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Warmth of the Islands?
I believe in supporting local businesses, or businesses that will better our people, no matter our locality. If we continued to do this, we would be better off. For this reason, when I search for flights to the Caribbean, I am usually happy to see cost-effective options through Caribbean Airlines (CAL).
I have been a frequent user of CAL ever since the days of British West Indian Airways (BWIA). It was the then BWIA, now CAL, that started my love of flying, after all, it was my first jumbo jet experience. The experience was so pleasant that I still remember it even now. We trusted the brand so much that my mother sent me back to St. Vincent with a BWIA flight attendant, and I can recall that they took really good care of me.
BWIA (Video From Just Planes)
When I started to write this post, on a red-eye CAL flight from JFK to Port of Spain (POS), it was initially titled “Warmth of the Islands-No More.” This was because this flight was not what I had expected at all. Truth is, maybe red-eyes are probably not the best flights to use as a reference when reviewing service. On this leg, it seemed like the flight crew was rude and unaccommodating. I was more dissatisfied with: (1) the lack of “meal service;” (2) the plane’s interior; and (3) the absence of options for in-flight entertainment as well as their dated safety video.
If that flight was my last flight with CAL, they definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like I was on an old coach bus. I was turned off by the dingy and aged cloth seat coverings, as well as the outdated safety video.
Thankfully I had a return flight with CAL because it helped to reassure me that “The Warmth of the Islands” may still be true, and that the legacy of BWIA is still alive. The fact that the seats on my return were leather made me feel 10 times better. Did CAL pick up that I was so unhappy, so made certain to use this plane for my return leg? If so thanks, haha. I cannot overemphasize how an airline interior can help make or break perceptions of the brand. Of course, the same outdated safety video played, however, the fact that they served food on this leg, which was not a red-eye, was satisfying.
The food that BWIA used to serve was tasty, and CAL’s offering of stew chicken with rice and peas was equal, though BWIA served a larger portion. The addition of Zoomers, my childhood favorite, completed the meal. The food was truly a representation of Caribbean cuisine, and definitely Trinidadian sourced. It helped me to look past the tiny sandwich that they served on my red-eye 5-hour flight from JFK. Also, I was able to look past the one time that they offered me a beverage on my first leg since on my return they offered drinks twice during meal service. After all, this was not a red-eye and was their 5:30 Pm flight from POS to JFK.
Inflight meal packaged
Later, I realized that CAL only serves the sandwich snack on their red-eye flights. To them, this may make sense, as they may be under the assumption that people may not want to eat that late. However, serving a hefty meal on all flights, no matter the time of day, could help their business because the in-flight meal is their competitive advantage over the other carriers, like JetBlue, which flies to the region.
Rice and peas with stew chicken
As I sat on that flight from POS to JFK and penned these words, I was confident enough to say that I believe in the Caribbean Airlines product. If they made a few adjustments and investments, business will be more profitable, growth will be inevitable, and CAL will become the giant that it can be for the region.
Invest in newer planes or retrofit the current cabins. The competitors on this route (JetBlue, American Airlines, United, etc.) have better cabins. And many with in-flight entertainment systems on the seat backs.
Cut out the snack on the red-eye and offer a full meal. This flight was packed and many of the guests came expecting a real meal. In fact, a few people around me was upset because they were not full…
Work on customer service. Drill home the fact that the warmth of the islands should translate to warm smiles from all staff, at all times. Rude and condescending representatives could be the death of a company where customer service is paramount to customer’s experience.