Air traffic control halts in Jamaica, stranding passengers

(CNN) – Air traffic control was halted for parts of Thursday morning and afternoon in Jamaica, canceling flights and leaving thousands of frustrated passengers stranded there or unable to reach the Caribbean island.

MBJ Airports Limited, the operator of Sangster International Airport near the popular resort of Montego Bay, confirmed in a CNN press release that flights were canceled Thursday morning “due to the suspension of air traffic services.”

The airport arrivals board began showing cancellations around 9:30 a.m. local time on May 12. The Board of Departures also began posting cancellations around 10:30 a.m.

American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United flights, among others, have been cancelled.

It was a similar story at Norman Manley International Airport in the capital, Kingston. Cancellation of arrivals began around 11:30 a.m., and departures were canceled starting at 12:19 p.m.

Kurt Solomon, president of the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN that flights will resume as of 5 p.m. local time on May 12.

Robert Nesta Morgan, Minister Without Portfolio responsible for information in the Prime Minister’s Office, posted a press release on his Twitter account confirming the resumption of flights.

“The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) would like to inform the public that, as dialogue progresses between the authority and key stakeholders, in particular the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association (JATCA), air traffic services are currently being restored,” The statement said.

Since that time Sangster has shown one departure, Delta Flight DL1987 at 5:07pm, Manley shown one arrival, British Airways flight BA2263 at 4:43pm

Limited number of employees

Sharon Heslop, director of commercial development and marketing at Sangster, told CNN that the airport was notified Thursday morning that the Kingston air traffic control center did not have adequate air traffic support due to “limited staffing.”

Heslop said the General Civil Aviation Authority then decided to suspend air traffic services and flights.

The Kingston Air Traffic Control Center controls the operations of the three international airports in Jamaica: Sangster, Manly and Ian Fleming International in Ocho Rios.

CNN Travel reached out to JCAA for comment via email and phone Thursday afternoon, but did not receive a response until 8 p.m. ET.

Passengers are stranded in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on May 12, 2022.

TVJ

Hislop said there are 32 commercial flights scheduled today at Montego Bay’s international airport. It added that before 10 a.m., only four of those flights were able to operate and 28 were cancelled.

Hislop estimated that about 100 passengers on each flight were affected by the suspension of services.

Hislop told CNN that stores at the airport were scheduled to remain open into the night as some passengers were expected to stay in Sangster overnight.

Local media referred to the situation as a strike, although no official contacted by CNN confirmed this.

“That’s what we’ve heard, but we can’t know for sure,” Hislop said when asked if a strike by air traffic controllers led to a staff shortage that in turn led to the suspension of flights.

Solomon said the “emergency team” that was on duty Thursday morning at Kingston Air Traffic Control was unable to continue and that team was suspended. Solomon was unable to determine why they had stopped working.

The emergency team consists of the administrative staff of the air traffic controllers.

Solomon also told CNN that there have been ongoing equipment issues at Kingston’s air traffic control center, and they’ve been going on for several years.

Passenger frustrations

Justin Novak told CNN he was flying from Toronto to Montego Bay on Thursday when his flight capsized 30 minutes before landing.

Novak says the pilots didn’t say much except that they were forced back.

“It was a tense return home,” Novak said. “The reactions are mixed, but the majority is clearly upset.”

Novak was heading to Jamaica for an eight-day vacation with his wife. He said he would now lose two days due to the delay.

Novak added: “What I don’t understand is apparently they knew this was happening but we still had to get on the plane. =” “Our time has been rescheduled for 12 noon tomorrow [Friday, May 13]But who knows what will happen.”

Erin Fletcher Langen ran into trouble Thursday when she was on her way from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Jamaica for work.

It was parked in Atlanta when the problems started. Her flight was delayed, then canceled and then there was hope when officials told them Sangster (MBJ) had reopened. Then it was officially canceled again.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions. When they said MBJ was opening, everyone clapped and cheered. When they said it was cancelled (again), people weren’t necessarily angry, but sad. People were crying.” Fletcher Langen said.

She said people at the airport were saying they hadn’t traveled in a long time and that a lot of people were traveling for weddings.

She said she hoped to travel on a rescheduled flight on Friday.

Show concessions

American Airlines, which has been affected by more flights in Sangster than any other airline, has issued a change fee waiver for affected passengers.

“Due to air traffic service disruptions affecting air travel in Jamaica, Delta has issued a travel waivers for those whose travel may be affected between May 12 and 13,” the company said on its news website.

“This waiver allows the fare difference to be waived for customers when rebooked travel occurs on or before May 16, 2022 in the same cabin as originally booked.”

You should check with your carrier if your flight has been disrupted.

Top photo: A general view of Norman Manley International Airport from 2016 (Henry Romero / Reuters)

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