A mass evacuation plan is in place at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman to help cope with huge volumes of passengers leaving the country in the event of a hurricane.
The Cayman Islands Airports Authority has contingency plans that involve extra staffing and the erection of tents to deal with vast numbers of people waiting to board planes out of George Town.
It is normal for additional non-scheduled flights, including both chartered and commercial aircraft, to be added to the schedule to cope with demand in the days before a storm hits.
The airports authority only implements its mass evacuation plan in response to a national directive, activated by authorities three days before the approach of a major storm.
Caren Thompson-Palacio, business development manager for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, said there were strong procedures in place to ensure the safe and efficient evacuation of people who wished to leave the Island by air in the event of a hurricane.
She said the plan covered everything from parking around the airport to baggage handling and crowd management in a packed terminal.
“Arrangements include extra staffing, erection of tents, food and beverage stands as well as portable toilets in the parking lots to accommodate vast numbers of persons in order to prevent overcrowding of the terminal,” she said.
“Airlines will also implement pre-check in processes so as to limit the numbers of passengers in the terminal at any one time,” she said.
These pre-checks, which could be done online, are designed to alleviate potential chaos as thousands of people may opt to leave the Island, said Mrs. Thompson-Palacio.
“Only persons whose flights are imminent will be allowed into the terminals/departure hall, to prevent overcrowding.
“In most cases, these passengers will have already undergone preliminary check-in. This will incorporate a ‘feeder’ process, as flights are successively dispatched.”
It is advised that families travelling with children arrive at the airport with enough food and water to compensate for lengthy waiting periods. However, liquids other than baby food or sterilised water will not be allowed through security. The accompanying adult will be required to vouch for the foods by tasting.
As usual, checked and carry-on baggage will be subject to normal restrictions on size, weight and prohibited substances. National flag carrier Cayman Airways, as well as US domestic airlines that serve Grand Cayman, will likely add nonscheduled flights to its regular repertoire to help meet demand for the increased number of people wishing to leave the islands. Island Air, the local fixed-base operator, will also coordinate private and chartered flights at the facility’s general aviation terminal. Those passengers, too, will be subject to outgoing immigration requirements.
During the storm, the airport will close down when officials deem the conditions too dangerous to continue flights. When the all-clear is given by government authorities, flights will resume, bringing needed supplies in and carrying additional people out of the territory.
She said the authority typically warned people to be patient and prepare for long waits in the case of evacuation.
“Hurricane evacuations can be extremely stressful and the airports can become crowded. Passengers are urged to make preparations for lengthy wait periods.
“They should also ensure that they have a confirmed reservation with their airline to prevent not being able to travel disappointment.
“They should also try to arrange to be dropped off at the terminal as parking is limited.”
She explained that although the airport’s parking lots will accommodate cars up to capacity, once they are full, people will be directed to additional, off-site parking lots.
Once all car parks are filled, people will be requested to make arrangements to be dropped off at the airport, at which point vehicular control will be assigned to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said Mrs. Thompson-Palacio.
People leaving vehicles by the roadside run the risk of losing their vehicles as they are towed away by the CIAA at the owners’ expense. If the vehicles are not claimed for a long period, the airport authority will eventually take ownership.