OCC: CAL needs plan

In the wake of a report which was critical of Cayman Airways’ communications during Hurricane Dean last year, a government watchdog agency said those problems have still not been resolved to its satisfaction.

‘Hurricane season is upon us and I have not seen the documentation that one would expect in a fully thought out plan,’ said Scott Swing, an analyst for the Office of the Complaints Commissioner.

The complaints commissioner investigated claims of price-gouging at the Cayman Islands’ national airline last summer after more than 100 people were overcharged for tickets while evacuating the island ahead of Dean’s arrival.

Those overcharges were not due to price-gouging, but rather occurred because of a failure of staff to properly manipulate the airline’s ticketing system, according to an OCC report released to the public in January.

The OCC staff has continued meeting with Cayman Airways personnel since then and indicated the complaints commissioner was pleased with additional training the airline has given its employees in the new Sabre ticketing system.

However, the OCC’s January report did find major problems with the airline’s communication in the days before Dean struck.

‘Communications within the CAL organisation, as well as communication between CAL and other organisations, was lacking throughout this event,’ according to the OCC report.

Complaints Commissioner John Epp said Monday he is not satisfied that the airline has analyzed the earlier failures of its communication system and created an effective policy for the next emergency.

‘The OCC found that the (CAL communication) policy lacks clarity and details,’ a statement from Mr. Epp read.

For instance, the January report indicated that CAL was too dependent on e-mail as a means of communication during Hurricane Dean. The airline promised to use all available forms of communication including cell phones, landlines and text messages in the future.

Cayman Airways CEO Patrick Strasburger acknowledged those issues and said that the complaints commissioners’ recommendations would be responded to in a timely manner.

Mr. Strasburger said the issue of communications within CAL was discussed during a hurricane preparation meeting in January.

‘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.’ (See Caymanian Compass, 21 February)

However, the complaints commissioner noted that how such emergency communications would be sent is still unclear and it was also not certain how an employee would be able to access internal communications if they were ‘faced with a long line of customers.’

‘If messages in the early stage of the emergency are sent by all modes of communication, practical problems occur,’ Mr. Epp said. ‘Text message inboxes might get filled with information so that, when the text system is needed, messages might not get through.’

Also, Mr. Epp stated that there was no apparent plan for how often priority communications would be made, or how often employees should check for them.

‘We had hoped that a clear and detailed policy would be in place by now,’ Mr. Epp said.

A Cayman Airways spokesperson said Monday that airline officials were reviewing Mr. Epp’s statements and intended to respond in due course.

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