On Sunday, 6 May, I enjoyed my third visit in as many months to Owen Roberts International Airport.
In March I was flying Air Canada to Toronto. In April, a friend of mine was taking the same flight, and this Sunday, another friend was winging her way on AC 973. Such friends had kept me company in line when it was my turn and therefore I felt obligated to do the same.
As a result, I have come to the following conclusion: Either something has to be done about the organization of our airport or I can only associate with those who travel solely by sea.
On the first occasion, Cayman Airways did not have the benefit of the Air Canada reservation system. Apparently it had not been downloaded the night before.
Agents had to check everyone in by hand, so it was understandably going to be a long wait – sometimes such things are out of our control. What irritated everyone, however, was the lack of information being given.
The airport was a zoo.
Multiple flights were being checked in at the same time (the majority by Cayman Airways) and no one was directing passengers as they entered the doors.
To the untrained (and trained) eye, it looked as though there were no clear paths to the specific agents for each flight. The signs above the desks were small and not situated precisely.
As we had moved only two inches over an hour, and been standing by the most popular doors, we started sending lost travellers to their correct lines in the absence of an airport staff member.
How did I know that the reservation system had problems? I had to go and ask passengers closer to the desks if they knew why the whole process was crawling. If anyone made announcements over the speakers with this explanation, none of us heard them. What we did hear, however, was the announcement for the initial boarding call for Air Canada whilst there was still a line not unlike the queue for a top Disney park ride at the height of summer. Passengers started panicking that they wouldn’t make their flight, and again, no one came around to tell them otherwise.
The second experience in April was much the same, but this time there was no problem with the reservation system. It was still a two-hour wait with no information being given, a complete lack of coordination and a hall full of grumbling passengers.
This recent Sunday, we arrived at the airport two-and-a-half hours (as usual) before departure time. Out of habit, we headed for the Cayman Airways end of the airport, but the Air Canada sign was nowhere to be seen. Lo and behold, it was over the British Airways counter, with our old friend The Queue snaking around and back past American Airlines to end at the door leading to departure security.
We quickly got in line and started waiting. Others, however, were not so fortunate. Tourists who were unfamiliar with our airport were stumped by all the British Airways signage that was clearly sitting at the entrance to the roped-off serpentine section of the line. Why anyone couldn’t have produced even a handwritten sign to place over the BA signs stating ‘Air Canada’ is beyond me. Didn’t have to have a Maple Leaf drawn on it – we can’t all be artists – but just a simple sign would have saved a lot of confusion.
My favourite part? When American Airlines needed to start checking in their passengers who were being blocked by us, and so one of our only two agents (for an overbooked flight), in her wisdom, took people from the back of our line and directed them to the First Class line! Clearly the lesson to be learned here is show up 45 minutes before your flight is due to leave and you can cut in front of everyone else.
The airport authority and the airlines need to do something about this, and quickly. We were surrounded by visitors who were furious, and quite rightly so.
Passengers understand that sometimes they are going to have to wait in line, but the lack of organization at the airport on these busy days is inexcusable and easy to correct.
Clear and visible signage – even if it’s temporary – would be a great start.
Some uniformed airport staff on hand to direct people or reassure them is an absolute necessity.
Loud and clear announcements wouldn’t go amiss either.
The airport has got space restrictions at the moment, but it could be handled much more efficiently. We don’t want this to be the last impression that tourists have of our island.