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Campaigners battle airlines in bid to lower prices

PETITION ORGANISER: Sylbourne Sydial founder and director of FFBJ

PEOPLE POWER is taking on the might of airline giants in the biggest campaign ever mounted by the Jamaican community to reduce airfares to their homeland.

The think tank and lobby group Facilitators for a Better Jamaica (FFBJ) is stepping up its campaign aimed at British Airways and Virgin over the airlines’ exorbitant fares.

With a petition now standing at well over 15,000 signatures, the group intends to put pressure on the airlines to reduce the average airfare from UK to Jamaica to £500 and increase the baggage allowance from one 23kg case to two.

It may be a David and Goliath situation, but the small lobby team that makes up FFBJ are a force to be reckoned with as they tour the UK, drawing support at community consultative meetings across the country.

Lawyer Sylbourne Sydial, the founder and director of FFBJ, along with other group leaders, spoke at a packed public meeting at Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church in Handsworth, Birmingham, just before Christmas.

He said the situation of such highly inflated air fares which are preventing families from seeing each other was ‘bordering on a human rights issue.’

And he said with the General Election now little more than a year away in 2015, this would be a political hot potato in marginal seats with high African Caribbean populations.

Pastor Bryan Scott, who hosted the meeting at his Handsworth church, agreed to be the group’s campaign manager for Birmingham.

He said: “This is an historical move being made. The more successful this campaign is, the more we can tap into other issues we need to address both here and in Jamaica. This will be bigger than both British Airways and Virgin.”
He will be supported by Primrose Granville, the newly appointed campaign manager for Bristol, and Basil Smith, campaign manager for Northampton.

Activist Paul Lawrence, who is a lobby team member, said he understood the concept of companies needing to make a profit, but return flights in the high season being three times higher was unacceptable. He urged everyone at the meeting to pass on the message about the campaign.

Lawrence said it was crucial for younger people to be involved in the campaign so they could make their voices heard via social media.

“This issue is part of their heritage,” he said. “Our job as parents is to reconnect our children with where they are from. We have to start rethinking how we travel as direct travel maybe a thing of the past.”

While Michael Mason, known as ‘the Tsar of the alternative route’ explained how he had researched several alternative cheaper routes to Jamaica via Europe and America. He quoted several cheaper fares from Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt, and also New York, Miami, Baltimore and Chicago.

“If we are serious about this campaign, we need to make a stand and look at alternative routes. If we have to boycott both these airlines at key times, then we will. If hundreds of passengers start travelling by alternative routes to show consumer power it will affect them. Knowledge is power.”

FFBJ’s aim is to reach 50,000 signatures. To sign the petition online visit www.change.org or FFBJ’s website at www.ffbj.org

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