BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON, England — Flights out of Jamaica to London are fully booked and Jamaican-branded items, especially those bearing the image of the world's fastest man Usain Bolt, are flying off the shelves at the island's international airports as islanders began leaving for the United Kingdom capital Monday for the Olympic Games and Jamaica 50 celebrations.
At least one duty-free shop at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston said it cannot stock these items fast enough to meet the demand, which exceeds what it was this time last year.
Employee at the Casa de Xaymaca store at the NMIA, StacyAnn Manning, told the Jamaica Observer that passengers departing for the United Kingdom (UK) make up the majority of her patrons.
"It has been extremely busy here," she said. The most sought-after items, she further explained, are the Bolt T-shirts and Jamaica 50 items, which are supplied by Sun Island.
Several passengers travelling on the British Airways (BA) flight out of Kingston Monday were visiting London for the sole purpose of attending the Olympic Games, which begin tomorrow and continue through to August 12 .
Meanwhile, British Airways said the more-than-nine-hour flights are very busy in both directions. "Even though July and August are normally peak travel months, we have seen increased demand this year," BA said.
The airline has since increased to three, its twice-weekly non-stop flights from Kingston to Gatwick to accommodate the large number of travellers. "This change was based on a number of factors, not just demand as a result of one event," the airline said.
The airline said it was also seeing some travellers flying to London via Miami, through its partnership with American Airlines. According to BA, there has been a slight trend towards earlier bookings for travel this summer, with many persons securing their seats as soon as the fares became available last year.
Jackie Innis, one of the many Jamaicans making the trip to London, said she and her three girlfriends have been planning for this occasion for the last four years.
In addition to attending the Games, Annette Griffiths said the friends will also use the month-long trip to tour in Europe, visiting such places as Sweden, Denmark, Amsterdam, Germany, Switzerland and France.
"It is going to be sheer excitement in London and the fact that we are expecting so many medals, we want to be a part of the celebration," Innis told the Observer.
The fact that this is their first time at the Olympic Games is not coincidental as the women said they opted to attend this event because of the significance of Jamaica's presence in the United Kingdom.
"We have many Jamaicans in London, as well as friends and family, and so we wanted to be here," Innis said, adding that their tickets were booked from February. They explained that by booking that early they were able to save $40,000 on each ticket, paying $128,000 instead of the $168,000 some last-minute travellers were forced to fork out. As for the much sought-after Olympics tickets, the women said those were bought from last July, immediately after they went on sale.
The women said they also had enough black, green and gold T-shirts to last for the Games. "I have about 11 Jamaican-coloured tops, one for every day," said Griffiths, whose nails were polished in the Jamaican colours.
Meanwhile, the women said despite being away from Jamaica as the country marks its 50th year of Independence, they do not think they will be missing too much as they expect the celebrations in London to be just as exciting.
Taxi operators in London are also benefitting from the increased number of Jamaicans arriving in the UK capital. Cabbie Ronald Bernard said he has been transporting "quite a few Jamaicans" in the last few weeks as business becomes brisker close to the start of the Games.
"You can tell who are Jamaicans because most of the time they are wearing their colours proudly," he said.