‘All hands on deck’ at airport

Dozens of visitors wait at the taxi stand outside Owen Roberts International Airport Saturday. – Photo: Brent Fuller

Martin Flaemrich was worried about his family’s Saturday flight from Toronto to Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport.

“I read the Compass online last week and saw your article with the picture of the passenger lines outside,” he said after arriving Saturday with his wife and three-month-old son. “So, I brought my hat, [his son’s] sun hat, some umbrellas. We were ready.”

As it turned out, the first-time visitors did not spent any time waiting outside and less than half an hour waiting inside the new airport terminal.

“It was pretty easy,” Mr. Flaemrich said. “It looked like it was all hands on deck. Everyone was very friendly, very efficient.”

Grand Cayman’s airport opened its new arrivals hall on Wednesday, Jan. 24, as part of $55 million revamp of the facility. Three days later, Saturday, Jan. 27, arriving passengers were forced to wait outdoors in two-hour long lines at the new facility.

Tourism professionals and airport staff alike were warned of another busy arrival schedule this Saturday, with more than a dozen planes scheduled to arrive between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Several more were scheduled to arrive later in the afternoon as well.

“Thanks to a robust season to date, we anticipate another busy arrival and departure weekend particularly on Saturday,” Cayman Islands Tourism Association President Theresa Leacock-Broderick wrote in a letter to CITA members Friday. “Please encourage all your staff and colleagues to be sensitive to any delays or inconveniences our visitors may have experienced upon arrival or perhaps may experience on departure.”

According to travelers who arrived at Owen Roberts Saturday afternoon, there were some delays. However, there were none to the level of what was described on Jan. 27.

“We got off the plane and we walked through the zig zags and then, because the area was kind of full, we were asked to wait outside,” said Karen Grant of Connecticut who arrived on a JetBlue flight. “But they had a nice band playing, so that makes the time go by.”

Ms. Grant said she took a bit longer going through customs and immigration once inside the terminal.

“We had to go through every zig and zag that was in there,” she said. “It took about 45 minutes. It was definitely not the longest wait I’ve ever had at an airport.”

By late afternoon, there were half a dozen planes lined up along the tarmac.

Dozens of airport staff members were seen in and outside the arrivals area, directing traffic, telling people where to pick up rental cars or taxis. There was some confusion from passengers about where they could find the rental car offices, and the line for the taxicabs at one stage in the early afternoon took about 30 minutes to get through. There were so many people arriving at one point that the taxi stand ran out of available vehicles.

“It wasn’t five minutes through the airport,” said Jimmy Wilholt of Tennessee, who was waiting in the taxi line Saturday. “Looks like it’s going to 20 minutes here.”

Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell said Sunday that his reports back from the airport indicated all went much better than it had on Jan. 27. Mr. Kirkconnell asked the visiting public to pardon Cayman’s progress over the next year.

“We are moving as fast as we can to complete the airport, so there are going to be issues from now until when we complete it in December,” the deputy premier said. “There’s nothing we can do with the bricks and mortar [referring to the airport construction phase]. We’re moving as fast as we can. But with the human capital, you learn from experience and you adjust what you do.”

Mr. Kirkconnell said Owen Roberts received in the neighborhood of two dozen flights with 3,000 passengers aboard Saturday, similar to what was seen on Jan. 27. Cayman may also be benefitting from the misfortune of islands in the eastern Caribbean, many of which suffered serious damage during Hurricanes Irma and Maria, sending more vacationers to the western side of the region.

Despite the crowds and ongoing construction work, longtime visitors to Cayman like Myron and Barbara Holtz viewed the airport improvement as positive when they arrived on Saturday.

“Wow! What a change,” Mr. Holtz exclaimed as he walked through the arrivals hall Saturday afternoon. “Immigration was a breeze.”

Mrs. Holtz had one complaint: “The waving gallery seems to have disappeared.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. From the article it appears that the peak time is every Saturday from 11:30am to 2:30pm.

    That’s just 3 hours once a week.

    How about offering part time work for these few hours only just to handle the ‘easy’ passengers that are USA or Canadian tourists with a return ticket and accommodation booked.
    It surely would not take very long to train people to look at a passport picture, the person and their documents and stamp their passport.

    Could also look for part time luggage handlers and then speed up customs by making proper use of the Red / Green lanes. That is, only ch3ck passengers at random going through the Green lane.

    • There are undesirable people who are USA/Canadian tourists with a return ticket, who have criminal backgrounds and need to be vetted too. I’m talking about people who have been expelled from Cayman for crimes committed to residents especially crimes against former loved ones. The system has to be designed to protect residents….even if it takes a 30min to do so.

      • Like I said Paulie, I am suggesting part time help for the ‘easy’ tourists. 99% of our visitors are NOT criminals and just want to get speedily to their hotel or condo.
        Part-timers would of course still enter the same information in the same computer system and would hand over to a full timer any person with a red flag.
        There must be a few Caymanians who are working in banks, law offices etc. and thus familiar with computers who would appreciate the opportunity to make some extra money for a few hours work.

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