American Airlines apparently has not enjoyed JetBlue’s growth in the Caribbean, particularly in Barbados.
American has been a leader in the region since it acquired Eastern Air Line’s Miami Caribbean operation, which included Barbados service, in 1989. But in 2009, JetBlue began Kennedy-Barbados service; in 2014 it added Fort Lauderdale-Barbados and in 2015 it added Boston-Barbados. In the winter of 2016-2017, JetBlue even tried weekly Newark-Barbados.
On Wednesday, Barbados tourism officials, gathered in Charlotte, said that JetBlue may have a bigger share of the U.S. traffic at Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) than American does. But that dominance will end Dec. 19, when American begins daily seasonal Charlotte-Barbados service and adds as a third daily Miami-Barbados flight, using Airbus A-319 aircraft in both cases.
“American has really come back,” said Seymour Bailey, the Miami-based business development officer for Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. “They had lost significant share to JetBlue. Now American wants to take (JetBlue) on again.”
Bailey said JetBlue’s presence in the Barbados market has pushed fares down. At one time, the Miami round-trip cost was in the $600 to $700 range, he said. Today, the average round-trip fare is about $350.
Added JetBlue capacity and lower fares largely accounted for a 17% increase in U.S.-Barbados traffic in 2017, when Barbados welcomed a record 188,970 U.S. passengers. Bailey said about 80% is tourist traffic; the rest is VFR, an industry term for visiting friends and relatives.
The U.S. is the island’s second biggest tourist market, after Great Britain. Canada is third and Germany is fourth. Great Britain is served by three carriers, Canada and the U.S. by two carriers and Germany by one.
Bailey said Miami has always been the principle U.S. gateway to Barbados because many travelers enjoy adding Miami to Caribbean and Latin American itineraries. At the same time, he said, Midwest travelers sometimes tell their travel agents they prefer not to make connections in Miami. That underscores the benefit of adding Charlotte. While the Charlotte flight is currently scheduled to end in April, Bailey said, “We hope it becomes year-round.”
Expanded Barbados service is just one piece of American’s planned winter expansion in the Caribbean. In May, the carrier announced a major Caribbean expansion that included eight new non-stop routes, including new Saturday flights from Charlotte to North Eleuthera and Abaco, and an expansion in Miami frequencies.
“It’s a huge statement from American, which has seen a significant increase in competition in the Caribbean from carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, both of which have been on massive expansion pushes to the region in recent years,” Miami-based website Caribbean Journal reported in May.
American spokeswoman Katie Cody said Wednesday that Barbados “is doing well and has very strong demand (and) Charlotte gives us great connections.” Charlotte, the world’s third largest single airline hub, has 674 daily flights to 160 destinations including dozens in the Midwest and west that would gain improved routing to Barbados.
Meanwhile, JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said the carrier’s Barbados service “has resulted in a growing number of visitors to the island” and includes premium Mint service weekly from JFK and seasonally from Boston. “We remain committed to elevating Barbados’ stature among travelers in North America,” Stewart said. JetBlue serves 29 Caribbean destinations.
Barbados has a historic link to the Carolinas. The first ship carrying Europeans into Charleston harbor arrived from Barbados in 1670. “We are the only colony that ever founded a colony,” said Petra Roach, U.S. director for Barbados Tourism Marketing.
American, like the other two global U.S. airlines, has always been protective of its markets. Two recent moves, in addition to the increased Barbados service, highlight that commitment.
Last month, barely a week after Mexican low-cost airline Volaris announced it will begin twice-weekly Guadalajara-Charlotte service on Nov. 22, American said it will begin daily seasonal Charlotte-Guadalajara service starting on Jan. 6.
Two weeks ago, American announced daily winter season service from Phoenix to Grand Rapids and Madison, Wisc., matching the twice-weekly service that Frontier had announced weeks earlier.