Novia Ramsay, Gleaner Writer
Thursday, October 25, marked the American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ's) 31st annual Hummingbird Gala and Banquet, but this year they were celebrating Jamaica's 50th year of Independence. It was held at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in the heart of Times Square in New York City. This year's gala honoured JetBlue Airways President and Chief Executive Officer David Barger for the airline's continued support of Jamaica's tourism and its commitment to charities aimed at improving the education and general well-being of Jamaica's youth.
David Barger was one of the founding members of JetBlue Airways in August 1998 and has since held various titles including his current as president and CEO. He is on both executive committee and the board of governors of the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to air safety.
Barger, in his acceptance speech, noted that he was honoured to receive the 2012 International Achievement Award and that he considers himself a member of the Jamaican family. He made it clear that the airline was committed to establishing the highest standard of customer satisfaction, performance and service within the industry.
Asked about the airline's plans for the upcoming holiday season, Barger indicated to The Gleaner that, "We will continue to have anywhere from six to eight flights a day to the island. The airline is focused on continued growth within the Caribbean and has steadily increased flights to Jamaica as support continues to grow amongst Jamaican nationals and tourists, who wish to enjoy all that the island has to offer," he said.
Barger also noted that the airline's most profitable and fastest-growing route was that of travel between the United States and Jamaica since its inaugural flight in 2009.
The partnerships between the airline and various charitable organisations were highlighted by Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill. These included JetBlue Airways' partnering with the New York-based charity, Children of Jamaica Outreach Inc, to support under-served children in Jamaica by donating travel certificates for their benefit raffle. In September they partnered with Grace Foods (US) to give 50 lucky winners the opportunity to fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Kingston, Jamaica, as part of Grace Summer Rhythms & Jammin' in Jamaica.
Dr McNeill underscored the importance of corporate sponsorship in the redevelopment of the island and commended JetBlue in its efforts in this regard.
Special guests included Pamela Bridgewater, Ambassador of the United States to Jamaica, who introduced Dr McNeill; AFJ outgoing president, Ambassador Sue Cobb, who was honoured for her work with the organisation by president-elect Ambassador Brenda LaGrange Johnson.
Barger was not only presented with the achievement award by Director of Tourism John Lynch, but also a special gift commissioned for The Queen's jubilee celebration, by Ambassador Sue Cobb, who congratulated the honouree for his dedication to the advancement of Jamaica's children and its tourism brand.
The AFJ executive comprises president, Ambassador Brenda LaGrange Johnson (retired), Ambassador Sue Cobb (retired), honorary chairs, and a board of directors comprising James A. Cada, Barron Channer, Ambas-sador J. Gary Cooper (retired), Sylvia Engel, Sydney Engel, Manuela Goren, Ambassador Glen Holden (retired), Mark Jones, Lorraine Lorenc, Ambassador Stan McLelland (retired), Dr Laura Tanna, Monica Ladd and Lacy A. Wright Jr.
All the proceeds from the silent auction go towards scholarships and charities in Jamaica.