Air Jamaica ends 40-year Miami service

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Air Jamaica ends 40-year Miami service

Unread post by bimjim » Thu Jan 29, 2009

Air Jamaica ends 40-year Miami service
Air Jamaica is stopping its money-losing flights to Miami International Airport -- but will keep its Fort Lauderdale service.

Air Jamaica, which has flown to Miami since its founding in 1969, will exit the airport in late February as it suspends unprofitable routes amid the global economic downturn.

The government-owned carrier will continue its service to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where nearly four times as many of its South Florida passengers already fly, said Air Jamaica Chief Executive Bruce Nobles.

''Will we ever come back to Miami? I can't say,'' Nobles said Wednesday. ``The economy right now is not in very good shape. Not many people are going on vacation and we are trying to put our resources in the places where we have the most strengths and where we can make money.''

Air Jamaica carries 275,000 passengers in and out of Fort Lauderdale a year, versus 75,000 to and from Miami, Nobles said.

About 18 Miami employees will be laid off, unless there are job openings in Fort Lauderdale, he said.


At Miami International Airport, where Air Jamaica operates two daily flights that connect between Montego Bay and Kingston, the carrier faces steep competition from American Airlines, the dominant carrier at MIA. American flies six daily flights, three each to Kingston and Montego Bay.

By contrast, in Fort Lauderdale, Air Jamaica flies four daily flights, as the main carrier to Jamaica, competing only with Spirit Airlines.

Some Jamaicans were surprised at the move.

Joe Rhoden, who operates a Caribbean freight company and travels to Jamaica at least once a month on business trips, says the news is ``not good, not good at all.''

For an upcoming trip in March, he ended up booking a flight out of MIA on American.

''Driving to Fort Lauderdale is not convenient for me. I live in Kendall,'' he said, noting that his office is only five minutes away from MIA. ``It's a great disappointment, seeing that this was a pioneering route for Air Jamaica. I thought they should have given it further consideration before pulling the plug . . . even keeping on one flight a day.''

In addition to ending service to Miami on Feb. 26, Air Jamaica also will stop flying to Atlanta, Los Angeles and Grand Cayman.

Air Jamaica also will discontinue service between Jamaica and Barbados, and Jamaica and Grenada.

The airline will keep its Orlando route.

For the airline in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale is profitable, while Miami is ''losing money -- a lot,'' Nobles said.

''In Fort Lauderdale, we're the dominant carrier [to Jamaica] and the airports are 30 miles apart,'' he said. ``And the vast majority of our traffic are Jamaicans who live in both places and go back and forth.''

U.S. Census figures for 2000 show that 71,766 Jamaicans live in Broward, and 41,576 live in Miami-Dade.

Airport costs per passenger are also much lower in Fort Lauderdale -- $5.22 per passenger, versus $15.82 at MIA.

''[Air Jamaica have] been very successful operating here for 14 years and have been one of our oldest international carriers,'' said Steve Belleme, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's business development manager. ``So their chances are better of being profitable here because the costs are much lower.''

In fact, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's cost advantage has helped attract and retain low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Spirit, which do not operate out of MIA.

But as the economic downturn has deepened, Fort Lauderdale lost 11 percent of its seats in December, according to airline analysts OAG Worldwide, in line with the industry's domestic capacity cutbacks.

MIA, however, added 1 percent, which came mostly from American's growth. American, which bases its Latin American and Caribbean hub at MIA, had 2.8 percent more passengers in 2008 than 2007. The carrier commands 65 percent of MIA's traffic and poses a difficult competitor, observers say.


Air Jamaica's route cuts are designed to stem its financial losses and make it more attractive to potential buyers. The Jamaican government is trying to sell the airline. The deadline is the end of March, and conversations are being held with several potential buyers, Nobles said.

''The business plan we have filed, which resizes the airline, is consistent with that plan [to sell the airline] and makes it more attractive,'' he said.

Don Daly, a popular South Florida Jamaica radio and TV personality who lives near The Falls in South Miami-Dade, takes the 7 a.m. flight to Jamaica out of Fort Lauderdale when he visits home three times a year.

''From down south, it would take someone 40 to 45 minutes to get to Fort Lauderdale,'' he said. ``Symbolically, one looks at it as a loss because of the sentiments attached to it. Miami was one of its original routes.''

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.


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Vinotinto wrote on 01/29/2009 02:27:22 PM:

It is very easy to blame the economy and many other reasons...but they don't really look at the big problem. If economy is the biggest reason for pulling the plug...the second reason is the high crime rate in that island. Maybe if the Jamaican Government would straight up their island once and for all, then they could actually market themselves as a very inexpensive tourist destination nowadays!!!!!!!!!......especially for South Floridians....but crime and poverty are really a turn-off for potential tourists....I have never flew Air Jamaica..but probably they charge for tickets as if they were giving you such a "Swissair-style" flying experience!!!!!

Wahoobear wrote on 01/29/2009 12:04:34 PM:

Vast amounts of ignorance over landing fees - which at MIA are really set by the dominant airline - American. High fees keep low cost competition out - hence American wants higher landing fees - airports do not set fees without dominant airline approval. International travel is more consistent than domestic (witness FLL's booms & busts)- with higher fares, etc so the extra $10 a person in fees is small change. Air Jamaica has no domestic feed into either MIA or FLL so traffic generated is in South Florida and price sensitive. The Jamsican government which subsidize the airline must be feeling the budget pinch on its terribly run airline.

louis66 wrote on 01/29/2009 10:22:14 AM:

There's also the fact that MIA is a pithole!
MIA is consistently ranked as the worst airport in the USA by both national and international surveys. It is crowded, hectic, dark, dank, has bad concessions plus service is rude and many workers can't speak English.
The place feels like a third world country airport. Many years ago, I gave up flying to Miami when visiting my family and instead fly into FLL even though my drive is a little bit longer.

biggirl126 wrote on 01/29/2009 07:59:48 AM:

Come on 275,000 vs 75,000 wo would not make that change. Times are hard on everyone and they did what was in there best intrest, better they do that than the whole airline go bankrupt and we loose the complete airline. Just like if I can fly to Jamaica cheaper on another airline I would.

kevonionia wrote on 01/29/2009 05:53:23 AM:

$5 per passenger landing fees at Fort Lauderdale versus almost $16 at MIA -- need we say more? MIA's OUTRAGEOUS landing fees for what it provides in return to passengers and the airlines is what's the real reason Air Jamaica has bailed out, and why so many other carriers won't fly into MIA.

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