Copa Airlines reschedules return to Jamaica

The Jamaican Government’s extension of a travel ban from a number of Latin American countries has resulted in Copa Airlines pushing back its resumption of scheduled flights to Kingston and Montego Bay by three months.

News of the setback comes as the Panamanian carrier announced that as of June 5 it will restart flights from Panama, connecting with the main cities of Latin America to Nassau, The Bahamas.

Prior to the emergence of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Copa Airlines operated daily service to Montego Bay using an A320 aircraft seating up to 180 passengers. The airline also operated four scheduled flights weekly to Kingston Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays on an Embraer E190 aircraft with a seating capacity of 106 passengers.

However, the closure of Jamaica’s borders last year due to COVID-19 affected flights from a number of countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru. That travel ban remains in effect until June 30 this year, disrupting the resumption of service Copa had set for today and tomorrow.

The carrier had originally planned to resume twice-weekly flights to Kingston, starting today, using a Boeing 737-800 with a passenger capacity of 189, through to August 30.

However, because of the travel ban extension, Copa has now advised that it will start four weekly flights to Kingston using an Embraer E190 aircraft with a seating capacity of 106 passengers on September 1.

The Montego Bay service, which should have resumed tomorrow, is also projected to start on September 1 daily, using an Embraer E190 aircraft that seats up to 106 passengers.

The schedules, though, are “subject to change based on any adjustments to COVID-19 protocols”.

Responding to the Copa development, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Clifton Reader noted that the ban on travel from South America to Jamaica has resulted in severely reduced load factors for Copa, the main airline bringing passengers via the Panama hub to Jamaica.

“The bulk of these passengers are traditionally business and commercial travellers from Brazil and Chile. The ban also affects tourist traffic to our island from countries like Aruba and Curacao,” he said.

“Copa Airlines also typically brings a lot of business persons to Jamaica from Mexico, which is not one of the countries banned from travel to Jamaica. However, most of these persons would come here for three to four days, but due to our quarantine restrictions they deem travel to Jamaica at this time as unfeasible,” he added.

Reader said the JHTA recognises that as Jamaica works assiduously to contain and reduce the incidence of COVID-19, the authorities will monitor similar strategies in countries on which bans have been imposed.

“It is our hope that with the roll-out of aggressive vaccination programmes the countries of South America will also begin to see an appreciable reduction in cases of COVID-19, improvements in recovery rates, and decreased death tolls.

“When this happens, we have no doubt that in due time the Government may see it fit to lift the ban on travel from South America to Jamaica. Increased load factors to the island will, no doubt, result in increased service by Copa Airlines to Jamaica,” Reader said.

Yesterday, Eyewitness News in The Bahamas reported that Copa will initially operate flights to Nassau Saturdays and Mondays and, as of June 17, will provide service on Sundays and Thursdays.

Copa’s return of service to Nassau follows British Airways’ resumption of direct flights from the United Kingdom earlier this week on a once-weekly schedule.

“We are pleased to announce that on June 5 we will resume our regular operation to Nassau with two flights per week so that tourists can enjoy wonderful days of rest and experience unforgettable holidays in The Bahamas…” Eyewitness News quotes Copa Airlines Vice-President of Global Sales Christophe Didier.

He also said that, as of May 1, passengers with a full COVID-19 vaccination certificate — including the second dose, if applicable — are exempt from the negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test requirement, as long as they have been vaccinated at least 14 days prior to entry into The Bahamas.

Passengers who do not fit this profile, including people who have received vaccines other than those mentioned, will also be welcomed in The Bahamas by submitting a negative PCR test taken up to five days before their trip, in addition to applying online for their health visa and completing the daily health questionnaire, Eyewitness News reported.

The Copa development has delivered another blow to Jamaica’s airlift problem following on American Airlines’ reduction of service to Kingston from four weekly flights pre-COVID-19 to one.

Yesterday, a travel industry official told the Jamaica Observer that the nightly curfew, plus the quarantine period for incoming passengers have affected business travel to Kingston.

The effect of the cut will also be felt particularly during the summer, the usual peak travel period when hundreds of Jamaicans living in the US would normally visit. Additionally, ticket prices have increased.

“I tried booking for July and the cost was US$1,500,” said the official, who opted not to be named. “Nobody is going to buying a ticket for more than US$1,000, worse if you have a family of four.”

He said while he supported the Government’s efforts to protect the country from further spread of the novel coronavirus, the Administration has to consider the fact that some of the measures it has implemented are placing Jamaica in a difficult position in relation to visitor traffic.

“If American moves that flight to Kingston to, say, Tulsa, and it proves profitable, we won’t be seeing that flight again,” he said. “So the value of the airlift is that once you have it you have to secure it.”

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