In fact, the lines were so long that they originated inside, totally overfilling the hall, and then wended outside into the heat (a few Good Samaritans were handing out bottled water to the weak and the weary), and then back inside for the long trek through security checks and into the departure lounge, altogether evoking images of the U.S. escape from Saigon in 1975.
These poor souls — most of them our cherished tourists — were leaving Cayman and, from a sampling of their (unprintable) conversations, many were not coming back.
This intolerable drama replays itself every weekend with no solution or cessation apparently in place. Is it the Cayman Islands Airports Authority’s plan to let this chaos go on forever — or at least until a new airport is in place (which, in Cayman, is synonymous with “forever”)?
What does the Department of Tourism think about all of this? How about the Cayman Islands Tourism Association? The fire department? Is anyone awake here?
Long lines tend to form when governments fail to address their basic purpose — that is, to serve the people. More than a practical nuisance, overcrowding of infrastructure is a sign of serious public sector dysfunction.
Here in the Cayman Islands, thankfully, we do not often find ourselves queuing for food, unless it’s in the supermarket during the lunch crunch, at a particularly trendy eatery or following a terribly destructive storm such as Hurricane Ivan. Cayman’s private sector has shown itself to be more than capable of catering to the whims and desires of our population.
However, when Cayman’s government is directly involved, waiting in line (or its toxic twin, bureaucratic delay) far too often is an integral part of the process — whether it’s commuting on public roads, navigating immigration, seeking justice in our courts, requesting public records or getting approval for a development.
Where government should be — for example, monitoring crowded conditions at the Stingray City Sandbar — it’s not. Where government shouldn’t be — for example, forcing registration upon small, uncoordinated, not-for-profit fundraising campaigns — there it is.
On a personal level, the act of waiting is incredibly frustrating, particularly when what’s at the end of the line isn’t a luxury — a roller coaster ride, newest iPhone or front-row concert tickets — but a necessity — a job, license or permission to stay on island.
Economically, waiting is wasteful. Those precious minutes we spend idling during rush hour at the Hurley’s roundabout accumulate collectively into hours, days and years of lost productivity — not to mention the gallons of gasoline being burnt for naught.
(For perspective, researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that in 2011, the average U.S. commuter “lost” 38 hours per year because of congestion, representing a cost of more than US$120 billion, nearly US$820 per commuter.)
The conclusion we draw is that the next time you’re stuck on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, in a nonmoving line at Owen Roberts or waiting at the post office for an overdue letter from Immigration, ask yourself the favorite question of all Auditor Generals: When it comes to government spending, are you getting value for money?