MONTEGO BAY, St James — Confusion and anxiety lingered on the faces of passengers who, due to industrial action taken by the island’s air traffic controllers, were unable to board their flights out of Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport (SIA) Thursday morning.
This industrial action, the minister with responsibility for information Robert Morgan said, is due to concerns about a job reclassification, and followed similar action taken by National Water Commission (NWC) workers, which started Tuesday and ended Wednesday night, and preceded threats by the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) to start protest action over similar issues at any time now.
On Thursday, hundreds of perturbed passengers were seen lined up outside SIA trying to find new accommodations for the night. Inside the airport told a story of chaos as distressed passengers rushed to their airline’s check-in counters in hopes of getting their many questions answered, while others sat on the airport’s floor typing angrily on their smartphones.
American Sheila Colvin told the Jamaica Observer that the inconveniences caused by Thursday’s strike have “left a bad taste” in her mouth. The woman is also annoyed by the possibility of sleeping on the floor of SIA after visiting the island in hopes of “relaxing before a major surgery”.
“I do understand why they went on strike, but not on my time. This is my first time in Jamaica and we had a beautiful time. We were even planning on coming back in September, but I do not want to come back here,” the woman said.
“My husband is scheduled for a major surgery on Monday, so we came here to relax. Now we have to sit here in the airport. This is crazy. We really had a good time… but I do not want this to happen to me again, so I am not coming back,” she told the Observer, while lamenting that she hopes to get home before Sunday.
Another American, Jennifer Monroe, who was anxious to head home to South Carolina, stated that the strike by air traffic controllers worsened her already “horrible experience” in Jamaica.
“I have had a horrible experience at the resort we were staying at and it has just been one thing after another since we landed in Jamaica. But this is definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back for us,” said the woman.
Monroe continued: “This has affected us in many different ways… now we have to go pay out of pocket to go stay to another resort and for transportation.”
For 75-year-old Delroy Douglas, the cancellation of his flight to Boston, Massachusetts, means that he will have to travel back to Mandeville. The elderly man told the Observer that the strike has not only inconvenienced him, but may have sent a terrible message to other foreigners who had plans of visiting the island.
“I don’t feel good about it, but what can I do? The Government should have prepared themselves for this moment because thousands of people have been inconvenienced. This is not a good look on the country or its tourism industry. This is definitely not a good look for anyone who is travelling,” said Douglas.
“I don’t even know how to feel because this is the first time I am experiencing this. I have been here for eight months, so I was really looking forward to going back home,” he added.
Lincoln Ennis, another traveller who turned up to SIA on Thursday, stated industrial action taken by public sector workers just this week could have been avoided by the Government.
“This is bad. They shouldn’t have to strike to make this happen. Whatever they are on strike for, it really shouldn’t reach so far. I don’t even know if I’ll get to travel tomorrow. I will try to wait for word from my airline before I leave St Catherine tomorrow… maybe the airline will send an e-mail, but I’m not sure,” said.
Shane Monroe, CEO of MBJ Airports Limited, the company which operates SIA, told the Observer that he is hopeful that all flights to the international airport will resume on Friday.
Some 28 flights were cancelled on Thursday, he said.
“We are hopeful that it will be resolved tomorrow (Friday). The airlines are already making arrangements under the assumption that it will be resolved. However, we await information from the JCAA (Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority) on the situation,” he said.
As for passengers affected by Thursday’s strike, the CEO stated, airlines should be making contact with tthem to rectify the issue.
“They will have contact information regarding rebooking their flights. Most flights are being rescheduled as we speak. However, the passengers will need to talk to their airlines differently to make those arrangements,” said Monroe.
According to tourism industry sources, at least 12,000 expected visits from abroad were affected by Thursday’s action.
But Monroe told the Observer that he is unable to ascertain the number of passengers unable to leave the country through SIA on the day.
“It is difficult to give an estimate because each flight has a different load factor but certainly, a significant amount of passengers are affected,” he said.