EDITORIAL – Owen Roberts remodel: Giving a new ‘wing’ to Cayman air travel

Cayman’s air travelers have received an early Christmas present with the opening of Owen Roberts International Airport’s new check-in area.

The modern, spacious addition is the first public opening of many planned upgrades, part of a much-needed $55 million airport renovation that will greatly enhance visitors’ experience entering and leaving Grand Cayman.

We applaud Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell’s efforts and his assurance that the ongoing airport renovation is progressing on time and within the budget – two critical considerations that too often are overlooked when government undertakes a major building project.

If Cayman is to continue building stayover tourism, and it should, we must ensure that our airport is well-equipped to handle the increased capacity and that the airport facilities – which are the first and last thing those visitors will experience – create a welcoming and positive impression.

The new wing offers a foreshadowing of the completed facility, which will be able to accommodate up to 2.5 million passengers per year – double the number who now arrive and depart from the airport each year.

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As Mr. Kirkconnell told the Compass this week, “It is a great feeling to walk in here and see the difference. It is the first time the country really sees what this airport is going to be. You really start understanding how much bigger, how much more current it is going to be.”

And it is a milestone that should quickly be followed by other “grand openings” as subsequent portions of the project are unveiled: The new arrivals area in January; the dismantling of the temporary departure area the following month; demolition of the wall between the departure lounge and the current customs and immigration zone – and so on, until the entire project is completed by next Christmas.

Such regular progress will help boost the spirits of frequent travelers (not to mention airport vendors and employees) who may be growing weary of life in a construction zone. The end result, we have no doubt, will be worth the current inconvenience, with Cayman finally able to say “au revoir,” “adieu” or “adios” to airport overcrowding and congestion.

Despite our accolades and applause for our airport improvements, we do, however, have one “nit” to pick.

We refer, of course, to the airport parking problems that continue to frustrate even the most patient among us.

For years, airport officials have introduced a variety of fixes to its broken parking apparatus. None of them work, have worked, or will ever work.

They have installed such devices as “change-making vending machines” (that too often don’t make change), exit “arms” that seem to prefer “down” to “up,” and those devilish receipt readers that, frankly, deserve an “F” for their lack of reading skills.

Too often airport staff must be called in to sort out these mechanical snafus and deal with frustrated, if not outright angry, travelers.

Here’s an idea: Why not turn an intractable negative into a public relations positive simply by offering free parking – no vending machines, no gates, no receipts, no attendants – to the traveling public?

What a nice complement that would be to our sparkling new airport. The public, no doubt, would love it, and perhaps even TripAdvisor would award Cayman “extra points” for our congeniality and hospitality.

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