Travellers who booked on British Airways Cayman/UK flights were hit with cancellation emails Wednesday morning following changes to dates of the weekly approved flights for December.
Two of the flights, which were originally listed for Thursdays, were moved to Tuesdays in December, thus allowing quarantining travellers to end their isolation periods on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
However, the shift in the dates prompted confusion as travellers like Nick Johnson, who had secured his seat on a December flight, had to scramble to get onto a flight to head home to see his family in the UK.
“I have not seen my wife and kids for eight months now. I got an email at 5am this morning saying the flights had been cancelled. When I tried to rebook, it was saying there was no availability on the flights I was trying to book on,” he told the Cayman Compass in a telephone interview.
However, a Tourism Ministry statement issued Wednesday afternoon clarified that while British Airways is one of the two airline carriers approved by government to operate repatriation flights to Grand Cayman, “not every flight or holiday marketed on the BA website is authorised to enter the Cayman Islands”.
“The Ministry has received reports that travellers are booking flights and vacations which are not approved and ultimately end up being cancelled. To avoid booking a non-authorised flight, travellers are strongly encouraged to check official [Cayman Islands Government] channels prior to making reservations,” it said.
Approved BA London to Cayman flights
5 Jan. 2021
14 Jan. 2021
28 Jan. 2021
(Return flights follow the day after each arrival)
Cayman to London:
6 Jan. 2021
15 Jan. 2021
29 Jan. 2021
The approved dates for six confirmed British Airways flights into Grand Cayman in December and January were released Wednesday. The ministry advised that dates are posted on the inbound travel section at exploregov.ky and are widely circulated via the government channels.
“Travellers who book flights that have not been posted on official CIG channels do so at their own risk and may incur additional fees when changing their booking to an authorised flight. Until normal commercial airline service resumes, the air bridge between the UK and the Cayman Islands is providing a vital link between the two countries. However, because entry into the Islands is restricted to repatriation flights only, service is limited,” it said.
The ministry urged the public to only consider travelling if it is essential and unavoidable.
The approved flights between the UK and Grand Cayman are scheduled to depart London, Heathrow and will return to the UK the following day, the statement said.
Johnson said when his flight was cancelled he panicked and went to Owen Roberts International Airport in the hopes of talking with a BA representative face to face, but he said he was directed to Travel Cayman as there was no one there. He said Travel Cayman then sent him back to BA and he was told he might be able to get on a flight going through Miami.
“I saved all of my vacation time for the whole year so I can go and do this, so I can see my family, and if the dates change mildly then I am going to be unpaid,” he lamented.
Johnson, who is considered high-risk due to a heart condition, said he really does not want to travel through the US.
For his wife, Beth Ormerod, who returned to the UK after she lost her job, the entire situation has been challenging. She said it would be heartbreaking for their two kids if Johnson cannot get on a flight.
“This whole year has been so frustrating and we were looking forward to getting the family together for two weeks over Christmas and now we have no idea if this will happen,” she said via email. “The children will be devastated if they can’t see him over Xmas. Then there is the not knowing of when we will all be able to see each other again.”
Tasha Ebanks-Garcia, Travel Cayman director, in an email response to Compass queries, outlined the flight dates up to January that were approved in Cabinet.
“All of these flights are open on the Travel Cayman portal and we are receiving applications for the flights,” she said.
British Airways, in a brief response to Compass on the cancellations and updated flights, said, “This is a fast moving situation and we are advising customers to check ba.com for the most up to date information on flights.”
The BA spokesperson added that like all airlines “we are doing everything we can in these difficult circumstances to help our customers. We offer impacted customers a range of choice and flexibility.”
Customers, the spokesperson said, can request a refund if their flight is cancelled, rebook or request a voucher for the full value of the ticket, which is valid for travel before 30 April 2022.
Rebooking flights challenging, costly
For mom Colette Byrne getting the notification of the flight cancellation was upsetting.
She said her daughter Verity Byrne was booked on 10 Dec. and that flight was cancelled.
She said she was able to “barely and at great expense” get her daughter booked on the 8 Dec. flight.
“I spent hours calling BA only to be told there are no seats… with the exception of a few wildly expensive premium economy or business [seats]. Her friend that was travelling on the same flight rebooked to come on [the] 15th as [her] parents couldn’t afford the astronomical price,” she told the Compass via Facebook messenger Wednesday, adding, “We bit the bullet and paid to get her back. It’s so stressful and cruel that there are not enough seats to get students back despite making such a big deal in the summer to get them out.”
She said the distressing part was the fact that the original seats were all cancelled, “but then other passengers were able to get those seats and the original passengers left without”.
Laura Tonner booked her parents on a 30 Nov. flight back in January so they could spend December with her three children, but after the UK lockdown was announced last month they believed that they would not legally be allowed to leave UK so they re-booked with BA for the 4 Dec. flight.
However, that flight was cancelled and thus began her challenge to get her parents to Cayman.
“The closest available date was the 3rd but that was already full. BA then re-booked them onto the 7th Dec. as the next available flight. After talking to a friend here we realised the 7th wasn’t an approved date on Travel Cayman’s system.
“I have then been on the phone this week to both Travel Cayman and BA trying to get a straight answer. Travel Cayman would only say that the 8th was the only approved date and BA are booking people on the wrong flights. They couldn’t tell me when BA would be informed that the 7th and 10th were not approved,” she said via Facebook messenger.
BA, she said, couldn’t physically change flights to 8 Dec. as that didn’t exist in their system.
“So we were very frustrated and stuck between a rock and a hard place with no forthcoming information. I was really worried that the 8th would be released as a date and fill up as had happened on the 3rd Dec. flight and my parents would miss out altogether,” she said.
Tonner said she liaised with her travel agent and got her parents to call and get their seats switched to 8 Dec.
“I really, really hope this is the end of this fiasco and all goes smoothly from here. It’s been a trying year all round and a family Christmas will be a good end to it,” Tonner said.