Our schedule to end 2018 is a week in the paradise that is Little Cayman with awesome cousins, some diving for the divers and some time for the reader to stick her nose in a book while facing the waves on a beach chair (that’s Lisa – for those readers who don’t know us that well).
We are on this trip with our west coast cousins. Dan and I spent the previous five days in Miami, are in our home time zone and are relaxed due to our retired state. The other 3 are taking time from busy lives and work and crossing 3 time zones. One of them took the red-eye and arrived 4 hours before our “scheduled” departure. The other 2 came in the day before, but needed to wake up early east coast time, which is wicked early to their west coast body clocks.
We all arrived at the airport with at least the 3 hours recommended by TSA. When the airline counter opened – slightly less than 3 hours prior to our scheduled departure – they immediately, but not particularly effectively, announced a delay in our departure of approximately 3 hours due to mechanical problems with our plane. They did offer that we could work with another airline for transport to Grand Cayman, but that airline does not go to Little Cayman.
While we were all travelling to the same location, we had purchased our tickets at different times, and had slight differences in itineraries. Dan and I had a fairly straight forward trip from Miami to Cayman Brac to Little Cayman, the other 3 went from Miami to Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman to Little Cayman. We all started on the same plane, but would get off at different airports for separate flights for the last leg. That last leg requires a pretty small plane.
Little Cayman is just that, a little island. About 10 miles long and thin, with less than 200 permanent residents and a few small resorts that cater to divers. The airstrip is a short runway, with no lights. I don’t want to sell the place short with that description – it does have a windsock.
The Airsock and the Runway
The runway is paved, to my experienced eye (I spent the summer of 1987 working on a road crew for ODOT and have driven many Montana roads) by using the chip and seal paving method. There is a cul de sac at one end and the plane crosses the main road to pull up to the Airport/Fire Station building.
Yep, that is the plane crossing the main road!
Parked next to the Airport building that is also the fire station
To fly in to Edward Bodden Airfield, Cayman Airways uses Twin Otters for the inter-island flights to Little Cayman. These are 15 passenger planes with bench seats where the backs can fold down – a double on one side and a single seat on the other. I love flying on these planes for many reasons, not the least of which is that you know you are going someplace interesting if they use one to get there. These Twin Otters fly a route that appears to start in Grand Cayman, stop in Cayman Brac, then Little Cayman, then back to Grand Cayman.
But now our tale of how not to provide Customer Service despite the best and kind efforts of the staff – lack of training, knowledge and communication:
We had three separate reservations for our group of five, and we each had different experiences at the ticket counter, but all three shared the experience of a ticket agent who, while nice and trying to help, clearly did not have the training or experience to deal with the need to re-ticket passengers and assure them, with any veracity, that the delay from Miami would not impact the ability to make the connection to Little Cayman. The connection is important – remember, there are no lights at the Edward Bodden Airfield. And, to primary interest to the divers, late arrive impacts diving the first day of the trip – I have observed that getting between divers and diving is not a thing you want to do.
We are each assured that we will arrive at our connecting airport with a plane available to take us to our final stop – they will hold the plane in Cayman Brac and the plane will arrive in Grand Cayman in time to make the plane there. Both of these assurances proved to be wrong. There were a total of 15 people who needed to get from our plane in Miami to Little Caymen that day (remember how many people the Twin Otter seats?) – 6 of us got off in Cayman Brac to find the plane had not been held, but another was supposed to come and hopefully would arrive in time, a comment that struck me as a bit, odd. If it did not, we were assured we would be sent to Grand Caymen and get a flight the next day. So, again we waited.
Meanwhile, our tired, possibly cranky, travelling companions were carrying on to Grand Cayman, about 30 minutes later than the originally delayed timeline, which put them perilously close to missing the plane. The airline staff on the flight made every effort to assure they could deplane immediately and be expedited through customs, but again the information proved wrong, the process they talked about was not able to be implemented and seemed unknown to the those needed to make it happen. Indeed, the what did happen seemed designed to create more problems than it solved.
Cayman Airlines is a small airline, they have 9 airplanes and they have a very limited schedule, so they should know the impact of any delay on passengers and have procedures to address this. Based on the experience of our group, they do not. While every person we interacted with was nice and tried to be helpful, it was clear that they lacked some combination of training, resources, empowerment or an actual process to address what we all know is a very common issue for airlines.
To my project management trained eye, it seemed that streamlining the trip for the folks going to Little Cayman should have been prioritized because of the hard stop on getting a flight out later in the day, not holding to original itineraries. Alas, problem solving did not seem to be something the ticket agents were trained or empowered to do.
Well, the intrepid travelers from the west coast were abandoned in Grand Cayman and it took almost two hours to get hotel vouchers and rooms for the nine people that made it to that airport. Hotel rooms in Grand Caymen are a little hard to get last minute during the holidays and it required some pretty determined – but friendly, our cousins are awesome people – self advocacy. To add insult to all of this, it would seem that hotels don’t know what to do with the meal vouchers even when the front desk claims they will be honored at the restaurant. Again, all sorted out, but really? And, these three are not as adept at using the “oh goody, an adventure” mantra to reclaim calm and vacation mojo.
Meanwhile, back at Cayman Brac, your favorite bloggers (that’s Dan and Lisa, you know!) were re-ticketed for a flight that “we hope arrives in time” and for some inexplicable reason they were hand writing the boarding passes. After a few misstarts on that process they decided they could just cross out the original flight number and put in a new number which did speed up the process.
Yep, that is the original boarding pass with a new flight number
So, the passengers are sitting in an airport gate, but no one seems to know if there is a flight for us, and the board announcing upcoming flights does not have the flight number hand written on our boarding passes. “Oh goody, an adventure, oh goody, an adventure, oh goody, an adventure – ohmmmm.”
As sunset approaches a jet lands, a hopeful traveler says “our plane is here,” only to be advised that a plane that big does not go to our destination. Then, a flurry of activity at the desk and an announcement that passengers going to Little Cayman need to present their boarding passes and get ready to go. Anyone waiting for the flight to Grand Cayman needs to wait – the plane will come back for them. Yikes. But, this also demonstrates that the airline can and will adjust the schedule on the inter-island planes as needed and somewhat on the fly – why was this not part of the process from the beginning of the day?
We are all encouraged to board the plane quickly – which meant no gawking at the sunset. As soon as everyone and all bags were loaded on our plane the pilot took off with undue haste as we were, literally, running out of daylight. A fellow passenger mentioned that the flight was late because they had waited at Grand Cayman for some passengers but could not wait any longer. Yep, our group, so they risked no one making it, by not having a better plan.
Our plane pulled in to Little Cayman as the sun disappeared over the horizon, with about 37 seconds to spare, but now had to make the turn to get back to Cayman Brac and on to Grand Cayman, luckily both airports with lights. The pilot directed us all to exit the plane as quickly as possible, and as soon as the last bag was off the plane and we were all clear, he headed off into the now set sun.
Now, alas, our group is separated and the morning dives are at risk of being missed.
We will end on the positive note of some great customer service and a happy ending!
Those of us who made it to Pirates Point Resort (a delightful place to be featured in future posts) have a lovely dinner and a night’s rest. When we get up in the morning we find out that the rest of our party is at the airport and will be on the first flight our direction that will arrive shortly before the divers are scheduled to head off for the day. While I am plotting ways to disable the carburetor on the resort van to delay the dive, the resort is reaching out to get the information they need to facilitate our divers getting picked up, loaded up, geared up and on the dive boat. They informed the other divers that we were waiting for the last of the party and what they were doing to streamline everyone getting what they needed so the dive would go off with minimal delay.
They had a great day diving, got naps, got showers, got beers and had a good dinner.
We are all together and are proceeding with the great trip we anticipated!
“Travelling’s not something you’re good at. It’s something you do. Like breathing. You can’t work too much at it, or it feels like work. You have to surrender yourself to the chaos. To the accidents.”
— Gayle Forman (Just One Day (Just One Day, #1))