Grenada holding on to Air Jamaica flights

Bevan Springer

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada – As the Caribbean struggles for tourism business in the slower summer months ahead, Grenada, “the Spice Island,” is trying to make sure that international air access to the island is the least of its worries.

After recently securing three weekly American Airlines nonstop flights from Miami to St. George’s, the Grenada Board of Tourism is coughing up a cool US$250,000 to support Air Jamaica’s overnight nonstop flights from New York to the island, in a marketing agreement which starts during the current 10th year of service to the island.

With a new government in office, Grenada – which has the enviable distinction of being the only Eastern Caribbean destination to be served by the 40 year-old carrier – understands the importance of prime positioning in the US marketplace where airfares to the Caribbean rival those being offered from neighboring islands.

That’s why Grenadian tourism authorities have recently retained former Air Jamaica sales executive Christina Mucha and media operative Karin Clarke to augment its sales promotion activities in the northeastern seaboard of the United States, a primary target market for Caribbean destinations.

“The New York/Grenada route continues to be very important to the airline, and we are confident that travelers will continue to choose Air Jamaica as their preferred carrier to the Spice Island,” said William Rodgers, Air Jamaica’s Senior Director of Government & Community Affairs.

However, the airline is risking confrontation with the traveling public with its new policy of charging US$25 for a second piece of checked luggage for economy class passengers, which the airline says will be transported within seven days.

The new rule is expected to eliminate the “baggage bacchanal” that has plagued the route, especially when load factors are heavy, and in the case of extreme weather where extra fuel takes precedence over luggage.

The challenge facing Grenada is the reduced twice weekly frequency of service compared with an island like Jamaica where delayed bags can most likely be accommodated on another flight that same day. Nonetheless, the Amsterdam News understands that when load factors aren’t extremely heavy and the skies are clear, there is every likelihood that both bags will accompany each passenger upon entering the arrival hall at the recently renamed Maurice Bishop International Airport.

Chairman of Grenada’s Airlift Committee, businessman Michael McIntyre acknowledged that while there has been an outcry, the government has addressed the issue with the carrier and he thinks practically is the order of the day. “All airlines today have their struggles. Air Jamaica wants to bring as many passengers to the island as possible and the aircraft can only hold a certain number of passengers and bags. Unfortunately, the West Indian and more specifically the Grenadian wants to come back with 5 and 6 bags (from New York) … so I don’t think the airline is being unreasonable in their request.”

Air Jamaica currently flies between New York and Grenada on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and will add a Friday flight beginning June 26, and a Monday service starting July 13 for a total of four weekly flights through the summer travel season. The airline also returns temporarily to Barbados over the summer with two weekly flights.

From a tourism perspective, veteran Grenadian hotelier Sir Royston Hopkin of Spice Island Beach Resort is disappointed with Air Jamaica’s reduced “red-eye” flights to the island, but admits the carrier has played a major part in Grenada’s tourism development. “We all know that Air Jamaica is in dire straights financially so we are still happy to have two flights,” he said, adding that both the summer schedule as well as the US$250,000 “stimulus package” should yield some fruit.

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