Passengers shocked by conditions on exit flights

Governor says changes possible for next flight

Boarding the plane, passengers were kept six feet apart, but once on board, the social distancing stopped.

Passengers on the British Airways evacuation flight out of Grand Cayman last week say they were stunned at the lack of both social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures on board.

Though they were required to wear masks and remain six feet apart inside Owen Roberts International Airport and as they walked to the plane, it was a different story once they got on board.

Every seat was taken and even some of the flight crew were not wearing masks, according to passengers.

James Elchico, a hospitality worker returning to the Philippines after losing his job in Cayman, said he was surprised that there was no temperature screening or other measures.

“It was just like a normal flight. I thought we would be one seat apart on the plane, but no, we are all sitting together,” he told the Cayman Compass.

“I was amazed because in the airport they are really following the protocols. The six-feet distance is followed and there’s an officer checking everyone to see if you are wearing [a] face mask,” he said.

“But once you are on the plane, no one cares about the face masks.”

Inside the airport, strict protocols are being followed.

Another passenger, John Cagurangan, said he was surprised to see how close the passengers were to each other.

“I was very worried about my safety on that flight,” he said. “There were no empty seats.”

He said it was a different story on his onward Gulf Air flight to Manila, where seats were strategically left empty to allow for social distancing.

Elchico said it was strange to see the contrast between the strict enforcement at the airport in Grand Cayman and the more casual attitude on the plane.

He said he was afraid to use the washrooms as there did not appear to be anyone sanitising them during the flight.

“I never used it,” he said, adding that many of his fellow passengers had been shocked and had taken photos.

The plane was almost full in Grand Cayman and picked up more passengers in Turks and Caicos. Some flight attendants wore masks, but some did not, according to passengers.

Some of those reports must have made their way to Governor Martyn Roper, who addressed the issue in the daily press briefing on Monday.

“I know this has been a concern expressed by a number of people and planning that next flight, we will take this into account,” he said.

He added that it was British Airways that was ultimately responsible for determining policies and protocols on board its aircraft.

Roper added, “These are emergency flights and individuals do have to judge the risk for themselves, but we will have a fresh look at all that for the next [flight].”

The BA flights provide an irregular air-bridge between London and Grand Cayman during a time when Cayman’s borders are closed.

Two flights have been organised so far, allowing medical supplies and some Cayman Islands residents to come into the territory, and facilitating the evacuation of expats who have lost their jobs amid the economic crisis.

More flights are expected to be organised in the coming months, with the government encouraging expats who are out of work to go back to their home countries where possible.

Elchico, who had to take out a loan to pay his fare to the Philippines, accepted that social distancing might have meant a higher cost for the ticket. But he said he would have been willing to pay more for a safer environment on board.

“I think the safety of everyone is more important,” he said.

Cagurangan said he hoped British Airways would change its policy and put in measures to ensure passengers could remain six feet apart on future flights.

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  1. The passengers are completely correct. But if half the seats had been left empty, the airfare would have almost doubled. And, of course, only half as many people could have left.

    But certainly masks should have been required throughout the flight and toilets kept clean.

  2. Really!! there is truly no social distancing on a plane … missing middle seat or sitting every other row. All that can be done is thorough cleaning and mandating masks and gloves onboard. While in the airport any PPE containment policy can be in place.

    When flying in a pandemic, it becomes the responsibility of the traveller as much as it is the responsibility of the airline carrier!

  3. One can certainly understand the nervousness of the passengers. In the year 2020 BC (before covid) no one felt comfortable on a full flight. Current conditions make this discomfort exponentially worse. Now, however, after nearly two months of the Cayman Islands being closed off and locked down, persons leaving are some of the safest persons in the world. Like the disease rabies, a dog leaving the island is not a concern, one coming on is. The flight crew, therefore, should have taken full precautions with themselves, they are the weak link. Cleanliness on an aircraft? That will be one of the silver linings from this evil disease. At some point all methods of mass transport will be scrubbed, sterilized and disinfected. Too bad it did not start with this flight.