Air Jamaica flies path of service

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NEW YORK -- Air Jamaica is facing many of the same challenges as its competitors, but it is taking a "different path," according to Allen Chastanet, the carrier's vice president of marketing and sales.

By that, Chastanet meant that Air Jamaica has opted to be a full-service airline -- boosting and upgrading services to passengers rather than undertaking the type of cost-cutting measures seen among the U.S. carriers, particularly in food service.

Chastanet said Air Jamaica's "two core markets" make it impossible to drop or charge for meals.

He said the West Indian Caribbean market "needs certain levels of service."

As for the other core group -- leisure travelers -- Chastanet said that in-flight service, including meals, is part of the vacation experience.

"The vacation begins when you get on Air Jamaica," he said, adding that the airline last year upgraded its first class and added a superior class, called Premium, with sleeper seats.

Air Jamaica chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart -- who also is chairman of Sandals & Beaches Resorts -- expanded on that notion, saying,

"We want people to have something to look forward to" as they prepare to fly away on vacation.

Air Jamaica lost money in 2002, but not at the rate of many U.S. carriers, Chastanet noted, which enabled the carrier to steer clear of staff cuts and office closures.

However, although the airline "did not lose as much as expected," Stewart said, "we can't keep doing that."

Stewart said he was optimistic that this year the carrier will make "a lot of money."

Air Jamaica has no plans to add U.S. gateways this year because it is maxed out at 12 under the current bilateral agreement.

Although the picture will change for Air Jamaica after the Jamaican government signs a promised open-skies agreement with the U.S., the airline said it is not targeting new destinations in the U.S. at the moment.

Chastanet said the economy still is unpredictable and there are "so many elements outside our control."

Rather, he said, the airline is looking at gateway expansion in Canada and possibly in Europe.

In the U.S., expansion will take the form of added flights on existing routes.

Air Jamaica has announced plans for a second daily Chicago flight beginning Feb. 12 and a second daily service from Los Angeles beginning April 10.

From Baltimore, the carrier will offer two flights per day four days a week, beginning in June.

Stewart said Los Angeles has been "one of our best-performing routes, so we decided to throw the dice for twice-daily service," operating the only nonstop flights from Los Angeles to the Caribbean.

With the extra service, he continued, "we can market more aggressively," and with the nonstops, Air Jamaica is offering what the customer wants.

"People want to get on a flight and go to the destination," Stewart said.

Chastanet also noted that Jamaica is the same distance from Los Angeles as Hawaii, and "we need to do a better job of publicizing that."

The underlying plan for Air Jamaica, Stewart concluded, is to keep growing the business to benefit the carrier and the entire Caribbean region, where the biggest need continues to be additional airlift.

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