That national airline carried 5,300 people out of the way of Hurricane Dean’s projected path in the three days before the storm.
Cayman Airways operated 38 flights Friday, Saturday and Sunday running up to the storm and also acquired seven charter flights.
In all the airline evacuated 5300 people before the storm, 580 of those to Cayman Brac, President and CEO Patrick Strasburger confirmed yesterday morning.
Also, the mandatory evacuation of Little Cayman saw six roundtrips between it and Cayman Brac.
Commenting on the fact that his staff worked literally around the clock in this whole endeavour Mr. Strasburger said, ‘The staff is just an incredibly experienced, dedicated team that worked tirelessly in such difficult circumstances.’
Management sat up for 36 hours to oversee operations. The airport staff was also commended by the CEO. ‘The team is just incredible,’ Mr. Strasburger said.
He added that the airline ensured regular meals and liquids were supplied to employees.
The process in hand yesterday was getting people back to the Cayman Islands.
There were to be nine flights from Miami yesterday, and six flights to Miami. There was also to be a Kingston rotation.
Mr. Strasburger noted that Miami airport would be very busy with all the passengers Tuesday, but he hoped that by Thursday everyone that needed to be, would be back on island.
Mr. Strasburger confirmed that there had been a problem with pricing from some evacuation tickets. This was due to a glitch in the system and those affected would be reimbursed the price difference, he said.
CAL’s sabre reservations system had set up pricing differently from what it had been programmed to, he said.
The CAL flights were set at US$169 for a one-way fare, plus tax, while the charter flights were set at US$240 one-way, plus tax.
‘For some reason, we’re still not sure why or how it happened, the system put inventory out there priced at a higher price,’ Mr. Strasburger said.
The Caymanian Compass had a report of an adult and a child paying US$2,500 for their tickets to Miami.
When the CEO became aware of the problem, having gotten complaints from members of the public and the government over the weekend, he ensured the glitch was fixed immediately.
‘We talked to the board and some ministers because we didn’t want to be accused of price gouging,’ he said.
Mr. Strasburger said this glitch could have operated in the system for a few hours and he did not know how many people it had affected, but he was optimistic that it was only a few.
‘We want to make it right,’ he assured. ‘We want to fix the price difference for people.’
However, Mr. Strasburger noted that this does not include business class tickets, because that is a different category of ticket.
If anyone believes they were charged more than the fixed rate for their ticket they should contact Cayman Airways reservations on 949-2311.
Although Mr. Strasburger is well experienced in emergency evacuations in his 25 plus years in the airline industry, including post 9/11 operations and evacuating South Florida for Hurricane Wilma in his previous position at Spirit Airlines, he said the Hurricane Dean evacuation experience taught him a lot about the incredible camaraderie within CAL and the various other agencies. These include the Civil Aviation Authority, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and the National Hurricane Committee.
CEO of the CIAA David Frederick said yesterday morning that they were trying to reconcile how many people were evacuated in the run up to Hurricane Dean, as some foreign carriers had also put on extra flights.
He noted that there had been a problem with overcrowding at the airport during the evacuation period.
He said they had set up two tents outside for shade where people waited on flights, and the Department of Tourism had provided water and snacks for passengers.
Within the confines of space at the airport there was little could be done to alleviate the overcrowding problem as there is literally a 36 to 48 hour window in which to evacuate people, he said, and there is nothing to do but advise the public to plan on leaving early if they decide to evacuate.
The ticket counters closed down at the airport around 4pm on Sunday afternoon and the last flight out at 7pm was a military plane sent in by the Colombian government to get its citizens out.
The airport closed down then until 7am yesterday morning.
Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford said that when the counters closed at the airport Sunday afternoon there were 60 visitors there. The Minister said he had already contacted the hotels on the island to ensure these individuals could be re-accommodated.
The majority, he said, were taken in by the Westin Hotel, and the Courtyard Marriott, Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman also took in some of those guests.
The Ministry and Department of Tourism arranged ground transportation for the tourists and briefed them on the update of the storm.
‘We’re very grateful to the private sector for taking in these people,’ said the Minister.
He also noted that there were some other tourists left on-island, not necessarily at hotels, but staying with relatives or friends.
At the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort travel arrangements were made for all in-house guests that were unable to change their departure dates to leave the island. The resort chartered a plane operated by Spirit Airlines Saturday morning to ensure that all guests were safely evacuated.
Minister Clifford admitted that he was relieved that Seven Mile Beach escaped relatively unscathed by the storm.
Most hotels, he said, are operational, but some may not have staff back yet from overseas. However, he expected most of them to be back online by Friday.
Tourists are now permitted to return to the Cayman Islands. ‘Guests are welcome in immediately,’ he said. ‘But while we’re prepared to bring them in we do advise them to check that the property they are booked with is back online,’ he said.
Mr. Clifford said that if their property is not ready, other accommodations are willing to take guests, if they have the space.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is brining two of its ships back tomorrow (Thursday), one being Freedom of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world.
With no damage at the Port Authority dock or the airport, Mr. Clifford said he is very grateful that these two important pieces of infrastructure can operate as normal.
The Minister thanked all the staff of CAL, MoT, DoT, CIAA and the Port Authority, all government agencies and the NHC and volunteers for their tireless work.
‘What they did in the lead-up to the storm was nothing short of amazing,’ he said.