I am aghast that the Jamaican Government is considering a plan to get rid of Air Jamaica. Of course the airline is losing money. In these troubled times, what airline isn’t? But this is not just any airline, this is a piece of Jamaica in the sky.
I notice that the government can still afford to advertise on television in America, where I live. And, as far as I am concerned, those brightly colored Air Jamaica planes are the best advertisements that money can buy. The money spent running the airline should be considered a part of Jamaica’s tourism promotion budget.
Ask any of us in the Diaspora what airline we take to go home, and you will probably hear, “the Love Bird.” I, for one, wouldn’t think of flying home on any other airline. Air Jamaica is home. When I board the plane, I’m “back a yard.”
I will always remember my first flight on Air Jamaica. It was in January 1970 and I was promotion manager for a book publisher in Toronto. One day I received a surprise phone call from a representative of Continental Telephone, who wanted to talk to me about a job – in Kingston.
It seems the American company had received a big contract to rebuild Jamaica’s phone system and was looking for someone to do PR for the project. A few weeks earlier, I had played golf with a Continental Telephone rep while on vacation in Port of Spain, and I had told him how much I missed the Caribbean sunshine. When the job opening came up, he mentioned my name.
I had been in Canada for many long, cold years and it was winter. Did I want to go home? I’m sure I don’t have to answer that question. If you’re Jamaican, and you’ve lived abroad, you know the answer.
So in two shakes of a duck’s tail, I was boarding the Love Bird.
I will never forget the joy of setting foot on that plane. A smiling hostess handed me a rum punch, and island music played on the speakers. Ahead of me, a stout woman was wrestling with an overstuffed suitcase. She was cursing the suitcase as only Jamaicans can curse. But she was smiling.
A young mother who had boarded the plane earlier was quietly nursing her infant, and no one seemed to mind. This was Jamaica, after all. Cool beans. We were together and we were feeling all right.
Everyone was chattering, our voices electric with excitement. We were eager to get home. And in the meantime, we were soaking up the atmosphere of home, enjoying an experience that mere money cannot buy.
So to those of us who have known and loved Air Jamaica, the thought that it might vanish from the sky is almost sacrilegious.
I haven’t flown on the Love Bird for a while, but I understand it is still a magical experience. Last year, Air Jamaica was named “The Caribbean’s Leading Airline” at the World Travel Awards. It was the twelfth win in a row for the airline.
So, Mr. Golding, sir, I am asking you to hol’ you han’ before you chop off the Love Bird’s neck. That’s what you would be doing if you sell Air Jamaica to Caribbean Airlines.The Air Jamaica planes would disappear, and Jamaica would lose a piece of its soul.
Someone sent me a copy of a letter you received from the Air Jamaica staff, begging you to let them take over the airline instead. From what I’ve read, your government won’t be getting any money from Caribbean Airlines anyway, just shares in their company.
So why not give the employees a break, Mr. Prime Minister? What have you got to lose?
Stay the execution, Mr. Golding. You wouldn’t want to go down in history as the man who killed the Love Bird.