Tourists and those catching flights off-island were among those worst affected by the Easter weekend’s traffic jams along West Bay Road, with flights missed and delayed because of the gridlock.
Traffic on the road, which can normally be bad on a Saturday, was further exacerbated by a section of the Esterly Tibbetts Highway being closed through Friday morning to Monday afternoon to allow for electrical and water lines to be laid under the road to the Camana Bay development.
According to a Cayman Airways spokesperson on Saturday all Cayman Airways flights departed late. Fifty people did not make their scheduled flights and some, probably residents rather than tourists, turned around and went home on their way to the airport when it became apparent they could not get to the airport on time because of the traffic.
American Airlines accepted some late arrivals, and had a delayed departure. Still, about 10 people missed the flight because of the traffic.
Spirit Airlines had a late departure and five people missed the flight because of the traffic.
US Air took delays on all three of its Saturday flights, but apparently everyone made the flights.
Air Canada did not delay its flight, but did have to re-accommodate some of its passengers on different flights.
Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO David Frederick explained that Saturday is one of the airport’s busiest days.
The problem with congestion at the airport stems from most flights running during the day.
‘The flight times are dictated by the airlines, although we do try to space them out,’ he said.
‘The only thing that can be done is to get the airlines to operate later, but they won’t do it,’ he said.
He noted that perhaps the airlines don’t recognise the inconvenience this causes their customers.
He acknowledged that it is costlier for the airlines to operate flights at night, but it would really help to spread out flights.
It would not, however, be any costlier for the CIAA to accommodate the evening flights, he said, and it could be done if airlines were willing.
When asked if it is advisable for hotel and condo managers to encourage visitors to leave very early for the airport to ensure they catch their flights, Mr. Frederick said that this could compound the congestion problem at the airport if people are there waiting for long periods, noting that it is basically a catch 22 situation.
General Manager of the Courtyard Marriott Steven Schwartz said he had five hotel rooms of people that missed flights Saturday.
It was the first time he was aware that the hotel’s customers had missed flights because of traffic gridlock.
One guest of Harbour Heights Condominiums missed a Delta flight Saturday.
Manager Melissa Bodden explained that the lady in question had been staying at the property with her husband. He was taking her to the airport to return to Mobile, Alabama, while he was to stay on and vacation longer with a group arriving that day.
The couple had been sitting in traffic for at least two hours and realised they would not make it to the airport in time for her flight so they turned around and went back to Harbour Heights.
Mrs. Bodden said the woman was very upset, and was crying, as she needed to get to back to Alabama for work purposes.
However, with a lot of help from President and CEO of Cayman Airways Mike Adam, they managed to get her out on a flight the next day, and arranged for her connecting flights with no extra charge.
Everyone who arrived at Harbour Heights on Saturday commented on traffic and questioned if an accident had occurred, Mrs. Bodden said.
‘I’ve never seen traffic as bad as that on Saturday. There’s usually a little gridlock about noon, but this was all day from 9am in the morning,’ she commented.
General Manager of Marketing Systems International, Padraic Linnane, who runs Beach Club Colony and Spanish Bay Reef Resort said although they were fortunate not have guests miss flights they did experience problems trying to coordinate guests on tours and excursions, and for a wedding where half the guests were staying at the resort in West Bay and the others at Beach Club.
Also, an Irish film crew staying here to film a destination holiday quiz were not given the best first impression by the traffic, he said.
Mr. Arie Barendrecht of Cobalt Coast Resort just made a flight on Thursday 13 April – before the road closure – only because Continental Airlines kept the gate open for him. He had been sitting in traffic on the West Bay Road for two hours. One of his guests missed a flight the same day.
Mr. Barendrecht said more pressure needs to be put on the Government to rush the approved section of bypass and if people can be stopped from taking short cuts all along the West Bay Road that would also help.