Air Jamaica resumed daily service to Toronto six years ago after a 13-year absence.
Now, the airline, which recently merged with Caribbean Airlines, is set to operate two daily non-stop flights between this city and Kingston, Jamaica beginning on July 1. The additional flight will depart Norman Manley International Airport at 1.25 a.m. and arrive at Lester B. Pearson International Airport at 6.35 a.m. The return flight leaves Toronto at 7.50 a.m. and arrives in Jamaica four hours later.
The current daily flight leaves Kingston at 11.50 a.m. and arrives here at 5 p.m. The return flight departs at 6.15 p.m. and touches down in Jamaica at around 10.15 p.m. (9.15 p.m. Jamaica time).
Long-serving Air Jamaica executive William Rogers said the Toronto route has been financially viable despite the economic challenges that have forced the airline to shift control of its operations to Caribbean Airlines.
“We also put on the extra flight because we wanted to send a clear signal that this is our market,” said the former president and chief executive officer who has been with the airline for 36 years. “Toronto along with New York and South Florida are our major markets and we intend to maintain our dominance in those areas.”
Air Jamaica’s service to Toronto was discontinued in 1990 after 18 years because of extremely high fuel prices and inadequate equipment. Air Canada filled the breach, servicing the route through a code share agreement with Air Jamaica.
Starting on Canada Day, Air Jamaica will also offer five daily flights to New York, four to Fort Lauderdale and one each to Philadelphia and Nassau, Bahamas. The airline will suspend service to Baltimore, beginning on July 1.
“In developing the new schedule, we placed a lot of emphasis on making flight times convenient and we are sure this will prove a big win with our customers,” said the airline’s president and chief executive officer Bruce Nobles who, with Caribbean Airlines chief executive officer Ian Brunton and other senior Air Jamaica executives, was in Toronto last week to discuss the new flight schedules and the transition.
As part of the change-over that could take up to a year, Caribbean Airlines has assumed full financial responsibility for Air Jamaica and the Jamaican government has transferred the airline’s routes to Caribbean Airlines for a 16 per cent ownership in Caribbean Airlines.
Air Jamaica has suffered heavy financial losses in past years. In 2008, the airline lost US$150 million and in 2009, the shortfall was US$75 million. The projected deficit this year is expected to be about US$ 20 million.
“Even though we have been reducing the losses, we just did not have the capital to put into the airline to move it forward,” Rogers told Share. “We have had our difficulties in surviving in the challenging airline business. I think the merger for us is a blessing because, in this business, several major airlines are getting together for survival. We are very fortunate that we have found a Caribbean partner.”
Caribbean Airlines has retained approximately 1,000 of Air Jamaica’s 1,900 staff for the transition period.
Jamaica’s Consul General in Toronto, George Ramocan, encouraged nationals here to support the new airline.
“I know there are sentiments and deep emotions attached to Air Jamaica which is the most beautiful airline in the sky,” he said. “However, the circumstances demand a merger. I think this is an idea whose time has come. There is no doubt that regional integration is the order of the day and that the advances that come along with that can serve to move forward the causes of the individual countries of the Caribbean. I urge you to support this new venture because it’s not going away.”
Beginning last week, Air Jamaica began offering several exciting deals. They include two bags free in economy class, a 10 per cent discount for accompanied children and senior citizens and a 15 per cent discount on personal cargo shipments for ticketed passengers. The airline is also offering a $165 one-way fare between Toronto and Jamaica that ends on September 10, 2010.
Caribbean Airlines will honour reservations made and tickets purchased through Air Jamaica and members of the 7th Heaven Rewards Frequent Flyer program will continue to earn and redeem rewards.