Sun | Dec 4, 2016

When problems refuse to fly …

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Fly Jamaica area manager for New York, Ann-Marie Francis (on phone), and customer service agent Kim Sharples (left) are confronted by upset passengers at one of the service counters at the John F. Kennedy Airport, as the passengers demand information on what time their flight would be leaving for Jamaica. -Photo by Ryon Jones

Local airline begs for patience

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

The management of Fly Jamaica Airline has again been forced to ask its customers to stay on board with the struggling airline as the turbulent times they have been experiencing continue, despite the acquisition of another aircraft, which had been touted as the saviour.

The latest incident played out between last Thursday night and Friday morning, when the scheduled return of the new aircraft's inaugural flight failed to depart New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport for Kingston and Georgetown on schedule.

Gate One at the terminal descended into chaos as several irate passengers protested the constant rescheduling, the latest being at midnight Thursday.

One passenger, who produced supporting documentation, said he had been waiting to get to Jamaica since Monday.

"I should have arrived in Jamaica from the 17th, and nobody has explained to me why the flight has been delayed for five days," said a visibly upset Hugh Williams. "Is my vacation I am on and have to spend five days out of it in the airport."

The 69-year-old Williams added: "I even have some barrels that I sent out, and the place called me and told me that the barrels had reached, and I told them I would come and get them on Tuesday (the 18th), as that's when they told me the flight had been rescheduled for, and I am still here and have to be paying storage."

"We put other persons on carriers, so he must have slipped through the cracks," said a very apologetic Fly Jamaica Airlines Managing Director Roxanne Reece, who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner when the flight eventually departed JFK at approximately 7:40 a.m. Friday.

"We apologise and we hope that our loyal customers will stick with us. We will try to refurbish their faith," said Reece, while admitting that a better job could have been done communicating with passengers, who said there had been little or no word from the airline.

"What happened was that there was a scheduled maintenance. We knew that we had to take out this part and change it. We carried our mechanics up from Jamaica, who had said the job would take six hours, but they had not taken into consideration the very cold weather, so it ended up taking 12 hours, as we had to go buy them winter clothes and all," Reece said.

"The part was already in New York, and it would have taken too long to clear it through Customs and all that, so we decided to put in the new part up here," she explained, while pointing out that her husband, Captain Paul Reece, who, like herself, is Guyanese, and the company's chairman, was with the maintenance crew the entire time.

DOUBLE EFFECT

Manager Ann-Marie Francis explained to The Sunday Gleaner that some scheduled flights were cancelled and passengers moved to flights later in the week.

"We have had some flights which have been cancelled and passengers were moved. If they have been moved to yesterday's (Thursday) flight, which has not left yet, it is like a double effect," said Francis.

But there was little that could placate passengers stuck at JFK. Some passengers told tales of having been at the airport from 7 a.m., but the departure time was constantly pushed back, with no real explanation.

"My father, who was confined to a wheelchair, is a stroke and heart patient and they cleared him to travel. It's $215,000 we paid for him and my mother to travel in first class, and we been here from 7 a.m., went away and came back," said one woman, who was almost in tears.

Another woman, who was travelling back to Jamaica for the first time in 24 years, complained bitterly, as she feared missing her grandfather's funeral.

"I was here from eight yesterday (Thursday) morning, and the flight was postponed to 12 noon, and then they changed it to 10 p.m., then I was told 11:59 p.m., and then 3 a.m. on Friday," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

"This is the first and the last, because I was thinking of booking for next summer, but no."

Yet another passenger, who used several expletives to get her point across, threatened a lawsuit, as she had called in sick at work, so as to jet off to New York.

"Mi a go mek sure mi get the best lawyer. These are sick days that I use, and you guys are not reliable. You are putting my job in danger. We have been in the airport for two days. Dem a act like a free wi a travel; dem know how hard US$500 is to come by?" the irate woman said at the top of her voice.

The airline's recently acquired a 246-seat Boeing 767-300ER was the plane that eventually made the return trip.

Passengers had enjoyed a smooth inaugural flight on November 20, with those who had made the trip singing the airline's praises and vowing to make it their carrier of choice.

Many passengers commended the pilot for what they deemed a perfect take-off and flawless flight.

The Boeing 767, which was bought in July to bring the airline's fleet to two, but was not cleared to make commercial flights by the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration until last week, was to have alleviated the issues of lengthy delays and cancellations, which have been plaguing the Jamaican airline of late.

This has, however, not been the case, as the airline has had to send its Boeing 757 to Costa Rica for an inspection required to be done on all commercial and civil aircraft periodically.

"The other plane went for a scheduled C check in Costa Rica from around two weeks ago, and the C check takes about five weeks," said Reece.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com