It began life in 1940 as British West Indian Airways, but we've always known it as BWIA, or "Bee-Wee." In a region where airlines often seem to have the size and life expectancy of a fruit fly, BWIA was a survivor.

It has also become the latest venerable airline to face the sad music of restructuring.

The airline's owner, the government of Trinidad and Tobago, is going to engineer a financial makeover that will result in the emergence next year of a new airline with most of BWIA's routes and, ideally, few of its liabilities. It will also emerge with a new name: Caribbean Airlines.

We hope that venture is a success.

We also hope that BWIA's predicament can serve as a reminder that Europe isn't the only region of the world where governments and their airlines should be rethinking the idea that every nation, no matter how small, deserves its own intercontinental flag carrier.

In Europe over the last decade, Belgium and Switzerland have faced the music. So has the Netherlands, whose proud and venerable airline was acquired by Air France.

U.S. government officials have been monitoring these events and working with their counterparts in Europe to create an economic and political environment where the gaggle of transatlantic airlines can restructure, rationalize, consolidate and prosper -- the idea being that it's better to have a few strong airlines than many weak ones.

In the Caribbean, the last decade has not been a happy one for prominent airlines such as ALM, Air Jamaica, Cayman Airways and now BWIA.

Perhaps Caribbean Airways will someday benefit from a political and economic environment where it can fulfill the promise of its name and form the basis of a truly multinational entity. 

The nations of the Caribbean are taking steps to create a common market along the lines of the European Union. The Caribbean has a long way to go, but there's no reason why its airlines can't lead the way. It would help if the U.S. government could pry its eyes away from transatlantic issues for just a moment and offer whatever assistance and encouragement it can.

Click it

We'll say it up front: We think the invention of a lightweight, portable safety harness that keeps toddlers safe in airline seats is the greatest innovation in air travel since the no-smoking sign.

We say that because it has the potential to put an end to the inane practice of allowing (or requiring) parents to hold small children in their laps, where nobody believes they are safe.

As we reported in our news pages a week ago, the FAA has approved, for all airlines, a supplemental harness developed by AmSafe Aviation that will allow children over the age of 12 months and weighing up to 44 pounds to safely occupy an airline seat without resorting to a bulky car seat. The harness rolls up into a small tote bag. 

The downside is that the retail cost is $75, a price that we hope will come down as time goes on and as other manufacturers get FAA approval for similar devices. Maybe some enterprising and thoughtful airline will figure out a way to soften the blow for families with a promotional tie-in of some kind.

In the interim, anybody who is in the business of counseling families about air travel should bone up on the subject. A good place to start is

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI