Honduran airline passengers stranded for weeks descended on the Legislative Assembly on Friday morning to demand help to return home.
Despite assurances from Minister Charles Clifford that a contract could be signed that would enable them to fly out on Rollins Air, using Cayman Airways staff to check in the passengers, none of them flew out as they had hoped on Friday night.
Their flights on the Honduran airline Atlantic Airways failed to show up over the past few weeks, stranding more than 100 passengers in Cayman and another 100 Caymanians passengers in Honduras.
Atlantic Airways reportedly has legal issues in Honduras, which is preventing it running its scheduled flights.
After passengers and Romellia Welcome, representative of charter airline Hollins Air, which has agreed to try to get some passengers back to Honduras and Cayman, met with Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford at the Legislative Assembly on Friday, they were told a flight could take off that night once an International Air Transport Association contract was signed with Cayman Airways.
But on Friday evening, Ms Welcome said that she had been told by Cayman Airways that no contract could be signed by Rollins Air and no charter flight by her company could take the passengers to Honduras for the time being.
“They are running me around and around. All these people were at the airport today. They were told to come back Sunday at 10pm,” she said.
Olson Anderson from Cayman Airways said on Friday he would not answer any questions relating to the arrangements and referred all queries back to Rollins.
Among the stranded passengers who went to the LA Friday was Soila Bodden. Her husband in Honduras died on Thursday, 8 December, and she had been unable to return home to bury him.
“They’re waiting for me to try to get home,” she said as she sat in the lobby of the Legislative Assembly, waiting for some answer on whether she would have to remain in Cayman longer.
Another passenger, Bruce Barnes, said he and members of his family had been stranded in Cayman for three weeks.
Mr. Barnes said on Friday: “We need to have an answer today. No later than today.”
Ms Welcome said she had asked Cayman Airways for help in checking in passengers to enable them to fly on a chartered Rollins Air flight, but was told the airline would not help. “There’s no one for these passengers to go to, so I’m trying to help them out,” she said.
Her plans to bring a Rollins Air flight to Cayman Friday to take the passengers home were scuppered when Cayman Airways told her she could not sign a contract with that airline, she said.
Ms Welcome said: “It is a crying shame to say that for three weeks, we’ve had Caymanians stuck in Honduras. I am trying to organise flights for them.”
The delays in getting the passengers back to Honduras mean some have overstayed their immigration permits.
One passenger, Sarah Euzila Webster Hill was scheduled to fly last Monday after attending a conference at the Universal Church of God and only had her Cayman visitor’s visa to that date. “No plane arrived on Monday. None came in all week. I haven’t been able to get any answer from them yet,” she said.
Her period for which her visitor’s visa was valid ran out last week and she went to pay $100 for an extension, which she says she can ill afford.
“I have no money for this. I can’t afford it,” she said. Her extension runs out today, Monday.
Ms Welcome said if the passengers were not able to get home by today, they would return to the Legislative Assembly again.
Most of the stranded passengers showed up en masse at the airport and at Atlantic Airways offices on Friday morning, where police were on hand for crowd control.
When Ms Welcome said she would go to the government for help at the Legislative Assembly, about 20 passengers accompanied her.
After a meeting with Mr. Clifford, Ms Welcome returned to the lobby of the Legislative Assembly with the news that a deal was being worked out, an announcement that had the passengers applauding.
Mr. Clifford said that during the meeting, he had called CEO of Cayman Airways, Olson Anderson, and said a contract needed to be signed between Rollins and the national carrier, which could enable CAL staff to check in passengers for a Rollins flight.
“Cayman Airways cannot handle another airline without that IATA contract being in place,” Mr. Clifford said.
He added that the government had not received any calls for assistance from Caymanians stranded in Honduras as a result of the cancelled flights, but said that a similar situation had arisen about two months ago.
“At that time, we ran one or two chartered Cayman Airways flights to Honduras,” he said.
He added that Cayman Airways was awaiting a permit from Honduras that would allow the airline to fly directly to Honduras in the future. “It is ready to go, it’s just waiting on the permit.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands advised passengers holding tickets with Atlantic Airlines to contact the airline for updates on flight cancellations.
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