Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan has announced that five of the major airlines who operated commercial flights in and out of the Cayman Islands pre Covid have applied to fly their routes once again from October inline with the boarder reopening plans. These airlines include American, United, Southwest and Delta airlines, as well as British Airways who already operates repatriation flights. WestJet are another airline who usually operate flights into and out of Cayman, has not yet applied for permission to put flights on.
Under Cayman’s border-reopening plan, from 14 Oct., quarantine will be lifted for securely verified vaccinated travellers, who currently must undergo five days of isolation, if the islands reach the target of vaccinating 80% of the population.
Bryan, speaking on Radio Cayman’s ‘For the Record’ show on Monday morning, said Cayman Airways will be putting on additional flights from 9 Sept., when a limited number of tourists will be allowed back on island.
“There will be an increase in [Cayman Airways flight] numbers. We’re going through the approvals now,” he said, but added that because of storms Grace and Ida, the approval process had been delayed by about a week and a half.
“One of the benefits of the reluctance of other airlines [to operate flights here] until October is there will be that one-month period where Cayman Airways can offer flights to other jurisdictions,” he said. “Obviously, it comes with some limitations; you need approvals and the like to go into other gateways that [Cayman Airways] don’t normally go into. But there will be an increased level of flights from Cayman Airways through that period, and that will kind of flatline back out in October when the regular competition comes with other airlines.”
The Cayman Islands government is allowing commercial routes to and from Cayman to restart from 9 Sept. However, most of the airlines that are planning to return here have indicated they will not operate their routes until the next phase of reopening, scheduled for 14 Oct.
Looking forward to the full reopening of the airport, Bryan also said a new slot management system would be put in place for the returning airlines, in a bid to prevent the congestion and delays seen at Owen Roberts International Airport in previous years.
He said the Cayman Islands Airports Authority plans to operate an alternative to the “ad hoc slot management system” that had been in place in the past.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic decimated Cayman’s tourism industry, the islands had been experiencing record numbers of tourists arriving here. In 2019, 502,739 people arrived by air, an increase of 8.6% over 2018.
‘Plan not set in stone’
The tourism minster said Cayman’s reopening dates were “not set in stone”, explaining, “We have to monitor other jurisdictions and what they’re doing. We also have to monitor the virus itself and how it mutates. We also have to watch our number one tourism feeder, the United States,” he said.
Bryan noted that there had been recent upticks in COVID-19 numbers in some states in the US from which the majority of Cayman’s tourists originate, including Florida and Texas.
Addressing what the government would do if Cayman did not reach the 80% vaccination target by 14 Oct., the minister said a decision would be made closer to that date.
“We are optimistic we will get the highest possible number [of vaccinations] we can. We hope our society will make informed decisions to do the right thing,” he said, noting that getting vaccinated and suffering potential side-effects was a better choice than not getting vaccinated and possibly dying from the virus.
The government will make a final decision on whether the 14 Oct. reopening date will go ahead as planned, if the 80% has not been reached, at the end of September or the beginning of October, Premier Wayne Panton announced last week.