Air traffic control shuts down in Jamaica, stranding passengers


(CNN) — Air traffic control came to a stop for parts of Thursday morning and afternoon in Jamaica, forcing flight cancellations 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 destination of Montego Bay, confirmed in a news release to CNN that flights were canceled on Thursday morning “due to the suspension of air traffic services.”

The airport’s arrivals board started showing cancellations around 9:30 a.m. local time on May 12. The departures board also starting posting cancellations around 10:30 a.m.

American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United flights were canceled, among others.

It was a similar story at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, the capital city. Arrivals started being canceled around 11:30 a.m., and departures were canceled starting at 12:19 p.m.

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

Robert Nesta Morgan, minister without portfolio with responsibility for information in the Office of the Prime Minister, posted a news release on his Twitter account confirming that flights were resuming.

“The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) wishes to advise the public that, as dialogue progresses between the Authority and its key stakeholders, particularly the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association (JATCA), air traffic services are currently being restored,” the release said.

Since that time, Sangster showed one departure, Delta Flight DL1987 at 5:07 p.m. Manley showed one arrival, British Airways Flight BA2263 at 4:43 p.m.

Limited staffing

Sharon Hislop, manager of commercial development and marketing at Sangster, told CNN that the airport was notified Thursday morning that the air traffic control center in Kingston didn’t have enough support for air traffic because of “limited staffing.”

The JCAA then decided to suspend air traffic services and flights, Hislop said.

The air traffic control center in Kingston controls operations for all three international airports in Jamaica: Sangster, Manley and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios.

CNN Travel reached out to the JCAA for comment via email and phone on Thursday afternoon but had not received a reply as of 8 p.m. ET.

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

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

TVJ

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

Shops at the airport were set to remain open into the night as some passengers were expected stay at Sangster overnight, Hislop told CNN.

Local media referred to the situation as a strike, though no officials contacted by CNN confirmed that was the case.

“That’s what we’ve been hearing, but we can’t know for sure,” Hislop said when asked whether a strike by air traffic controllers led to the limited staffing that in turn led to suspension of flights.

Solomon said “a contingency team” that was working Thursday morning at the Kingston Air Traffic Control Center was unable to continue and that team stopped. Solomon was unable to say why they stopped working.

The contingency team is made up of management personnel for air traffic controllers.

Solomon also told CNN there have been persistent equipment issues at the Kingston Air Traffic Control Center, and they have been ongoing for several years.

Passenger frustrations

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

Novak says that the pilots didn’t say much except that they were forced to turn around.

“It was a tense return home. Mixed reactions but the majority visibly upset,” Novak said.

Novak was headed to Jamaica for an eight-day vacation with his wife. He’ll now lose two of the days because of the delays, he said.

“What I don’t understand Is apparently they knew this was happening but still let us board the plane.=,” Novak added. “We are rescheduled for 12 p.m. tomorrow [Friday, May 13], but who knows what will happen.”

Erin Fletcher Langen also hit problems on Thursday as she was flying from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Jamaica for work.

She was on a layover in Atlanta when the problems started. Her flight was delayed, then canceled and then there was hope when officials told them that Sangster (MBJ) reopened. Then it was officially canceled again.

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

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

She said she hopes to fly out on a rescheduled flight on Friday.

Waivers offered

American Airlines, which had more flights affected at Sangster than any other airline, issued a waiver for change fees to affected passengers.

“Due to air traffic service disruptions impacting air travel in Jamaica, Delta has issued a travel waiver  for those whose travel may be impacted between May 12-13,” it said on its news website.

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

You should check with your carrier if your flight was disrupted.

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





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CDC lowers travel warnings for covid in Canada, Jamaica


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer warning Americans to avoid travel to Canada because of the coronavirus.

In an update to its travel health notices Monday, the public health agency said the level of covid-19 in the country is “high” rather than “very high” and that Americans should be up to date on their coronavirus vaccinations before visiting. That places Canada at a Level 3 on a warning system that goes from 1 to 4; it had been at Level 4 since Jan. 10.

On Friday, Canada dropped its coronavirus testing requirement for fully vaccinated visitors. According to tracking data compiled by The Washington Post, 83 percent of the country’s population has completed a full vaccination series.

Other popular tourist destinations that the CDC lowered from Level 4 to Level 3 risks Monday include Antigua, Argentina, Belize, St. Lucia and Panama.

They were among 25 countries and territories that were designated at lower-risk categories for the virus as cases ease in parts of the world. South Africa and the Dominican Republic, which had previously had high levels of covid-19, moved to Level 2, meaning the coronavirus risk is moderate.

Jamaica and Morocco are now Level 1 countries with low levels of covid-19.

For the second week in a row, no new countries were added to the highest risk level. Nearly 100 destinations are in the Level 4 category, including the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong. A month ago, more than 130 destinations were at the highest level.



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CDC Lowers Jamaica Travel Advisory to Level 1


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lowered its travel advisory for Jamaica.

The country is now at the lowest level, Level 1. Countries classified as Level 1 have low cases of the virus, and its status reflects that Jamaica’s case levels have steadily decreased in recent months.

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Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism for Jamaica, noted that now tourism can continue to rebound.

“A Level 1 travel advisory is amongst the best news the tourism industry can hope for,” said Minister Bartlett. “This reduced designation is a testament to the work of our government and the Jamaican people as well as a hopeful incentive to keep our tourism recovery moving forward.”

Bartlett also noted that tourism numbers have continued to increase and expressed hope for a meaningful recovery by 2023.

“In 2021, Jamaica welcomed more than 1.5 million visitor arrivals to our shores. These visitors’ on-island spend contributed over USD $2.095 billion into our country’s economy, positively impacting local businesses and tourism stakeholders,” said Minister Bartlett. “For 2022, the outlook for the tourism sector remains positive with projections for approximately 2.45 to 2.5 million visitor arrivals and a total visitor spend of about USD $2.9 billion.”

Jamaica continues to be dedicated to its comprehensive CARES health and safety protocols, which were among the first to receive the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Safe Travels recognition.

Travelers still need a COVID-19 test to travel to Jamaica, but the country has eliminated the need for the Travel Authorization Form and any quarantine.

“Travelers can continue to rest assured that our island is among the safest choices in the Caribbean and in the world,” said Bartlett.





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Jamaica Visitor Arrivals Rebounding Strongly


Jamaica hosted more than 1.54 million overnight visitors in 2021, Ministry of Tourism officials said Tuesday. The country’s 2021 visitor totals were driven by U.S. vacationers, who accounted for 1,278,679 overnight, land-based air arrivals in 2021.

While the 2021 arrivals represent a steep decline from the country’s pre-pandemic record of 2.7 million overnight, land-based visitors achieved in 2019 (based on Caribbean Tourism Organization data), the totals are among the highest post-outbreak arrivals reported by Caribbean destinations.

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“The fact that we exceeded visitor arrivals and spend projections for 2021 is a clear testament to the strength and resilience of Jamaica’s tourism product as well as the excellent relationships we enjoy with our travel industry partners,” said Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism. “As we are gradually relaxing travel restrictions,” he added, “we fully expect a stronger recovery as consumers from our key source markets are resuming international travel in steadily growing numbers.”

As the pandemic played out over the past two years, Jamaica tourism officials established a “resilient corridors” system that limited travelers to the country’s popular tourist regions, and a “Jamaica Cares” program of Covid health and safety measures.

The policies were cited by government and tourism officials as enabling the country to quickly re-gain its tourism momentum after two years of travel shutdowns and restrictions.

Ministry of Tourism official said in December of 2021, overnight arrivals totaled 223,333 visitors, or 79.4 percent of December 2019 levels. Tourism and infrastructure developments across the island “continue to move forward,” said officials, who predict the country will welcome between 2.45 to 2.5 million visitor arrivals by the end of 2022, representing $2.9 billion in visitor spending.

During the weekend of March 3 to 6, Jamaica welcomed approximately 27,000 visitors which officials say is the highest number for any one single day since Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors in June of 2020. “Current bookings indicate a very strong month for March 2022, with projections for it to be on par with March 2019,” officials added.

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