More than 10,000 travelers were affected on Thursday when air traffic controllers in Montego Bay and Kingston went on strike. The strike was due to their concerns about the island’s radar system. Consequently, Jamaica’s air space was effectively closed. The workers who were upset are now working again after a meeting between the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority and the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association. The employees were given an overview of the procedures for newly provided radar services and will now resume their duties using the new instructions.
JATCA stated that the equipment stoppage did not correlate with the ongoing wage disputes between JCAA and the Ministry of Finance and Public Service. The association went on to say that its members have been prevented from providing services due to poor infrastructure and high risks. The company that operates Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, MBJ Airports Limited, announced on Thursday night that air traffic services had resumed.
According to Senior Advisor and Strategist at the Ministry of Tourism, Delano Seiveright, “We have over 40 commercial passenger flights canceled for our international airports in Montego Bay and Kingston. The impact is therefore quite significant.” Cancellations began to come in at about 10 AM on Thursday morning at SIA, and MBJ Airports Limited had sent out a recommendation that passengers contact the airlines regarding flight status before coming to the airport.
Inside the airport, hundreds of passengers were seen trying to find new accommodations for the night after their flights were canceled. The scene was one of chaos, with anxious passengers rushing to their airline’s check-in counters for answers and others sitting on the floor typing irritably on their phones. Sheila Colvin from America said that she was very inconvenienced by the strike and was annoyed at the possibility of sleeping on the floor at SIA after coming to the island to relax before an upcoming 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,” Colvin 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.”
Many other passengers were also upset and were wary of what the immediate future held for them. Another stranded passenger, Lincoln Ennis, thinks that the whole situation could have been avoided if the Government had worked matters out with the JATCA. Ennis said that regardless of what the workers were on strike for, the situation should not have reached the point that it did. Ennis was unsure of whether he would even be able to travel the next day and that he would be waiting for word from his airline before heading back to the airport.
Travelers are understandably upset. Some, like Sheila Colvin, have vowed never to visit the island again because of the experience. Echoing Ennis’s and Colvin’s sentiment, passenger Delroy Douglas said the strike sends a dreadful message to others thinking 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 traveling,” Douglas said.
Travelers planning a trip to Jamaica in the near future should certainly keep an eye on this situation. While it has been resolved, for now, the coming weeks will tell whether or not the solution is a solid one. For those in Jamaica already, checking in with the airline before traveling to the airport is recommended.
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