Cayman waved a fond farewell Tuesday to a unique and much loved feature of the island’s airport.
For decades, families have greeted arriving relatives and waved goodbye to loved ones from beneath the distinctive A-frame of the waving gallery overlooking the tarmac at the Owen Roberts International Airport.
After this week, the gallery will close for good. As progress continues on the redevelopment of the airport, construction workers will begin transforming the area into an enclosed upper-floor restaurant and VIP lounge that will be part of a new departure area.
Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said the tradition had to be sacrificed in the new design to meet changing regulatory standards.
Mr. Anderson has his own fond memories of returning from college to see the friendly faces of his family as he stepped off the plane.
“It was always a real good feeling to see your parents standing there waving when you arrived, or to be able to shout goodbye from below as you were leaving,” he said.
The airports authority hosted a small ceremony at the gallery Tuesday to acknowledge the end of what he described as a Cayman tradition. Airport staff and members of the public gathered to acknowledge the occasion.
“We recognize that this is a really important part of the airport experience for our community, so we wanted to invite the community to come and say farewell to the waving gallery,” he said.
Mr. Anderson said enhanced safety regulations meant that a similar gallery could not be featured in the new design. The current facility operates under a waiver.
He said a key concern, from a regulatory perspective, was that contraband could be thrown from the gallery to passengers below.
He told the crowd, “We understand the meaning this has to the community in general, and we have had some interesting feedback over the last few weeks. For the most part, people understand why it has to go, and in a couple of years we will have something we can all be proud of.”
For the crowd of well-wishers that stopped by for the ceremony there was a mix of nostalgia and recognition that times had changed.
Bud Johnson, general manager at Atlantis Submarines, said he was sorry to see the end of the waving gallery but pleased that the airport renovations are moving forward.
“It is a long-standing tradition,” he said. “I remember coming up to the old airport 50 years ago and standing up by the chain-link fence and waving to people coming in. I have a lot of memories of meeting people here.
“Unfortunately, with all the security risks and the measures that are being enforced, it is one of the things that has to go away. There are certain things we have to give up for progress.”
Businessman Parker Tibbetts was also there to wave goodbye to the waving gallery. He remembered seeing friends leave on stretchers from the gallery and appreciated the chance to watch them board the plane at such difficult times.
“It has been a Cayman tradition for many years,” he said. “People really enjoy coming here and seeing their family come in, like you can’t get to do in most bigger places. I guess we are getting bigger now and we have to move with the times.”