Bermuda Post

Thursday, Oct 01, 2020

Passengers shocked by conditions on exit flights

Passengers on the British Airways evacuation flight out of Grand Cayman last week say they were stunned at the lack of 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.”

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.

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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