General Travel

Review: Too Brief The Wonder – Flying Across the Island With Jamaica Air Shuttle

First up, it’s a vista that EVERY Jamaican (not to exclude overseas visitors) ought to see at least once, and as early as possible. Traversing the island by air, even if you do it every week, gives one a renewed perspective and maybe even a renewed optimism about this troubled gem that is Jamaica.

Well, that last line might be stretching it, but only just a bit.

The view: Magnificent, almost from takeoff, and it remained compelling throughout the brief flight. Our field of vision moved from the chaotic, multi-use urban sprawl of Kingston (compact nonetheless), on over the emerald patchwork of St Catherine’s canefields and then – at cruising altitude of about 9,000 feet – the clouds.

Those who may respond “what’s so special about clouds?” have never really taken the time to look at them, I mean really look at them, much less from the air. The middle portion of our flight saw several beetle-shaped tufts ambling across the sky, their shadows darkening the hills and valleys below. That advance party soon coalesced into a seamless carpet of white that covered the sky for miles. Our evening return flight was nearly as spectacular, as cohre splashes of sunset mingled with the “cotton giants” to create one huge Impressionist canvas. Breathtaking.

On the approach to Mobay, things got a little bumpy, but more remarkable, we could see both the benefits – gleaming new hotels – and the negatives wrought by tourism (shockingly polluted waters and surrounding vegetation). Maybe some of our tourism administrators and boosters need to get up and a take a new look from the air.

The service: none to speak of inflight, of course, because you’re barely airborne 30 minutes (although a branded bottle of water in the seat pocket, or even a small newsletter might be a nice touch).

Of the ground staff – Mobay was the more pleasant – more conscientious and overall more professional; the Kingston staff made no pretense at the fact that what they were doing was essentially mundane and repetitive, and with only one other passenger apart from us occupying the westbound flight, they had ample opportunity to be engrossed in conversations with each other than to interact with us.

Similarly, the two-man flight crew that guided us back to Kingston had a little more of that “sparkle” in their communication than the pair who took us to Montego Bay. When a job is repetitive, but involves communication/interaction with the public, one must rise to challenge of making it at least SEEM like there is something pleasant, if not thrilling, about the task at hand.

The equipment/facilities: Our “bird” looked nice and shiny on the outside, but on the inside, it was different. Several sizable cracks easily visible throughout the interior of the shuttle cabins, as well as frayed/torn upholstery (both trips) told an unpleasant tale of less-than-demanding maintenance. Having once worked inside the maintenance department of the “former” national airline (and seen an airplane stripped down to the frame and painstakingly reassembled), it would be nice to see the cabin looking… well, spiffy. Would you re-hire a limo/tour bus company if the test model had stripped upholstery?

Similarly, the lobby of the Tinson Pen Aerodrome may not be the carrier’s direct responsibility, but it’s that vital first part of the would-be passenger’s experience. The JAS counter itself was clean enough, but it didn’t have the “come hither” attractiveness that greets one at most international terminals, shuttle airline or not. And the lobby overall was drab and dingy, much the way it has been before Jamaica Air Shuttle’s maiden flight. A little extra effort, perhaps with some approved branding and… who knows?

So travelling Jamaica by air – whether by day or by evening – is a fantastic show. What it now needs is some smart showmen (and women) on the ground, and behind the wheel to make it unbeatable.

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