Immigration officials are asking for patience from passengers amid concern over long lines at Grand Cayman’s airport.
Record visitor numbers have put pressure on the facility, which is midway through a $55 million upgrade.
The partial opening of the new arrivals hall last week does not appear to have eased the pressure. Images sent to the Cayman Compass showed lines stretching from the steps of the plane to the entry to the new hall, Saturday.
Passengers said it took several hours to get through the line and airport bosses acknowledged that visitors faced a two-hour wait at peak time.
One passenger, on a Delta flight, reportedly fainted while waiting in the hot sun. A spokesman for the airline told the Compass Wednesday that Delta was discussing with airport bosses ways to improve the situation and ensure the health and safety of arriving passengers.
The Department of Immigration said it was virtually at full staff Saturday, with 11 of the 12 available booths in the immigration hall filled.
Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith said all 12 available booths would be filled this weekend.
He said staff were skipping lunch breaks to ensure full coverage at peak times. The department has also hired three “ambassadors” to assist with passenger flow. A separate line has been established to fast-track special needs passengers and those who require additional assistance, including the elderly and passengers with infants.
Mr. Smith said, “As this was our first Saturday in the new hall, we recognize the frustration of the traveling public having to contend with excessive waiting periods emanating from the long lines and passenger overflow from our hall.”
Even in the context of a busy peak season for Cayman, Saturday was a busy day at Owen Roberts International Airport, with multiple planes arriving within a short period of time. It is not clear if any late or unscheduled arrivals contributed to the logjam, but Mr. Smith said it was an unusual situation and that wait times had generally not been excessive during the busy season so far.
“We apologize for the unfortunate delays,” he said. “It was an odd occurrence since operations have continued to run smoothly despite the increase of arriving passengers.
“We sincerely ask the traveling public for their continued patience as critical works continue at ORIA.”
He said the space inside the immigration waiting area would increase once construction work is completed to break through the wall to the old baggage collection area.
Officials from the Cayman Islands Airports Authority were unavailable Wednesday to answer further questions on the long wait times at the airport and other issues related to the new arrivals hall. A spokeswoman said they would address those concerns later this week.
Michael Thomas, corporate communications director with Delta Air Lines, confirmed officials from the airline had been in touch with authorities in Cayman about the long wait times.
He said, “While immigrations processing is coordinated through the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, Delta is committed to ensuring our customers have an enjoyable travel experience throughout every step of their journey. We are working closely with the CIAA regarding the reported long customs queues at the airport to take care of our customers and provide constructive solutions to reduce wait times.”
Tourism businesses in Cayman said they were aware of the situation but were understanding of the issues.
Theresa Leacock-Broderick, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said, “We appreciate the challenges this expansion project presents, particularly at a time when the country is experiencing record arrivals. We remain confident that the government is addressing the situation as best and quickly as possible.
“We are in regular communication with senior officials to [give] immediate feedback from the insight gained from our relationships and interactions with our visitors. In fact, discussions were occurring over the course of the weekend, so I know that the situation is being closely monitored by the ministries involved and that all proactive measures will be taken to reduce the inconveniences.
“The Cayman Islands Tourism Association will continue to assist, particularly with our accommodation members, to communicate with our visiting guests in assuring them the project is progressing on target and that any current inconveniences will not recur on their return visit next year.”