Charter woes anger passengers

Travellers were left angry and frustrated Friday when long-weekend charters they had booked to Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia were cancelled.

Amid shouting and confusion at Owen Roberts International Airport Friday, Alberto Bryan of Cayman Charters, one of the companies organising the charters, said the cancellation was forced by a malfunction with the plane’s radar system.

The malfunction left 356 travelers stranded.

However a further 240 people that had booked trips to Panama through Latin Tours did make it to their destination. Latin Tours charter a plane through a US based carrier.

Mr. Bryan said the airplane’s operator, Honduran based Atlantic Airways, only informed him of the mechanical problem at 5.45pm Friday evening, just an hour before the Panama flight was due to leave.

But those booked on the flights tell a different story.

Calls to Sunbeam Charters, one of four companies selling tickets on the charter, produced mixed messages Friday.

Jack Davis of Sunbeam Charters flagged a possible radar issues to a Caymanian Compass reporter Friday morning. At 3pm, Mr. Davis said all passengers had been confirmed and that check in would take place at 7.30pm.

At 7pm a call to Mr. Davis revealed that the charters had been cancelled, due to a permit issue. His wife, Beaverly Davis, later said forms would be re-submitted and that there was better than a 50-50 chance the plane would leave Saturday morning.

She made assurances to passengers that they would be informed early Saturday morning about whether the charter would be leaving. None of the passengers contacted by the Caymanian Compass ever received that call – or any call for that matter – from Sunbeam.

David Merrick, who was booked on the Panama trip, said he was very disappointed the plane did not fly and by the lack of communication provided.

‘No representative was available, nor was any legitimate reason given as to why there were no planes. We were fortunate that the hotels and activities we booked waived their cancellation policy fees,’ he said.

He joked he was also disappointed because he had changed his Facebook status to say he was going to Panama.

‘I kind of felt like I lied to all my friends,’ he said.

On Tuesday, Sunbeam and Cayman Charters representatives said they would be issuing full refunds to those that wanted them. Other passengers, they said, had asked them to retain their money with a view to organising another charter to Colombia this weekend.

Among those affected by the cancelled charter are some 45 Colombian nationals that were planning to return home on the charter. They included some that had been rolled over and a pregnant woman that was returning to Colombia to give birth. Mr. Bryan spent Monday at the Immigration Department trying to resolve immigration issues arising from the cancelled Colombian charter.

He said he had been left out of pocket by Atlantic Airlines actions, but apologised for the debacle. ‘I’m very sorry about everything. My family was meant to be on that flight too. I wanted it to go as much as everybody else did.’

Mr. Bryan said he would not be using Atlantic Airlines for any future charter trips, and was considering legal action against the airline.

Meanwhile, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority David Frederick said the cancelled flights had added to the chaos at the airport on one of its busiest days of the year.

An Atlantic Boeing 737-200 was supposed to do the three charters Friday, first departing to San Andres, Columbia, and then San Jose, Costa Rica, followed by a final flight Friday evening to Panama City, Panama.

Repeated calls to Atlantic Airlines representatives in Cayman and to its Owen Roberts Drive Office went unanswered Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

An angry group supposed to be heading to Panama Friday demand answers from Cayman Charters representative Alberto Bryan. Photo: David Merreck.

(editorial photos / November / cancelled charter.jpg)

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