Cayman Brac's Cuba flights: ¿Por qué?

If it were possible for a government to create an economy from scratch, through subsidies and spending, then Cayman Brac would be booming.

But it isn’t, and it isn’t. And, we’re afraid, no number of new “international flights” is going to awake that Sister Island from its eternal economic slumber.
The latest $1 million check from Cayman Islands taxpayers to the Brac was used to bring the Brac’s Charles Kirkconnell International Airport up to a standard allowing for people to fly directly from the Brac to the U.S., without a layover in Grand Cayman.

In tandem with an enhanced Brac-Miami route from Cayman Airways (as if any private sector carrier would risk two pence on this link), Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell announced a proposed connection between the Brac and Holguin in eastern Cuba. The thinking is that planes going from Miami to the Brac could also carry passengers ultimately bound for Cuba, and vice versa.

Put another way, Cayman Airways can help offset its financial losses on the Miami-Brac route (losses that certainly will accrue) by loading the remainder of the plane up with travelers who might stay in the Brac long enough to enjoy the Charles Kirkconnell airport’s expanded arrivals hall and departure lounge.
Many, if not most, of those transient Brac “visitors” will be Americans who don’t have their government’s permission to travel to Cuba, but want to go anyway — enabled by acquiescent Cuban authorities, who won’t insist on stamping passports, and third-party jurisdictions such as Cayman, who want to make a cheap buck.

In brief, Minister Kirkconnell — who not incidentally is the Brac’s representative in the Legislative Assembly — wants the Brac to get in on the same game of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that Grand Cayman has been playing for years.

Given recent changes in the tone of discussions between U.S. and Cuban authorities, and the relaxation of the trade and travel embargo becoming more a question of “when” than “if,” we would suggest that subsidizing travel to the Brac by siphoning off fees from covert Cuba tourists is a strategy that is neither honest nor sustainable.

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One memo from a White House official — either instructing U.S. law enforcement to scrutinize vigorously Americans with “gaps” in their travel history to Cayman, or green-lighting direct travel to and from Cuba for all Americans — will put a quick end to Cayman’s status as an airborne “underground railroad” (to mangle a metaphor) between the two Cold War foes.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter how nice the Brac’s airport is, how many people its arrival hall can comfortably accommodate, or how many times per year the National Roads Authority’s equipment is used to repave the same already-immaculate strips of hard-mix asphalt, foreigners will simply not be enticed to visit the Brac unless there are things to do, or at least places to stay (such as the now-shuttered Alexander Hotel, closed, in part, because of its adjacency to the aptly, if colloquially, named “Stink Pond” – which the government may or may not have vowed to deodorize).

In Grand Cayman, it is often repeated and well established that the largest single determinant of stay-over arrivals is hotel room inventory. Having more tourist accommodations leads to having more tourists, in that order.
But for the Brac, Minister Kirkconnell is telling us a different story — that increasing air accessibility to the Brac will lead to an increase in tourists, which then would lead to economic development.

(Never mind Little Cayman, whose tourism industry seems to be as healthy as it’s ever been, without regular infusions of capital by government.)
We understand and appreciate the motivations of Brac MLAs Kirkconnell and Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, but how is it that the other 16 MLAs, and the 95 percent of Cayman residents who aren’t Brackers, continue to allow the Brac to play by its own set of rules? 

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  1. Good editorial comment. While we’re having a look at CAL how about the issues arising from the purchase of their three worn out old 737s?

    It would make more sense for CAL to codeshare the longer routes and simply get rid of the jets. They could then lease two 60 seat twin turboprops to service all the shorter routes. Right now their fleet plans leave them with a huge gap between uneconomical 150 seat jets and limited-use 30 seaters.

  2. The Miami/Brac/Holguin route seems just plain weird to me. All I really think it will do is add the requirement for baggage handlers, and customs and immigration agents, who will be removing everyone and everything off the plane, interviewing them, twice, each way, then reloading everyone and everything back onto the plane.

    If the goal is actually to entice visitors to the Brac (is Miami really the best target market for this) how about modifying one of the routes already in effect.

    We go to New York 3-4 times a week as it is. How about changing the Saturday flight so that it is Grand Cayman/Brac/JFK and returns JFK/Brac/Cayman. This would cover a Grand Cayman/Brac jet service (for those who require the big comfy seats) Brac/JFK direct and on a Saturday, perfect for a week long stay. And we could really target the advertising in this market with direct flights.

    And maybe offer those flying Grand Cayman JFK on this day a small discount for the inconvenience of making the stop. There would be no requirement to deplane on the way to JFK, just on the way back so that all passengers including those that have been on all the way and just joined in the Brac can head straight to baggage claim bypassing customs on Grand Cayman.