The Compass published, with some reluctance, an article and photograph on Page One of yesterday’s newspaper, which depicted, verbally and visually, an incident nothing short of misery at the newly opened arrival hall at Owen Roberts International Airport.

Our initial reluctance stemmed from our awareness that any enterprise as complex as the opening of a new airport facility is going to have glitches, snafus and, inevitably, some confusion and missed cues. “Opening nights,” on Broadway or elsewhere, rarely go according to script.

Nevertheless, we were hopeful that there would be a simple cause – perhaps mechanical failure of baggage conveyor belts – to explain the long lines of arriving tourists snaking from parked planes, into the airport proper, through the immigration checkpoint, on to baggage retrieval and customs checks, and eventually off to various resorts, hotels or other final destinations.

Alas, we learned that, unfortunately, there was no “one-off” mechanical failure. In all businesses, managers strive to identify something called “single points of failure,” that is events, equipment, or circumstances that can bring operations to a grinding halt. In newspaper publishing, for example, one might be a catastrophic breakdown of a printing press that cannot be repaired with parts available on the island. Or, heaven help us, someone neglecting to order a sufficient supply of paper or ink.

In the instance of Saturday’s breakdown of systems at the new arrivals hall, there was no “single point of failure.” Indeed the ostensible problem – long lines of unhappy tourists – was, in fact, simply a manifestation of a multitude of operational mishaps – many of them emanating from bad (or nonexistent) planning, others simply from bad luck.

Missteps and miscues piled upon each other, creating, in Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell’s words, “a perfect storm”: An airport under construction, one of the busiest travel days of the season, six planes landing almost simultaneously, and on and on …

And yet, much of what our arriving guests (because that’s what they are, guests) were forced to endure could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, by effective planning and foresight.

Everyone knew, for example, that a large number of large planes was scheduled to arrive in a very short window of time. Nothing is more predictable and, frankly, easier to plan for than airplane arrivals. Flights are generally scheduled weeks, if not months, in advance.

And certainly airport officials knew that last week was the “grand opening” of its brand-new, and, yes “grand-new,” arrival terminal. Saturday, the busiest day, predictably was “showtime.”

Prior to “opening the curtain” on a facility that Minister Kirkconnell, the entire airport staff and indeed all of Cayman should be justifiably proud, the “basics” should have been attended to.

For example, the terminal should have been overflowing, not just with arriving passengers, but with an overflow (more than needed) of immigration officers, baggage handlers and customs officials. Instead what visitors faced was the opposite of what they should have expected and certainly deserved.

To their credit, Minister Kirkconnell, Airport Authority CEO Albert Anderson, Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith and other airport brass and staff were in nonstop meetings yesterday to deal with what is obviously an intolerable situation.

Not to contribute an additional “dark cloud” to their deliberations, but they need to consider the following:

What if it had rained Saturday afternoon? These hundreds of tourists would have been drenched

What if hadn’t rained, but the sun came out and the temperatures rose to tropical torridity? Remember, they were lined up outside with no shade, standing on heat-radiating asphalt

How will they deal with the frail and the elderly, many of whom cannot, orthopedically, stand in line for two to four hours?

And finally, since we’re at it and since officials rejected our recommendation (along with many others) to include covered jetways in their renovation plans, how will the airport address the constant spectacle of deplaning passengers struggling down the equivalent of a flight of stairs, unwieldy carry-on luggage in one hand, briefcase or purse in the other while, at the same time, acrobatically struggling to hold on to a shaky railing?

C’mon, Cayman. We need to, and can do, better than this …

4 COMMENTS

  1. Not only elder women can’t stand orthopedically. What happens to your blood when you stand long under a hot sun? It pulls into you legs. Your heart starts working harder to provide blood supply to your brain, otherwise you faint. How many passengers, seemingly fit and healthy, might have heart conditions?
    One would think that people who call themselves Ministers have enough wit to put shaded benches alongside and offer free water.
    There is also such a thing as occupancy permit. Who authorized a permit to operate a facility that is not ready for occupancy?

  2. The Editor is spot on with the new Airport and Officials situation . What I also see is that Mr Kirkconnell isn’t taking the lead role in this new development of the Airport , and didn’t have no discussion with all Department heads in planning all this new improvement . It look like he thought that the improvement to the Airport was like a new car that all you have to do is get in and go . There weren’t no thought process at all .

    I hope that all the embarrassment of their incompetence opens their eyes and they will see what has to be done from here on .

  3. As I said yesterday the root cause of the problem was lack of sufficient customs, and immigration staff and probably baggage handlers as well. It is mind boggling that these highly paid civil servants in charge of the airport, customs and immigration departments allow this to happen. We have never had accountability in Government and until we do situations like this will continue.

  4. How interesting that it is disturbing for us not to see the irony in people who sit in the sun everyday in George Town. For decades nothing has been done for cruise ship passengers to ease their transit to and fro. What about the public who walk around or wait on transport to take them to places on island? I have seen people waiting for an hour to be picked up with groceries. Moses Kirkconnell was the first one to provide infrastructure on Royal Watler to ease the suffering of passengers waiting to go or come from the ships. He put in large tents and seats. Cayman is behind time in infrastructure.

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