So Long BWIA, Hello Caribbean Airlines

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I flew BWIA to and from the United States and Caribbean. To those not as familiar with the airlines, BWIA is the company’s acronym for British West Indies Airways and is pronounced bee-we. My memories are moldy or else times have changed, because apparently many passengers haven’t referred to the airline in fond terms for quite some time. Based in Trinidad, BWIA offers service to several Caribbean countries, New York, Washington D.C., Florida, and England.

On October 10 of 2006, they discontinued flights in or out of Washington Dulles. By December 31, after 66 years in business, BWIA will shut down and reform as Caribbean Airlines. Officials promise that Caribbean Airlines will honor Club BWIA and Frequent Flyer air miles as well as any previously purchased tickets. Meanwhile, BWIA has offered its 1,800 employees a severance package that includes a higher pay increase than what the airline had previously promised them.

Prime Minister Manning’s government of Trinidad and Tobago owns almost 97 per cent of BWIA stock. Rumor has it that Manning’s government will provide enormous sums of money for the operation of Caribbean Airlines. This isn’t enough to assuage critics of BWIA and Manning. Some argue that the Prime Minister has alienated many of the Caribbean countries to which BWIA has traditionally serviced. This doesn’t bode well for the new airlines because the prevailing opinion is that it Caribbean Airlines will be business as usual, and the poor service will simply continue.

To further complicate matters, BWIA International has 49 percent of the shares in Tobago Express. That airline and BWIA are accusing each other of owing them a substantial amount of money. If that’s not resolved before BWIA goes out of business, Caribbean Airlines will likely inherit that problem as well.