Saturday, March 17, 2012

REDJet abruptly suspends all flights ‘indefinitely’


The Barbados-based airline REDjet announced late Friday it was suspending all flights from Saturday after ten months in the air in a bid to “protect the long term interests of the business”, the company said.

“REDjet has no alternative but to suspend flights from 23.59 p.m. on 16 March until further notice,” said a message posted on the airline’s website and emailed to the media.

But the airline said a further update would be given on Monday and said “all tickets for future travel will remain valid”.

In the email signed by REDjet director Robbie Burns, the airline outlined a three-week process for travellers to get refunds and urged travellers to check the company website and call centre for updates.

“Passengers booked on any REDjet flight from 17th March should contact the call centre or check the website for information about their flight 24 hours prior to departure,” Burns said in the email.

Billed as a low-cost, no-frills carrier initially offering fares as low as 9.99 US dollars, REDjet this week began selling tickets for flights between Barbados and Antigua to start in June.

The privately owned airline did not give specific reasons for the shutdown but suggested that it was expecting “state assistance” to continue operations and blamed “subsidised” competitors for its troubles.

“REDjet is hopeful that we will be given a small part of the State assistance others receive, as it will allow us to get our recently approved and exciting new routes established and profitable. Once this happens, our shareholders and staff will do their utmost to see that there is no return to high fares and business as usual,” the company said.

Incorporated in Barbados, REDjet took to the air with a regularly scheduled service between Barbados and Guyana in May 2011.

Last month, the airline began operating a service to St Lucia. It also flies to Trinidad and Jamaica and had announced it was to begin flights to St Maarten in May.

The regional aviation industry retains heavy government ownership, control and direction, with Caribbean Airlines/Air Jamaica and LIAT remaining state-owned enterprises, often in the grips of labour disputes, heavy losses, cash bailouts and customer dissatisfaction.

But since REDjet’s arrival the two island-hopping carriers have stepped up competition in pricing and scheduling.

“We have seen other carriers drastically cut their fares in an effort to shut down REDjet and return to high fares and business as usual with no regard to the negative impact on travellers. Unlike us, they do not have to be profitable to stay in business,” REDjet said.

“In spite of their subsidised efforts, our passenger numbers have continued to rise,” the airline added.

The airline’s supporters say the low-cost model would spur greater intra-regional travel and tourism and offer more options for traveller. Critics remain unconvinced that a low-cost business model can fly regional skies, already the graveyard of several similar upstart carriers over the last two decades.

Apart from generating unprecedented press notice, REDjet’s entry into the aviation marketplace scored several coups in intra-regional travel beyond the low-cost model. It joined Caribbean Airlines in offering inter-island jet travel and made heavy use of social media marketing.

Within a week of launch last year, the airline’s Facebook page had already surpassed 16,000 supporters. It has introduced ticket sales through cellphone kiosks and began flying the West Indies cricket team during their home series with Pakistan and India.

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