Grand Cayman’s airport was packed from wall to wall on Saturday as rain delays caused a bottleneck of waiting passengers.
Images sent to the Caymanian Compass show chaotic scenes at the airport around noon as hundreds of frustrated tourists crammed into the departure lounge.
Officials say they are doing all they can to manage overcrowding, while a business case is being produced for a much-needed expansion to the facility.
Albert Anderson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, said the numbers on Saturday were close to the maximum capacity, which limits the amount of passengers in the departure area at any one time to 556.
He said the airports authority staff and security workers were on the ground to reassure passengers and manage the flow of people to ensure no problems occurred.
The upper level of the airport is used as an overflow waiting area and passengers are only allowed in the departure lounge within 90 minutes of takeoff at peak times.
Mr. Anderson said several flights were delayed on Saturday because of bad weather, causing the bottleneck.
He acknowledged, “There are always complaints when things like that happen but we put people on the ground to talk to the passengers and make things as easy as possible for them.”
A strategic outline case for the expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport produced in October last year said a growth in passenger numbers meant the existing capacity was inadequate.
It said the airport terminal was a “severely congested and uncomfortable environment providing a poor level of service to travelers.”
Airport staff and tourism officials say they are doing what they can to make life better for tourists in the interim, but an expanded facility is badly needed.
Kirkland Nixon, chairman of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority board of directors, said a full business case for the redevelopment of the airport, being produced by consultants PwC, would be completed by the end of the month.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the overcrowding being experienced at the airport was “regrettable.” But he insisted everything possible was being done to alleviate congestion at peak times.
He warned that neither the tourism ministry nor the airports authority had ultimate control over flight departure times, which were scheduled by the airlines to facilitate onward connections in the U.S.
“The ability to stagger the times that passengers arrive is beyond our control,” he said.
He said a series of “critical upgrades” had been put in place in an effort to find “medium term solutions.”
These include a new roof providing weather and shade for waiting passengers, upgrades to the air conditioning system, and an extension to the departure lounge to provide additional seating.
He said most passengers had been understanding of the situation and taken it in their stride.
Jane Scaletta, the executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said she was encouraged by the efforts being made by the ministry and the airports authority.
She said, “The good news is our tourism numbers are picking up. There is a new CEO at the airport and this is an issue that he is addressing.”
Tina Choy, fire safety inspector for the Cayman Islands Fire Department, confirmed there was a maximum legal capacity for the airport in the conditions of its certificate of occupancy.
“At this point, we have not received any complaints as to overcrowding,” she said.
“The ability to stagger the times that passengers arrive is beyond our control.”
Moses Kirkconnell, tourism minister