Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Fly Jamaica nightmare - Parent-Teacher Association president among several Jamaicans stranded in Guyana as airline faces major challenges

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Everton Hannam
Fly Jamaica inaugural flight.
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When president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica Everton Hannam chose Fly Jamaica Airline to take him to Guyana for his annual end-of-year vacation, he could not guess the ordeal he would face.

For more than one week, Hannam was stranded in Guyana with an additional bill of US$800 for accommodation and food as the airline struggled with operational challenges that caused it to cancel scores of scheduled flights.

According to Hannam, the Caribbean in him prompted him to head to Guyana for his vacation, using Fly Jamaica Airline.

His return flight was booked for January 4, but he faced an unplanned extension as the problem-plagued airline was not able to get him home.

Hannam said even before he left Jamaica on Christmas Eve there were signs of trouble, as he should have departed at 5:15 p.m. but did not leave "until somewhere around midnight", arriving in Guyana on Christmas Day some time between 3 and 4 a.m. Guyana time.

"My return was scheduled for January 4 at 2 a.m., to arrive in Kingston 4:30 p.m. A phone call was received via my Guyana contact advising not to go to the airport. A subsequent email was also received.

"These would constitute the sum total of communication received from Fly Jamaica, save one other phone call received from what appeared to be a US number," Hannam told The Sunday Gleaner.

"From the 4th to the present (Friday) I have been stuck here, unable to obtain from Fly Jamaica any positive or concrete information on date for departure to Jamaica," said Hannam.

He said his suggestion of finding another airline to take him to Jamaica through the United States was not entertained by the company, as the cheapest flight would cost nearly US$2,000.

"I was told that this decision was above the pay grade of the staff (my words). I explored the possibility of Fly Jamaica covering my hotel expenses. I was told that I should submit the bill and would be refunded in six to eight weeks.

"I visited the (Fly Jamaica) office twice. I called on numerous occasions only to be told that they would call. They did not, even when flights started to operate after the New York JFK blizzard shutdown," said Hannam.

"On one of my visits to the Carmichael Fly Jamaica ticket office I saw disgusted, frustrated, distraught passengers who were very fearful of losing their jobs, having been stranded for more than five days.

"Give us your number, we will call you was the usual response from the Fly Jamaica ticket office at this location," stated Hannam.

He said on a visit to one of the Fly Jamaica ticket offices, he spoke to an employee who told him that a flight should be available yesterday. He was also told that the airline could not guarantee that it would refund his hotel bill or pay the hotel directly.

"(The airline) did indicate that the hotel I stayed was not one that it usually uses in situation like these. I informed him that had a representative of the airline enquired where I was staying and suggested to me to move to any of those hotels, I would have obliged.

"The jury is still out on how, or if, they will pay that hotel," said Hannam as he noted that if Fly Jamaica does not pay he will have to find the US800 for accommodation and food.

Yesterday, Hannam managed to get on a COPA Airline file to Panama, where he spent the night. He is scheduled to arrive in Montego Bay this afternoon.

But Hannam is adamant that he will accept no less than the airline covering all his expenses for the extended stay which was its fault.

The management of Fly Jamaica Airways has recently apologised for problems with its service, stating that the airline has been experiencing some operational setbacks that resulted in its schedule service being affected.

"Fly Jamaica Airways' aircraft are currently undergoing scheduled and unscheduled maintenance checks. As a result, we have engaged and continue to engage third-party entities to assist with our operations.

"Unfortunately, several of these third-party entities are also experiencing difficulties due to the adverse weather conditions in North America," the airline said in a statement posted on its website.

The airline indicated that it is working "assiduously" to restore regular operations.

Fly Jamaica falls under the Wings Aviation Company and operates scheduled flights from Guyana to Kingston, Jamaica; Toronto, Canada; and New York, United States. The airline also recently received the green light to begin operations to Cuba.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com