Monday, September 9, 2013

Latin America’s Competitive Airlines

 By Nicholas Sutherland

While Latin America in general lags behind the United States in competitiveness, it can actually boast a competitive advantage in certain areas. One such area is airline service and comfort. 
While some U.S. airlines flying Latin American routes typically offer poor service aboard old and run-down planes, Latin American airlines like Avianca, LAN, TAM and Copa all provide friendly service and modern planes. 
 I have to also mention Caribbean AirlineS,  which has acquired Air Jamaica. Air Jamaica had a generally good level of service but that seems to have declined. Recently I had to fly Caribbean Airlines (CAL) from Jamaica to Trinidad. Their fees for overweight and/or extra bag is outrageous. 
Onboard, the cabin staff were friendly  but we couldn't get extra creamer for our hot beverages. The attendant came with evaporated milk and proceeded to add it to my friend's coffee, resulting in her having to get another one and another package of creamer and sugar. The little TV was loud and there was no way to block it out. The food was cold and tasteless. Asking for  a second soda, was apparently frowned upon by the flight attendant, if her withering stare was anything to judge by(I did receive the soda though).
I contrast this with the service that Air Jamaica gave to its passengers. I think the difference lies in the fact that Air Jamaica was a major carrier for European and North American tourists to the island, while CAL (formerly BWIA) carries mostly Trinidadians and other Caribbean islanders. The feel of the service at Caribbean Airlines is that it is somewhat friendly, but not professional.
The difference between friendly and professional service,  is that a friend represents only him or herself, whereas a professional represents a company. Friends are free not to care, but a CSR is paid to care, and is obliged to provide service regardless of their mood, or how they feel about the person on the receiving end. To that end, Caribbean Airlines' service is good when things are going well and that friendly feeling prevails. It quickly turns distant and unfeeling, however, when things go badly and this is where the other airlines are generally better.
Did I mention the TV, Avianca  and TAM all offer personalized in-flight-entertainment centers for all passengers, unlike the TV hanging from the roof on U.S. airlines, with its one-size-fits-all programming.
Not only do Latin American airlines beat their U.S. counterparts on international flights, but also on local domestic ones. I remember a short trip between Bogota and Medellin on Avianca where the airline still made time to serve us a meal and a good one at that. Even flying with one of Panama’s small domestic airlines, I was served a basic meal on a 50-minute flight between Panama City and the city of David. 
Caribbean Airlines now upholds the banner for ferrying North American tourists to Jamaica and other destinations like Barbados. They need to ramp up their customer service training as they start to fill the shoes of Air Jamaica or thousands of Jamaican residents abroad and North American tourists, who previously flew on "Air J" start using American carriers for their trips to our sunny climes.

No comments:

Post a Comment