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Love Hummingbirds; don’t like change

Caribbean AirlinesSo, here it is. Caribbean Airlines. It isn’t supposed to officially flying the skies until January 1 2007, but this week looking out into the night at Grantley Adams International, I saw this plane land, with a hummingbird on its tail. There’s been much talk about the new airline being efficient and streamlined, profit-making and smart, but for me Caribbean Airlines means the demise of BWee. British West India Airways, BWIA, BWIA West Indies, whatever they decided to call it, it was and is BWee. And I have a sentimental attachment to BWee, an attachment that a new airline (even if using the same planes, much of the same staff, and the same routes) will have to work hard to replace.

But it’s definite that we will be seeing the hummingbird fly our blue skies from now. And speaking of hummingbirds -what’s with that? Hummingbirds are tropical, steelpan is CARIBBEAN. May as well have called it Hummingbird Air – that would have been distinctive and meant something (hummingbirds are fast and beautiful). What was wrong with the steelpan logo? And Caribbean Airlines is just a blah name. Yes, it clearly identifies it with the region it serves, but come on!! History alone would have bad connotations – Air Caribbean anyone? Caribbean Star/Sun already travel the routes and they’re not even Caribbean owned really. Sigh.

BWee and the Northern Range - coming homeThis is what BWee has meant to me for years – coming home. Being home. Providing my family of 2 parents and us 4 children of varying ages with a friendly Trini atmosphere to enjoy the idea of air travel. Later, when studying at Cave Hill, BWee was my flight home. BWee gave us student discounts and allowed us to inviegle free extra weight as poor hungry deprived UWI students, even if it was in the middle of a semester and not our first arrival. I actually LIKE reading Caribbean Beat, cover to cover; the writers convey joy and appreciation of our Caribbean life and culture that’s fresh even for me a die-hard islander. The last year I have been on at least 65 BWee flights and I still love it. I have had gourmet meals on some airlines (business class) but more often than not I enjoy BWee meals – like Trini food, they’re always flavourful, well-seasoned – flavour I don’t taste on other airlines where blandness reigns supreme. The inflight video-magazine does a great job showcasing events and attractions from all the countries, and if they play it too loud when I’ve seen it already, my iPod helps me cope.

It’s not a perfect airline, but it’s us. And we’re not perfect. There are some surly flight crew and ground staff, but there are many more who are friendly and helpful and love their job. They have delays, but they’ve never ever crashed. And in my most recent 65 flights, there have only been a few occasions when I have been seriously inconvenienced by delays. And what airline doesn’t have delays? In these days of increased security and monitoring in airports and passenger restrictions, there are numerous airline delays over which the airlines themselves may have no control. Bwee also can’t control whether Cheddi Jagan has lights on the runway to allow night or pre-sunrise flights – this happened a few months ago, causing backups throughout the BWee routes.

Of course I get annoyed – but more with the way problems are dealt with, rather than the circumstances. And I haven’t found BWee any worse than other airlines in that regard. Compared to the other regional airlines sharing the skies, it’s far far better. I don’t care if LIAT is now a low-cost airline, that doesn’t mean it should cheat you out of money, or refuse to deal with complaints. And there are frequently periods of serious delays and cancellations for both LIAT and Caribbean Star that really do inconvenience me – it’s like they take turns to frustrate Caribbean people. And I had more faith that complaints by us in the region will impact on BWee rather than complaints about BA or AA from the relative handful of West Indians.

That’s not to say that BWee didn’t have faults or didn’t need change. It was losing money, which is a clear sign. There are things I think could have been changed – for example, providing at the First Class level, for example, a more luxurious or distinct service – the meals I have had on BWee First Class don’t compare in service to BA for example or AA. Perhaps having different levels of service beyond Economy and First. Revamp the rewards/miles programme to be more inline with industry standards – give us something back other than flights for our loyalty. Giving you the cost of re-issue/re-booking of a ticket over the phone when you make a new booking, rather than waiting for check-in at the airport for the additional costs to be assessed. Train customer service reps, especially in the non-Trini airports to be more flexible and understanding. I can stand up for my rights and make polite insistent demands based on knowledge of the routes and obligations, but the infrequent traveler shouldn’t have to be taken advantage of by changing staff who don’t care about service. Maybe with a new system and better staff training and rewards will ensure consistency of service.

What BWee does have is the sentimentality. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Maybe I LIKED explaining to people what BWIA stands for and the history of it. How many people book BWee where possible simply because it IS our airline. Which means that the people understand US. They know our countries, our accents and our needs. It’s been invaluable in moving our people around the region and connecting us to the outside. Telling us that nobody knows BWee outside of the region is ridiculous and ignores the fact that for the better part of a century WE have known BWee. Does this count for nothing? This is what worries me. Caribbean Airlines may still be a Trini and therefore Caribbean airline (and thus many of the good qualities of BWee should, in theory, be part of the new airline), but the disregard for the sentiment spells disregard for the people who feel it. I don’t care if that’s irrational, the hummingbird is going to have to prove itself.

Keep the good things about BWee – keep the regional staff, the catering, the editorial staff of Caribbean Beat and the video-magazine. Work hard at making the transition seamless and making sure we feel we’re home from the moment we step on the plane. Don’t hire a setta new young staff who don’t know what it is to be the successor to an old Caribbean airline. Pay attention to your consumers and don’t disregard the ones that miss BWee – get used to it; we’re here, we travel and we are holding our approval in check.

My tribute to one of the best parts of BWee – the food 😉 Granted it isn’t as beautiful as some of my other pictures, but I was talking about taste.

BWIA channa Plane Food - Tea
BW 415 Lunch BW415 Lunch

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9 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Wow. :-)

    And you’re right about hummingbirds. I love the little things, but they make me think about North America, not the Caribbean.

    1. ewe_are_here on December 1st, 2006 at 4:37 pm
  2. Yup – truth is, T&T has been called the land of the hummingbird because we apparently we have/had more species of hummingbirds per square foot than anywhere else – or something like that. But who’s going to know that outside the region?

    2. chennette on December 1st, 2006 at 7:19 pm
  3. Really?

    Now we must visit. And go bird watching.

    (G had never seen a hummingbird until he visited my mom’s house in Canada! My mom puts feeders out for them, so there’s usually lot of them coming by.)

    3. ewe_are_here on December 1st, 2006 at 8:13 pm
  4. ooooh, perfect – on the tour guide for Trinidad will be birdwatching at the Asa Wright Nature Centre

    4. chennette on December 1st, 2006 at 8:16 pm
  5. I used AA to travel back and forth from school.

    But, seeing the (old) bwee signs did used to bring a lift to me!

    5. Lilandra, Empress of Chocolate on December 1st, 2006 at 10:46 pm
  6. Yup – it’s how you know you land in Trinidad – the proliferation of BWee planes

    6. chennette on December 1st, 2006 at 10:53 pm
  7. Caribbean Airlines is technically BWIA, and it may end up the same way too. How come you don’t see Caribbean Airlines or other airlines in the region working together? Whats with that name, is it representing the caribbean? and i’m sorry but that livery doesn’t show the warm of the carribean to me.

    9. Jamaican blogger on January 10th, 2007 at 12:12 pm
  8. It is very true. Bwee is part of my life and I will find it very hard to replace it with Caribbean Airlines. The pan and the colour of the aircraft is so much better than the humming bird.

    11. Trini in SXM on May 6th, 2007 at 2:17 pm
  9. I have been trying to get a credit ($700US) from Caribbean Airlines for the past month with no luck. I flew with them in January and got charge on my credit card in february. Low and behold I get a mysterious charge from them beginning of April. The second charge was a different amount and more than the first. I called customer service and they told me it was possible that I got double charge because they had problems with their billing system and as a result double charge some customers. The icing on the cake was when she told me I would have to prove to them I got double billed. I sent them all the documentation but still no luck. I am in the process of disputing the charge with my bank because I lost faith and hope of ever getting CA to resolve the issue. Does anyone have the contact information for any senior manager or the CEO so I can vent?

    12. MadVincy on May 16th, 2007 at 1:51 pm

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] At a time when regional airlines are struggling to stay profitable, Jamaican Blogger republishes an article from Jamaicaworldwide.com about the future of Air Jamaica. And Lifespan of a Chennette gets sentimental about the impending close of Trinidad and Tobago’s BWIA. Janine Mendes-Franco […]

  2. […] At a time when regional airlines are struggling to stay profitable, Jamaican Blogger republishes an article from Jamaicaworldwide.com about the future of Air Jamaica. And Lifespan of a Chennette gets sentimental about the impending close of Trinidad and Tobago’s BWIA. […]

  3. […] my first post on this topic, where I doubted the success of any airline using “Caribbean” in its name? Well, Reggie Dumas in today’s Trinidad Express has kindly provided some proof of my belief: […]

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