CAL adjusts hurricane disaster plans

Cayman Airways has made some changes to its emergency response plan following a report that blamed human error for the overcharging of some 100 passengers during the Hurricane Dean evacuation last year.

The Office of the Complaints Commissioner found that CAL staff did not know how to use a computer programme that set ticket prices at one low rate ahead of the storm, which resulted in the overcharges.

Complaints Commissioner John Epp also said that communication was poor both among the airline staff, and with its customers. He noted at the time the report was issued that CAL was still lacking an internal complaints process, despite recommendations for it to create one nearly two years ago.

However, the complaints commissioner did not find any evidence the airline intentionally overcharged anyone, and said CAL successfully evacuated more than 5,000 people from the Cayman Islands in the 72 hours before the hurricane struck.

‘We would therefore ask that the monumental task undertaken by the management and staff during that time be understood when evaluating operations,’ read a statement from CAL Board of Directors Chairperson Angelyn Hernandez.

Responding to questions from the Caymanian Compass, Cayman Airways Chief Executive Office Patrick Strasburger said several changes either had been or would be made at the airline to improve performance in future emergencies.

CAL has developed several scenarios it would use in a future evacuation of the islands depending on several factors including; the direction of the storm, the amount of time available to evacuate, and availability of crew and planes. Mr. Strasburger said Miami International Airport would be the focal point of those operations.

He said a set fare would be established, along with a flight schedule, during any hurricane evacuation event. Once that fare is set in the computer system, Mr. Strasburger said all passengers evacuating on CAL should be charged the same price.

‘The airline would identify a fare level for each market that would be available on all coach cabin seats at such time as there is a mandatory evacuation issued,’ he said. ‘The rate will be determined by management based on the existing cost structure at the time of the evacuation.’

He said passengers who already had tickets before a mandatory hurricane evacuation started would retain their seats, but would not be given the discounted fare. Business class seats would continue to be sold at the prevailing market rate.

Mr. Strasburger said the issue of communications within CAL was discussed during a hurricane preparation meeting in January. The complaints commissioner’s report noted that airline staff communications were hampered because of overdependence on e-mail.

‘Aside from the standard e-mail correspondence, there will be specific communications plans and schedules for each department in advance of a storm,’ Mr. Strasburger said. ‘These include, but are not limited to call down systems (cell phone and land line); SMS broadcast messaging, facsimile, hand-held radio communications, briefings and memorandums.’

An internal complaints process, which keeps track of customer feedback, has now been established at CAL, according to airline spokesperson Pat Bynoe-Clarke.

Mrs. Bynoe-Clarke said the airline is using a computer database to retain and track all customer comments and issues. Mr. Strasburger said the system allows CAL staff to obtain management trend reports and analysis.

Mr. Epp stated in his review of the Hurricane Dean situation that Cayman Airways previous lack of an internal complaints process amounted to maladministration by the airline.

Mr. Strasburger said the complaints commissioners report did not identify the need for any disciplinary action against airline staff in the wake of the Hurricane Dean evacuation.

‘The Board of Directors and executive management team have expressed support for all staff,’ he said.