An over seven-hour strike today by air traffic controllers at Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) forced the cancellation of about a dozen flights and delayed twice as many.
Hundreds of passengers were left stranded as several airlines, including American Airlines and JetBlue, as well as regional carriers Caribbean Airlines and LIAT, cancelled flights into and out of the island.
The protest, held in solidarity with striking Barbados Water Authority (BWA) employees, commenced around 6 a.m. and was scheduled to end at 6 p.m.
However, just after 1 p.m., air traffic controllers returned to work and an hour later, a LIAT flight bound for St Lucia took off.
In additional to delays and cancellations experienced by travellers, today’s industrial action also hit some in the pocket.
The arrivals hall looked like a ghost town, as the usual hustle and bustle of red caps, taxis and waiting family members and friends was noticeably missing.
One taxi operator, who requested anonymity, painted a picture of the atmosphere there.
“I’ve been here from since 4:30 this morning and I have not had a single job. In fact, I’ve only seen one taxi leave for the entire morning,” he told Barbados TODAY. “Usually by now I would have had several jobs done lick off.”
However, it was the sight of impatient passengers eager for word on when they might travel that truly demonstrated the immediate impact of the strike.
Among them was Barbados’ CARIFTA team, which was scheduled to depart the island at 1:50 p.m. for this weekend’s CARFITA Games in Grenada.
The 35-member squad was seen hustling to the check-in counters at 2:45 p.m., the time they were scheduled to land in Grenada.
However, head coach Bryan Holder told Barbados TODAY he did not expect the delay to have much of an impact on the team’s performance.
“I don’t really expect it to affect us very much. All of these activities can be built in to your team building activities . . . Today is just a temporary setback. We will get the kids as prepared and handle the situation as best as we can, but I don’t expect this will significantly affect any performances,” he assured.
One passenger, David Oneal, arrived at the airport at 8 a.m. for his 9 a.m. flight to Trinidad. With the airport open again, his flight was rescheduled to 7:30 p.m.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this in my life . . . and I have been travelling since 1986,” he complained. “I’m not pleased at all, but I can’t do anything about it.”
In addition, an American visitor who gave her name as Stephanie, told Barbados TODAY she and her husband had thoroughly enjoyed their four-day stay here. However, she said the delay was unwelcomed.
“We enjoyed our stay here, but we definitely didn’t expect this when we came to the airport this morning. We were supposed to be leaving at 3 p.m. but now we aren’t so sure,” she said.
Today’s strike, which also affected the Bridgetown Port, took airport authorities by surprise.
GAIA Operations Manager Ryan Inniss told Barbados TODAY he received notice of the planned action via an unclassified notice to airmen around 7:30 this morning.
By early afternoon, Inniss was relieved that the airport was once again open for business.
“From about 12:45 this afternoon we were advised by air traffic services that they would resume operations at 1 p.m. and they have confirmed that they will go to at least 8 p.m. tonight,” Inniss revealed.
“Obviously that could change, as it is a fluid situation, [but] we are hoping that this is the end of it and they continue normal operations from this afternoon.
“The morning issues are already dealt with and the afternoon issues should be no problem. All the international carriers are on their way here now and we are able to facilitate them and that’s the important thing,” he said at the time.
The airport official could not give a precise count of the number of disrupted flights, however he said LIAT was the worst affected. Additionally, he said Caribbean Airlines had been forced to cancel a flight from Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; Jet Blue had cancelled its flight from New York and American Airlines had cancelled a flight from Miami.
In a press release, LIAT’s Head of Corporate Communications Desmond Brown confirmed that the regional carrier had cancelled ten flights. Early this evening he also told Barbados TODAY he had not received any notification from GAIA regarding the end of the strike.