Airport officials are confident the overcrowding and long delays that impacted visitors this year can be avoided during the forthcoming tourism high season, despite an anticipated delay in unveiling completed renovations at the Owen Roberts International Airport in George Town.
The official opening of the expanded terminal has been pushed back to late January. Even at that point, there will still be work to do to finish the second floor administration and airline office space, and fit out some of the retail stores in the departure lounge.
Airports boss Albert Anderson believes enough work has been done, however, to ensure a smoother experience for passengers over Christmas. By the time the busiest part of the tourism season kicks in around Easter, he expects the experience of traveling through Grand Cayman’s airport to be greatly improved.
After three years of space limitations caused by the construction project and the limited size of the existing terminal, Mr. Anderson believes there are now reasons to be positive.
“As far as the terminal is concerned, we have significantly more space this year on both arrivals and departures, which should make the airport experience much better,” he said.
“The immigration hall is twice the size it was this time last year, and [the] ticketing, security and departure [areas] are three times bigger than they were. There will still be queues and crowds, but the experience will be much better.”
On the busiest days last year, visitors complained they were waiting for hours in lines that snaked outside the terminal.
Mr. Anderson acknowledged that there would still be lengthy queues on peak days but said the airport was working with customs and immigration officials to ensure they moved quickly. The additional space will also mean visitors are waiting inside rather than in the hot sun.
He added, “The amount of space available in the terminal will be the biggest change that the travelling public will notice. In addition, [they will notice] self-check-in kiosks for most airlines, flight information displays, more baggage belts at baggage claim and generally a more comfortable experience in the terminal.”
Earlier this year, the congestion on the ground was reflected in the skies. On one Saturday in March, at least three planes had to be diverted to Jamaica because the airport was too busy for them to land.
Mr. Anderson said the airports authority had now become a member of CADENA, a regional air traffic management group that works collaboratively to coordinate air traffic movements within the region. He said this would tie in with a slot management system to ensure the airport does not exceed its capacity.
Mr. Anderson acknowledged the airport would not meet its original target for a December opening. He said the first floor work would not be complete until January. But he believes the work is substantially complete.
“We would like to thank the travelling public for their patience over the past three years as we have worked on the expansion of the terminal,” he said. “Now that the project is winding down, we look forward to a much more enjoyable experience for all our guests, our airport partners and our employees, all of whom have contributed to our success in maintaining flight operations while the construction was going on around us.”