News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Aug. 5, 2011: Less than 24 hours after landing in Jamaica from JFK aboard a Caribbean Airlines flight on July 29th, news broke that a plane from the same carrier had crashed in Guyana. And for the first time that day the emotion of gratitude to have landed safe and sound managed to chase away the absolute disgust and rage I had felt only hours before at the sloppy customer service of this airline. What warmth of the islands?
It was the same emotions I had felt last May when I travelled to Guyana on CAL and swore I’d never fly the airline again. Sadly though, because of the new One Caribbean airline move that has put an end to Air Jamaica, I found myself being forced to endure the poor service of CAL again last week.
The first turn off is that under the new CAL/Air Jamaica service, you cannot check in on line. So trekking to the airport at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:50 a.m. flight was the only other option.
Arriving there, I began looking around for the business class check in area since this area is hardly obvious except the web check in or economy class. I ended up asking a dazed looking red cap for direction to this area and was directed to a spot on the other end of the usual CAL check in area where two sour faced customer care clerks sat. So much for the typical Air Jamaica staff service!
As I approached the one who was obviously free, said good morning and handed her my passport, the first words out of her mouth was: “You flying first class?”
My almost immediate thought was to say: “Well I won’t be here if I wasn’t,” but trying my best to be polite and sweet at the weird hour of the morning, I simply said: “yes.”
She then proceeded to try to find my reservation and after much looking on her computer and then calling around while ignoring me with her face set like turned milk, she finally seemed to find it. At that point, I told her I was travelling with two other persons as the reservation code would show and wanted to have us all sit together. She grunted a response that sounded like “will try” and then directed me to set my bag on the scale and then hand it off to the bell cap for check in.
Moments later, my first colleague arrived and again asked for us to have seats together and was told that she did not have seats to accommodate that request. As the second one checked in, he was told simply that the reservation was not there and after he blankly looked at her she somehow magically found the reservation and proceeded to print the ticket, again telling him there was no way we could all sit together or close by.
Then we were waved on, minus a red cap service for the other bags and a lounge pass for one of our colleagues – who ended up having to simply return to the counter and seemingly disturb the clerk by asking for the pass.
The pass that allows access to the first class lounge is one that takes you on a journey to almost the other side of the boarding gate, or as one of my colleagues put it succinctly: “Seems we left Queens and ended up in Brooklyn.”
It’s a seemingly make shift lounge – no computer station and a few seats with an easily confused server.
As the boarding call comes in, we’re forced to walk from one end of the airport to the boarding gates on the other for the flight. As we get to the gate there seems to be no order of boarding so everyone, despite seat number or class are being called to board together – a system that resulted in a lengthy queue that seemed more like one for a maxi taxi in Port-of-Spain.
Finally, we make it on the plane, unsmiling flight crew and all – and take our separate seats, only to discover that there is room after all for us to have been sitting together. So we simply switch around and seat ourselves together!
The 5:50 a.m. – the departure time – comes and goes and no one says a word until around 6:10 a.m. when the pilot announces the doors will close and all electronic devices must now be turned off.
And so we’re off and the service starts but instead of the typical warm Air Jamaica crew, what we are greeted by are stone faced flight attendants who seem to be going through the motion of service and hardly feel the need to make you feel welcome or convinced that you should fly with them again. In fact, it is the total opposite – as I vowed again to never fly this crappy airline – first class or no class.
After the initial service is over, on one bothers to ask if you need another thing!
But the worst was yet to come again as we arrive in Jamaica to a waiting period for luggage that was beyond normal. Frustrated faces and pissed off voices collided as economy class passengers grabbed their luggage off the rack and business class passengers, who had paid a lot more to fly on CAL, were forced to wait until the end of line. Really great welcome to Jamaica!
Luckily our return trip was really serviced by an Air Jamaica plane and crew that really helped bring back the smiles and warmth and champagne service so many have come to know and love.
But there was no escaping the CAL brand of lousy service as we landed at JFK and cleared immigration and were forced to stand there for more than 20 minutes simply waiting for the first bag to even make it on to the conveyor. About 45 minutes later – grumpy and exhausted – I finally got my one bag and made the same vow I did last May – no more CAL for me, that Guyana crash has only renewed my resolve moreso now than ever!
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.