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).
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.