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 …