PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD — With a name change in 2007 and an exterior makeover, an airline is hoping to reinvent itself with better customer service and on-time arrivals.
Caribbean Airlines, formerly known as British West Indies Airways (BWIA), is marching to a new beat – one that resonates well with passengers on islands sprinkled along a path of the Atlantic Ocean.
On May 22, Caribbean Airlines expanded its customer base by offering flights from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Fort Lauderdale. With all 154 seats occupied aboard the Boeing 737-800 on this day, the inaugural flight hosted passengers who were excited about the carrier’s connectivity.
“This is my first time flying into Fort Lauderdale,” said Anne Poyel of Chaguanas, Trinidad. “I chose this because it is the only direct flight from Trinidad to Fort Lauderdale at this time.”
“Caribbean Airlines is a growing airline,” said Philip Saunders, CEO of Caribbean Airlines. “We have 62 flights per week to North America and we will soon have 114.”
With that type of expansion, one may wonder how Caribbean Airlines can increase its business with the economy in shambles from the east to west coasts of the United States and throughout the Caribbean.
“We have competitive fares,” said Robert Corbie, vice president of Commercial and Network Operations for Caribbean Airlines. “We can offer the most flexible schedule. So for us, this is the right time.”
Rising cost of fuel
Other airlines have not fared as well. The high cost of jet fuel and oil have grounded several carriers including Skybus, ATA, MAXjet, and Aloha airlines.
“Obviously there is an impact on the market,” said Saunders. “The industry as a whole is going to face challenging times. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future.”
Saunders is confident Caribbean Airlines will continue flying high. He’s banking on the strong cargo market in South Florida.
“Miami is a big cargo hub for us,” said Saunders. “As for passengers, we are getting excellent feedback from operating out of Concourse J (at Miami International Airport).”
Showing signs of strength
According to Saunders, Caribbean Airlines is defying all odds at the airports it services.
“Our flights out of New York are doing very well,” he said. “Load factors out of New York are at 98 percent.”
Corbie also noted that the airline’s load factors, or the percentage of capacity on board their airplanes, are normally 85 percent to and from their other destinations.
Those other destinations include Antigua, Barbados, Caracas, Guyana, Jamaica, London, Miami, New York, St. Maarten, Suriname, Tobago and Toronto.
“The ambition of this airline is to be the carrier of the Caribbean,” said Saunders. “We are the only carrier that offers service to two destinations in South Florida. We also offer the last flight out of South Florida into Port of Spain.”
Steve Belleme, Business Development manager for Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, acknowledges that Caribbean Airlines helps fill a void at their busy transportation hub.
“We didn’t have any service to Port of Spain,” said Belleme. “They come in at a good time. It’s not a peak period and there’s no congestion so their passengers can go straight through,” he said, referring to Customs.
According to Belleme, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport has more Caribbean service than any other airport in South Florida. Other carriers contributing to the airport’s Caribbean reach include Air Jamaica, American and American Eagle, Bahamas Air, Continental, Lynx Air, and Spirit Airlines.
“This is my first time flying Caribbean Airlines,” said 21-year old Stephanie Ramsaroop of San Fernando, Trinidad. “It was more affordable on this flight than some of the others that I’ve used.’’
One-way flights from Fort Lauderdale to Trinidad are $176, including taxes.
“So far, so good. The check-in was good and everything ran smooth,” Ramsaroop said with her boyfriend nodding in agreement.
Currently, Caribbean Airlines is flying into Fort Lauderdale four times a week from Port of Spain, Trinidad. By June 15, service will begin daily. The “all-inclusive” service includes two
checked bags of luggage, free onboard meals, and complimentary in-flight entertainment.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. A musican provides entertainment on the flight from Trinidad to Fort Lauderdale.