoid bankruptcy. Air Jamaica, while smaller has not been exempt from those hardships.
The airline has been beset by year-to-year losses for some time, and I have long contended that the Love Bird needed to cut back on some of its in-flight hospitality. Other airlines charge for everything - from six pretzels in a bag to an uncomfortable inflatable pillow. Even after getting squeezed by the discount carrier Spirit, Air Jamaica still served hot meals and soft drinks for free. Now they must make the big changes.
Sadly, the cessation of the Kingston-Miami route marks the end of an era. Air Jamaica was largely built on that route. From the beginning to the end, the flights between Miami International and Norman Manley International airports catered to 'informal commercial importers' bringing in their wares from farin, well-heeled Jamaicans hopping out for weekend partying and shopping trips, and illicit lovers sneaking away for clandestine meetings. Every traveling Jamaican has at least one story of a higgler who refused to accept that she had too much luggage, or a virgin traveler wearing his Sunday best and carrying his heavy coat over his arm. They also, no doubt, have a story about a delayed flight during a holiday that was tempered only by the sweetness of a pretty flight attendant.
The troubles of the national carrier and now the demise of the popular flight route will undoubtedly trigger feelings of loss, regret and some guilt (for those who flew with JOSpirit or American Airlines to save a few dollars). For me, the feeling is nostalgia. I smile at the memories of the little girl with the rich patois accent who tried to open the airplane window, of my late girlfriend's crisp uniform and tight bun, and of feeling like I had already arrived on the island the minute I took my seat on the plane.