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Air Jamaica Complaint - Cash Scam in the sky

Review by Anonymous on 2004-05-20
The Air Jamaica CEO, Gordon Stewart, is quoted on their website as saying, “Our objective is simple and straightforward: To make Air Jamaica a productive, efficient and profitable carrier which offers a quality of service that is second to none. The new Air Jamaica is designed to be professional, with a Jamaican flair, a national carrier that we can all be proud of." Yet in my recent experience, Air Jamaica has provided service sub standard of low-cost carriers and has shown nothing but a “can’t do” attitude. I must say I find it all very perplexing, particularly in a time such as this (Enron scandals, poor performing markets, decrease in tourism) when airlines are desperate for business, that Air Jamaica can have staff running a cash scam and provide such appalling service to its clients.


My husband and I flew with Air Jamaica from London to Montego Bay on 13 September 2003 for a week on one of our favourite islands. We had booked on JM02 directly from Heathrow to Montego Bay. We arrived early to ensure that we were relaxed and had enough time to complete security checks without rush. We reached the departure gate only to be greeted by, what I can only describe as, chaos. The allocated waiting area was not big enough, the plane boarding was delayed, and people were queuing for 40 minutes just to get into the already overcrowded waiting area. Staff sat around chatting and giggling around the reception desk and were incredibly rude to all passengers enquiring about the delay. A pregnant woman was told she would “just have to wait” and was left standing for a further 20 minutes with another child at her side. She was offered no assistance and no seating. The plane eventually departed about an hour late, with no explanation offered. The captain eventually offered some vague apology and said he would attempt to make the time up while flying.

After take off my husband went to use the bathroom, which had obviously not been cleaned while on the ground. Bear in mind that this is within the first half hour after take off, and we still had a nine hour flight ahead of us. This was merely the beginning of our Air Jamaica Hell. The food tasted like something out of a dog can. During the entire flight, we were only served drinks twice (with meals). Whenever anyone would ring for a steward nobody would come. I eventually went to the kitchen myself and got water for my husband and I and discovered all the cabin crew reading magazines or sleeping while passenger calls rang out throughout the entire plane – is this what you mean by “champagne service”?

After landing, I could not wait to leave Air Jamaica behind me. However, I was to discover on 20 September when I was returning to London that things could only get worse!

At Grand Lido Negril you offer a check –in service which we use whenever we are there. Following my previous Air Jamaica flight experience, we decided to upgrade. The check-in staff at Grand Lido were very courteous and helpful. They explained that the fee for the upgrade was GBP £200 (US$350)per person, however she told us she was unable to actually process the payment for the upgrade at Grand Lido due to the Air Jamaica credit system, and this could only be done at the airport in Montego Bay. She made a call to arrange the upgrade and for our seats to be held. She said we should speak to the supervisor on duty at the airport and that they would process our payment there, but that our upgraded seats were reserved for our flight back to London in the meantime.

Upon arriving at the airport, we spoke to the person at the ticket office who mumbled that she was not responsible for finding the supervisor and that we should queue at check –in. I had already queued for check –in at my hotel, but complied. When eventually I did get to speak to the obnoxious supervisor we were asked how much we were quoted for the upgrade. When we informed them of the £200 quoted fee, they checked the system and told us that no business class seats were reserved for us. According to their systems, our credit card had been declined, which is remarkable considering we hadn’t even given anyone a credit card yet. How can a card be rejected when it hasn’t even passed through the system? Also, apparently as our card was declined the seats were given to somebody else and there were no further seats available in business class. Needless to say, this is unacceptable. The supervisor then adamantly said “there is nothing I can do”. As a supervisor, those are the very words you should never ever say a customer! I explained that the representative at Grand Lido had arranged it all but the supervisor on duty refused to help us and walk off into the back room and did not return for 20 minutes. When she did eventually return she said, “we hear stories like this all the time – there is nothing I can do if your card is declined”. I was shocked at the incompetence, arrogance and attitude of someone in an apparently more senior role. Out of pure exasperation we took two economy class seats (they seated my husband and I apart and we had to ask other passengers to move around to accommodate for Air Jamaica’s complete incompetence yet again!). We experienced the same hopeless service, appalling bathrooms and hideous attitudes from staff as we had on our flight to Jamaica.
However, in spite of all this, I would not have even bothered to write a letter of complaint, until a revelation came to light mid-flight. A friend of ours travelling on the same flight, who had been staying at another resort, had decided at the last minute to upgrade – he was in the queue behind us at the airport. They told him this was possible if he paid cash and at a higher rate of GBP £300 (US$450) for an upgrade (instead of the £200 told to us earlier that day). It would seem that our seats were up for sale to the highest cash bidder! Correct me if I am wrong, but that sounds like a cash scam!

On the flight, our friend came back into Economy Class to find out what had happened to us – and we discovered that there were empty seats in Business Class! Needless to say, I was shocked. My husband immediately called over the hostess, who told us “it is too late, there is nothing I can do”. We were told that if we had a complaint we should speak to the agent on the ground. Never before have I met such an incompetent person as the “agent on the ground”, Cecil McDonnell, Assistant Airport Manager at Heathrow London.

As if to add fuel to the flame, when we reached Cecil, there was another couple already verbalising their disgust due to a similar situation. They too wanted to upgraded, but were told this would only be possible if they paid cash. After much deliberation, they managed to secure upgrades with a credit card but we realised a cash scam was obviously in play. They also complained bitterly about staff not attending to them, bathrooms in a state of array and defunct audio visual systems in Business Class. We told Cecil we demanded to see a manager who could “do something”, and he told us “there is nothing I can do”. As Mr X pointed out, there is no company in the world where an employee cannot reach a superior member of staff at any time of the day or night. He then offered us a business card for a general customer service centre, to add insult to injury. Under much duress, he finally gave us his business card and points of contact and your name as his superior. To date, this has been completely fruitless, as nobody returns my calls.

I have spent more time on this than I care to mention and as a final effort I am writing a press release to all the major newspapers and magazines about Air Jamaica’s “cash-scam”.

I am amazed that Air Jamaica, a national airline that represents a country wholly dependent on Tourism for its trade, is an ambassador of poor customer service and “cash-scams”. Furthermore, I remain astounded that this obvious lack of care demonstrated by Air Jamaica staff, is merely a fraction of that demonstrated by Air Jamaica Management.

Is the “there is nothing I can do” response standard company policy?

Jamaica has come under intense scrutiny of late, with its soaring AIDS epidemic and growing sex trade. Jamaica has also suffered tremendously from a steady decline in tourism following the September 11th attacks.
A national airline that scams its loyal passengers is an added blow to Jamaica’s flailing tourism industry. Air Jamaica has been unavailable for comment for over 6 month.
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