Hurricane Sandy has caused the cancellation of thousands of flights to and from the northeastern United States, leading to a knock-on effect, which could impact Cayman arrivals.
Shomari Scott, director of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, said that severe weather in major travel hubs including New York, Washington and Boston had led to major cancellations.
“Given that a significant number of our visitors originate from these areas, we can definitely expect to see a decline in air arrivals over the next two or three days from these and others areas due to the cancelled airlift,” he said. “However, as many of the airlines are waiving the change fees for persons wishing to continue with their plans when services return to normal, we are hopeful that the majority of visitors will be able to rebook.”
“[The Department of Tourism] regrets the inconvenience caused to passengers looking forward to leaving the fall weather behind in the US to enjoy some of our warm Caymanian sunshine, but under the circumstances, safety has to be the first and foremost concern,” he added.
Before the storm, air arrivals to date were tracking up by 3.9 per cent on a yearly basis compared to 2011, noted the tourism boss.
According to travel tracker FlightAware, there had been more than 6,800 domestic and international flights cancelled on Monday and 2,600 for Tuesday, a total of 9,400 cancelled flights that were anticipated to increase as the weather took hold.
Jane van der Bol, executive director of private sector body the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said that by press time they had not had any direct calls from hotels or industry partners reporting cancellations. However, she added, the flight situation was bound to cause some issues.
“Bad weather has always affected the tourism industry, sometimes in a good way when visitors choose to stay in Cayman for a day or two longer versus flying to the US and staying at a connecting airport waiting for flights to come back online.
“Of course, it also affects our industry partners with cancellations and delayed travel plans as airports are closed and airlines are re-routed. The most important thing to note with bad weather, is to stay safe and make sound decisions on travelling choices,” she said.
Cayman Airways does not have any flights to the affected area until Wednesday, 31 October, which is an addition to the seasonal schedule as regular Wednesday flights stopped in September. The next, scheduled flight is on Saturday, 3 November, at 4.10pm when KX792 flies to New York’s JFK airport.
“All Cayman Airways flights are currently on schedule and running smoothly,” said Kathryn Walsh, interim marketing manager.
US Airways services between Charlotte and Grand Cayman reported a delay to the service on Monday, 29 October.
Caren Thompson-Palacio of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority noted that the authority’s procedures for monitoring weather-related situations were guided by the specific situation, as per information from National Weather Service for weather that is impacting our islands.
“However, different situations dictate different actions and thus flight cancellations due to weather situations in geographical locations, which are not impacting the Cayman Islands, are strictly the decision of the airline in question and the responsibility for addressing the resulting actions, including passenger information and liaison, is that of the airline,” she explained.
Damage on Brac
The Cayman Islands did not escape unscathed from the outer edges of Sandy. The storm damaged Scott’s Dock in West End in Cayman Brac and spread debris along coastal roads as heavy sea surge lashed the island.
Public Works Department workers cleared the roads on Friday morning, following the overnight damage Hurricane Sandy brought to the Brac.
Dervyn Scott of Scott Development, which owns the dock, said it would take about a week to repair the damage.
“It tore up the concrete. There was quite a bit of damage,” Mr. Scott said. “We have to wait for the weather to calm down a bit before we can start repairing it.”
The dock is usually used to moor barges that deliver crushed rock and other aggregate to Grand Cayman.
Business travel affected
According to a statement by Global Business Travel Association, business travel could be damaged significantly, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The research used Global Business Travel Association’s Business Travel Quarterly methodology to determine how a theoretical Category-3 hurricane on the East Coast would impact the business travel industry, and the results can be applied to any significant weather event that leads to widespread shutdowns and cancelled travel plans, such as Hurricane Sandy,” read the statement.
It estimated that Sandy could lead to 514,000 cancelled business trips, with a loss of $606 million in spending. According to the report, this could result in a GDP loss of $675 million plus federal, state and local tax losses of $176 million in the United States. The 11 states in the projected storm path could lose $58 million a day by the association’s calculations.
Last week, several flights were cancelled or rescheduled between Grand Cayman, Kingston, Montego Bay and the Brac by Cayman Airways on Wednesday, 24 and Thursday, 25 October. Change fees and penalties were waived because of this as Sandy passed over Jamaica on its track to the north.
United Continental, Delta and American Airlines stopped most services through New York, Washington and Philadelphia airports, causing a ripple effect for connecting flights as well as direct services.
“It is also possible that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may force some additional delays and cancellations of scheduled flights beyond Wednesday,” said American Airlines in a statement.
Caribbean Airlines, which mostly serves the Windward Islands, but also Jamaica and Miami, also cancelled flights through New York on Monday.
Public transportation was also cancelled in the New York area including subway and bus services on Monday. The Port of New York was also closed on Monday, 29 October and many ships due to call were re-routed to other destinations.
Staff writer Norma Connolly contributed to this story.