UPDATE: Fly Jamaica finally pulled back the curtain and revealed a respectable website with a booking engine powered by US-based PSS provider Radixx. All this just in time for their second, this time, successful attempt at an inaugural flight on 14 February 2013. The airline also announced that it was in the process of securing a second aircraft, presumably another 757-200 . So far so good, nicely done Fly Jamaica, continue to prove this blog post wrong.

After seeing endless glowing comments from readers of recent Gleaner articles: “Fly Jamaica Soars – New Local Airline Stages Test Flight To Guyana” and “‘We Will Fly Before Christmas’ – Fly Jamaica Boss Readies for The Sky”, I wondered whether Jamaica’s eagerness for a new flag carrier has unwittingly lowered its collective standards for this airline. Furthermore both articles seemed to lack a level of critical journalism.

Perhaps congratulations are in order for the Fly Jamaica team (some of whom I remember from my days at Air Jamaica) on earning their aircraft operating certificate (AOC) in Jamaica and clearance to operate to the United States – an arduous task even in the best of times. However, from a long term business perspective, Fly Jamaica seems to have more questions than answers.

flyjamaicaIt goes without saying, that on the operations side of things, the startup has one of the most capable professionals in the industry with Capt. Lloyd Tai at the helm. But there seems to be a distinct lack of vision in the organization that is evident from a generic brand identity to a nagging absence of effective marketing and PR.

In order to secure an AOC and landing rights in the US, the airline had to prove that it has the necessary capital to operate sustainably – I have no reason to doubt this. However, what deserves more scrutiny is the capacity for this startup to effectively market itself as a scheduled carrier and provide a satisfactory level of customer experience throughout the sales process. At this point, notwithstanding a pending tariff approval, Fly Jamaica has all the trappings of a charter airline with a moderate case of marketing mypoia.

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Let’s start with first impressions. Fly Jamaica has left me wanting more, (and not in a good way) before even taking to the skies by publishing a generic placeholder website where even the social icons don’t point to their own social media accounts. The lack of customization, effort and resources invested in the website does not instill a great deal of confidence that much more effort will be invested in customer-facing systems. Put it this way, if Fly Jamaica continues to run their marketing the way it is now, I cringe to think of how it will play out once operations begin.

I have been so disappointed by this airline’s apparent lack of branding, marketing and reliable public relations, that I will reserve my analysis of the inherent challenges they face with a single aircraft operation for the proposed routes and frequency. Like so many of those readers from the Gleaner, I want this airline to succeed, but all I see are issues that will potentially hinder their development. Case in point, the public promise: “We will fly before Christmas” never materialized, and in retrospect should have been tempered with less specific language. The general lack of communication was also evident with long periods of silence between announcements and even on their own Facebook page.

To some, my criticism may seem to be overly so, but I place value on impeccable standards and integrity (fulfilling your promises), and as a Jamaican I think that as a nation we should come to expect the best out of everything. Starting an airline is hard work, and just as there’s no room for error during flight operations the same applies to the commercial side of things. Unfortunately most carriers are unable to strike this balance, ultimately leading to their demise or state of perpetually subsidized mediocrity – a familiar narrative of all the airlines in the Caribbean, past and present.

I certainly hope that Fly Jamaica proves my suspicions to be wrong, because Jamaica needs a new flag carrier and the Caribbean hungers for a truly competitive travel market.

Is Fly Jamaica ready to deliver on marketing?

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