Tue | May 21, 2019

Editorial | Travel jitters high

Published:Saturday | March 16, 2019 | 12:10 AM

The deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane last Sunday is creating unease among airlines, their passengers, and aviation authorities, who have begun to question the airworthiness of this Boeing model. In October 2018, a similar model, 737 Max 8 operated by Lion Air, plunged into the Java sea minutes after take-off from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Sunday’s disaster was the second crash involving Boeing’s brand-new narrow-body aircraft. Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Air 302 are reported to have shared a similar flight profile before they crashed.

Although this crash happened thousands of miles away from Jamaica, the reverberations are being felt here as the Civil Aviation Authority, like many others, has banned the aircraft from using its airspace.

Two of the largest American carriers based on passenger loads – American Airlines and Southwest Airlines – operate these planes, though in relatively small numbers. American has 24 in its fleet of 1,000, while Southwest has 31 among its fleet of 750 but has reportedly ordered dozens more. The American Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has grounded all 737 Max 8 planes.

With Jamaica having no national airline and being dependent on international carriers to airlift tourists to the island, there ought to be some concern about how this may affect movement of people and how soon this situation will be sorted out.

The question was recently put to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett. Our ever-optimistic tourism minister, in his usual effusive manner, with a perfunctory wave of the hand, dismissed questions about how Jamaica’s tourism might be affected.

Mr Bartlett, riding on a crest of encouraging arrival numbers for 2019, seems to think that Jamaica has nothing to worry about.

We have come to understand that the minister’s enthusiasm is sometimes out of sync with reality.

But we want to introduce a note of skepticism here, for where there are safety concerns, many people, will opt to remain at home, and any fall in passenger numbers will have an impact on several sectors of the economy.

FEWER FLIGHT OPTIONS

West Jet and Air Canada airlines, which both bring tourists to Jamaica from Canada, have followed the lead of multiple nations, including the European Union and China, by grounding the 737 Max planes. Surely, there will be some fall-out from all of this, for it means that while the ban remains in effect, travellers will have fewer flight options.

For example, it has been reported that one of the largest travel websites, Kayak, has started making changes to allow customers to exclude specific aircraft types from their searches.

Booking sites are also reported to be rerouting passengers as a reaction to the latest air disaster.

In many cases, it is anticipated that passengers may be susceptible to higher fares, depending on their travel destination. Additionally, there are reports of the Twitter accounts of American and Southwest being swamped by customers seeking refunds or requesting re-routing.

While the world waits to hear whether the design or manufacture of the planes contributed to their demise, potential fliers remain jittery as many have taken to social media to express fears about the aircraft’s safety or to seek reassurance from airlines that continue to fly these Boeing planes.

For the sake of Jamaica’s economy, it is hoped that the investigations are concluded in a swift and efficient manner, for only then will passengers be assured. Our sunshine, rich culture, and paradise beaches will continue to attract visitors to our shores, but there is no doubt that events like these could deliver blows to the tourist industry.