Caribbean Airlines turns ten

Marking a decade of sharing the warmth of the islands, with the Caribbean’s favourite airline. Learn about anniversary plans, meet some star CAL employees, and more

Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesPhoto courtesy Caribbean AirlinesThe first appearance of the Caribbean Airlines hummingbird on the cover of Caribbean Beat, January/February 2007Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesAmerican pilot Jesse Seligman. Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesCharles Lindbergh lands a flying boat in Chaguaramas. Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesTrinidadian RAF pilot Ulric Cross. Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesPhoto courtesy Caribbean Airlines

A decade of warmth in the skies

In January 2017, Caribbean Airlines marks its tenth anniversary — a milestone for the airline’s dedicated staff and passengers. Erline Andrews finds out what’s in store for the year ahead, and meets some of the people who help make CAL the Caribbean’s favourite airline

 

Caribbean Airlines literally took off at 12.15 am on 1 January, 2007, with a flight from Piarco International Airport in Trinidad to Johann Pengel International Airport in Suriname. And as the company marks its tenth anniversary, it has reason to celebrate.

A fleet of five aircraft that made approximately 128 flights per week to ten destinations has grown to seventeen planes making more than six hundred flights per week to eighteen destinations in the Caribbean and North America. Last year, CAL was dubbed “the Caribbean’s Leading Airline” for the sixth consecutive year at the 23rd Annual World Travel Awards. The airline also offers the most flights and seats from the Caribbean into south Florida.

And through sponsorships and employee volunteer efforts, CAL has woven itself into the social fabric of the region. It sponsors Trinidad and Tobago’s Invaders Steel Orchestra, the oldest steelband in the world, and provides air transport and cargo support for the Organisation for Social Health Advancement for Guyana, a group of doctors from the United States travelling to the region to provide health care.

Caribbean Airlines is building on the gains of the last decade, says Dionne Ligoure, head of corporate communications. The company is now working on a five-year strategic plan. It has upgraded its reservations, check-in, ticketing, and e-commerce services, and will add new regional destinations in 2017. It also has a new mission statement: “Connecting people, realising dreams.”

“This has been a very interesting time at Caribbean Airlines,” says Ligoure. “Our focus more than ever is really on delivering a more enriching and value-added experience for our customers.”

The company will mark the anniversary in various ways throughout 2017, starting with an interfaith service in the first week of January at the head office in Piarco. The event will be accompanied — appropriately — by a fly-pass. Also, a special tenth anniversary logo — including the hummingbird from the current logo — will go on planes and promotional items. (You can see it on the cover of this issue of Caribbean Beat, for instance.) All customers flying on 1 January, 2017, will receive a coupon for a discount on a future flight. And Ligoure promises other surprises are in store for passengers throughout the year.

The company also plans to honour citizens who have contributed to the development of the region. Caribbean Airlines wants to send the message that people are its priority, says Ligoure. “2017 is a special year for Caribbean Airlines,” she adds. “The journey to this point was really only possible through the commitment of our employees and the loyalty of our customers.”

 

CAL milestones

Some of the airline’s major achievements of the past decade:


January 2007
Began flight operations with 128 weekly departures to ten markets, operating five Boeing 737-800 aircraft


July 2008
Caribbean Airlines completes the first C-Check on a Boeing 737-800 aircraft after moving all heavy maintenance in-house


September 2009

Launched and inducted twenty candidates to undergo the airline’s four-year Apprenticeship Engineering Training Programme


May 2010
Caribbean Airlines begins servicing routes formerly operated by Air Jamaica


October 2010
Caribbean Airlines wins Best Caribbean Airline 2010 at the World Travel Awards, at Sandals Whitehouse in Montego Bay, Jamaica — and goes on to hold this status for the next six years


November 2011

Caribbean Airlines welcomes the arrival of its first ATR 72-600 aircraft, becoming one of the very first operators of the new ATR 600 series


December 2012
The Guyana government grants Caribbean Airlines flagship carrier status for Guyana


October 2014
Caribbean Airlines is one of the first airlines to remove fuel surcharges on all routes between North America and the Caribbean, and within the Caribbean


July 2015
Caribbean Airlines upgrades its reservations and airport check-in system to the Amadeus Passenger Service System. The system ushers in a new era for Caribbean Airlines and its customers as part of the airline’s overall customer-centric strategy


September 2016
Caribbean Miles Frequent Flyer Programme, Jamaica-based 7th Heaven Awards, and Club Caribbean are successfully migrated to Amadeus Loyalty and Awards Management Solutions (ALMS). Caribbean Airlines also moves its Miles Call Centre in-house

 

Powered by people

As head of corporate communications at Caribbean Airlines, Dionne Ligoure speaks glowingly about growth and improvement in the services the company offers. And she singles out the character of the approximately 1,600 people who work for CAL in the region and beyond. “What I am most proud of is the support and camaraderie when you call on the employees to support volunteerism,” she explains.

“When a flight attendant can fly through the night, come off a flight, go home, bathe, change, and put her uniform back on because she is asked to go to a school to speak and share her professional experience with students, and she says, ‘No problem,’ those are the moments I am most proud of. It’s testimony to the fabric of who we are as an airline,” says Ligoure.

Caribbean Airlines managers were asked to choose employees who best represent the spirit of the company. Here are six snapshots of the people who create the CAL experience both in the public eye and behind the scenes.

 

Michelle Highly, the company’s senior supervisor of crew scheduling and control at Piarco, was a volunteer in the schools programme Ligoure mentions. The Roving Schools Caravan went to primary and secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago over five months in early 2016 to teach students about the tourism industry, including the professional opportunities it offers.

Highly finds time to volunteer despite having eighteen people under her supervision in Trinidad and Jamaica, and being responsible for scheduling shifts twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She is also serving voluntary stints on the company’s Job Evaluation and Change Management committees. “You do not get any time off or anything additional, other than knowing you are doing something to enhance the company you love,” Highly says — reason enough for her.

 

Ian Neil, a customer service agent at JFK International Airport in New York City, said he’s had so many interesting experiences over the past decades at Caribbean Airlines and its predecessor BWIA that he’s often asked why he doesn’t write a book. He’s worked at several major airports. He’s won multiple company awards, including the Chairman’s Award for Most Outstanding Customer Service Agent, and received letters of commendation from customers. He recalls meeting celebrities, among them basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and actors Sinbad and Victoria Rowell.

But he’s putting off the book for now. “During my past thirty-seven years in the aviation industry, I have not seen all, nor do I profess to know all — because new experiences, coupled with the acquisition of ongoing knowledge, continue to present themselves,” says Neil.

 

Annette McFarlane, a customer contact and senior ticketing agent based in Fort Lauderdale, is another employee of long standing. Her job at CAL is to ensure company policy and procedures are maintained.

“I am a perfectionist, a dedicated employee, and take pride in my work,” she says. “One of my greatest strengths is that I am customer-service-driven, always showing exemplary attitude and providing our customers with the highest level of customer service and giving them the ‘warmth of the Caribbean’ with my smile,” she explains.

 

Andre Smith, a customer service lead agent in Georgetown, Guyana, is a comparatively new employee, coming on board in 2010. One of his “greatest memories,” he said, was having to handle four flights coming in within five minutes, then having to dispatch three of the flights within another small window of time. “It was nothing short of a remarkable effort by all involved,” he says.

“Being naturally service-oriented is a gift I possess, and that has helped me in my journey thus far,” says Smith. “It gives me great pleasure knowing that I can assist a first-time traveller who may be unsure of what is required, or welcome back a returning guest, whose experience starts with us, the airport team.”

 

Jenelle Headley came into Caribbean Airlines from BWIA, and works in the finance department, based in Trinidad. While with the company, she got her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, as well as professional training that she feels enhanced her life in more ways than one.

“My time with the company has been a learning curve — not only professionally but personally as well,” Headley says. “I have had the pleasure of interacting with people not only from different departments but system-wide, making friends from all parts of the world.”

 

Kristy Kanick, legal counsel at Caribbean Airlines since 2012, also speaks of the education and training she received at the company. She completed four International Air Transport Association (IATA) law courses and earned an IATA Diploma in International Air Law with distinction.

“CAL, with its commitment to excellence, continues to be a dynamic airline to work for,” says Kanick. “The company comprises teams which are knowledgeable and tireless in their pursuit of a first-class product. We take pride in our airline and we acknowledge — individually and as a collective — that we each play a role which impacts on the customer experience. Customer satisfaction is indeed what drives us on a daily basis.”

 

A brief history of Caribbean aviation

The first successful airplane flight famously took place on 17 December, 1903 — a feat performed at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, by the pioneering aviators the Wright brothers. And just a few years later, the Caribbean also saw its first airplane flight. It was the beginning of a century of technological progress which saw the islands of the Caribbean archipelago connected to each other and the rest of the world through the power of flight.

1911
The first airplane flies in Jamaica. American pilot Jesse Seligman demonstrates this new technology to a thousand excited spectators in a five-minute flight at the Knutsford Park Racecourse in Kingston

1913
The first airplane lands in Trinidad, piloted by Frank Boland, but ends in tragedy when the craft crashes on landing in the Queen’s Park Savannah

1913
Aviation comes to Guyana, when pilot George Schmidt flies the first plane over Georgetown, dropping messages from the air to the crowds below

1913
Military aviation starts in Cuba, with the creation of the Cuerpo de Aviación del Ejército de Cuba (CAEC) and a fleet of just one Curtiss Model FS

1914–18
Many British West Indians volunteer as airmen during the First World War

1925
The Air Navigation Ordinance in Guyana opens the way to regular flights connecting Georgetown with estates and mining operations in the vast interior

1929
Charles Lindbergh lands a flying boat in Chaguaramas, northwest Trinidad, and along with PanAm starts the first air service to the island

1929
Airline Cubana de Aviación (or rather simply Cubana) is founded.

1931
Piarco airport — CAL’s future home base — opens in Trinidad

1934
KLM flies its first transatlantic flight from Schipol airport in the Netherlands to Aruba

1939–45
Many British West Indians volunteer for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War

1940
British West Indian Airways (BWIA) begins operations after being founded in 1939 by New Zealander Lowell Yerex. The first flight is from Trinidad to Tobago

1950
BWIA’s first flight to Miami

1960
BWIA flies to London via New York

1963
Air Jamaica is founded. The first flights to Miami and New York take place three years later

1967
Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC) begins operations

1975
BWIA reopens its London route, this time flying direct from Trinidad and Tobago

1977
Supersonic flight comes to the Caribbean when the Concorde makes its first landing in Barbados