Flying to Cayman in a COVID world
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Florida. My firs trip off "the rock" for 2 years. Flying back to the Cayman Islands has given me a first hand glimpse at what the process is actually like with COVID restrictions and protocols in place. In our previous blog, we wrote about how to apply to get permission to travel to the islands. In this article, I'm going to share what my experiences were in actually going through the process of flying down.
The worst part of flying out of Miami (and the most dangerous part) is actually driving through the city traffic to get to the airport. On arrival, checking into Cayman Airways ticket counter was straightforward. A Cayman Airways ticket agent was walking up and down the check-in line to make sure everyone's documents were correct before getting to the counter. This was something which certainly saved time, since I observed many passengers in the queue who did not have the documents they needed, and were asked to step out of line to resolve the issue. The ticket agents were checking to make sure you have the following:
Certificate of Travel
Negative PCR COVID-19 test (as of this writing PCR tests are no longer required. Certified LFT tests within 24 hours are now the current standard.)
Return ticket, or proof of residency
This last one is important and from my anecdotal observation, this is why most persons were pulled out of line. Some folks are not aware, that you cannot book a one-way flight to the Cayman Islands unless you are a resident. For all others, you must show proof of a return ticket.
The Cayman Airways strategy of a pre-counter paperwork check worked very well, as although the line was quite long, it moved very quickly.
The boarding process, and flight down was the same as what you are normally accustomed to, a few exceptions notwithstanding: The flight attendants were covered in full protective gowns, which I thought was a bit melodramatic, and there was no snack service on the flight. We did get bottles of water.
Arrival in Cayman
Upon deplaning, we were escorted into a room adjacent to the main Immigration hall. As one of the last persons off the plane, I was very near to the end of the line. Officials examined our documents, particularly asking for our negative CCOVID test results and our Travel Certificate. Since these documents were checked before we left from Miami, it's confusing to me how not everyone had these, but as it turned out, some didn't and were being sent to a separate queue. Since all of my paperwork was in order, I proceeded right through to the Immigration hall. Despite being last in line, the total process for this took just minutes.
Immigration remained largely unchanged, with the exception that there are now self-serve kiosks, however the only persons allowed to use them are Caymanian citizens. Despite the signs clearly indicating this, and an Immigration official in the line directing persons to where they needed to go, I did see a few persons attempt to use the kiosks, only to find out after pushing buttons, they were ineligible.
The Immigration queue was the longest part of my time through the airport. I was disappointed to see they had removed the line reserved for residents, which was typically much shorter than the visitor line. That said the line moved quickly, and I found myself waiting for just over 30 minutes to get through.
Baggage retrieval and Customs Inspection
Once I was cleared through Immigration, I proceeded to the baggage area. I found my bags had already been pulled off the conveyor and were waiting in the baggage area.
From the baggage area, one must then clear customs inspection, and this would be my only criticism of the entire process. There are usually 2 lines to go through for customs inspection. These are 'Items to declare' and 'Nothing to declare.'
Most visitors have nothing to declare, so they can go through this much shorter line. However this line was not at all obvious, and many persons were queuing up in the longer line for those who had items to declare. For the minority that figured this out, they were outside in mere minutes. The others probably had another 30 minute wait which they could have avoided.
Owen Roberts Airport has new regulations in place, that private vehicles are no longer allowed to pick up passengers in front of the terminal. Persons who pick up passengers in private vehicles must park in the short-term parking lot, and arriving passengers must go to this lot for pickup.
When implemented, this change was announced as a security measure. Most comments on social media that I read, made the claim that this was more of a money grab on the part of the airport than any means to make us safer. While short term parking now offers a "free" 5-minute window for those picking up passengers, any experienced traveler will tell you this is a ludicrously short time window.
My solution was to walk outside, and walk to the adjacent rental car plaza for my private pickup. This walk is still about half the length one must walk to get to a pickup area in most US hubs, so it's not the end of the world.
Of course this is one example from my experience going through the system one time. The process could be less efficient on different days for a variety of reasons, including staffing levels, and the amount of arrivals at any given time.
Overall the process was quite efficient. The staff at Owen Roberts Airport are doing a good job, and the process is about as streamlined as it can be. The airplane wheels touched down at 3:35 (having an hour delay in Miami,) and I was out the front door, bags in hand at 4:17.
You should have no trouble when you come to visit us!