By Sahar Akbarzai, Sarah Smart and Forrest Brown | CNN
Air traffic control was shut down in Jamaica for parts of Thursday morning and afternoon, forcing flight cancellations and thousands of frustrated passengers stranded or unable to reach the Caribbean island.
MBJ Airports Ltd., operator of Sangster International Airport near the popular resort destination of Montego Bay, confirmed in a news release to CNN that flights were canceled Thursday morning “due to the suspension of air traffic services”.
The airport arrival board began canceling at 9:30 a.m. local time on 12 May. The departure board also started posting cancellations at around 10:30.
American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United flights were cancelled.
There was a similar story at Norman Manley International Airport in the capital city of Kingston. Arrivals began to be canceled at around 11:30, and departures were canceled at 12:19 pm
Kurt Solomon, president of the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN that flights were resuming at 5 p.m. local time on May 12.
Robert Nesta Morgan, the minister without portfolio who has responsibility for information in the Prime Minister’s Office, 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 a progress of dialogue between the Authority and its key stakeholders, notably the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers Association (JATCA), air traffic services may be restored to the present He is going,” the release said,
Since that time, Sangster showed a departure, Delta Flight DL1987 at 5:07 pm Manley showed an arrival, British Airways Flight BA2263 at 4:43 pm
Sharon Hislop, manager of commercial development and marketing at Sangster, told CNN that the airport was informed Thursday morning that the air traffic control center in Kingston did not have adequate support for air traffic due to “limited staff”.
The JCAA then decided to suspend air traffic services and flights, Hislop said.
The Air Traffic Control Center in Kingston controls the operations of all three international airports in Jamaica: Sangster, Manly and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios.
CNN Travel reached out to the JCAA on Thursday afternoon via email and phone for comment, but did not receive a response as of 8 p.m.
There were 32 scheduled commercial flights today at the international airport in Montego Bay, Hislop said. He said that before 10 am, only four of those flights could operate and 28 flights were cancelled.
Hislop estimated that there were about 100 passengers on each flight affected by the suspension of services.
Shops at the airport were set to remain open at night because some passengers were expected to stay in Sangster overnight, Hislop told CNN.
Local media referred to the situation as a strike, although none of the officials contacted by CNN confirmed this was the case.
“That’s what we’re hearing, but we can’t know for sure,” Hislop said, adding that the strike by air traffic controllers had limited staffing, which led to the suspension of flights.
Solomon said “a contingency team” working Thursday morning at Kingston Air Traffic Control Center was unable to continue and that team stopped. Solomon could not explain why they stopped working.
The contingency team is made up of management personnel for air traffic controllers.
Solomon also told CNN that there have been persistent equipment issues at the Kingston Air Traffic Control Center, and they have been going on for many years.
Justin Novak told CNN he was flying from Toronto to Montego Bay on Thursday when his flight was diverted about 30 minutes before landing.
Nowak says the pilots didn’t say much except that they were forced to turn.
“It was a stressful homecoming. Mixed reactions but the majority look upset,” Novak said.
Novak was on his way to Jamaica on an eight-day holiday with his wife. He said that now he will lose two days because of the delay.
“What I don’t understand is whether apparently they knew this was happening, but still let us get on the plane,” Novak said. “We are rescheduled for tomorrow at 12 noon” [Friday, May 13]But who knows what will happen.”
Erin Fletcher Langan also had trouble Thursday when she was on her way to Jamaica from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for work.
She was on a layover in Atlanta when the problems started. Her flight was delayed, then canceled and then expected when officials told her that Sangster (MBJ) had reopened. Then it was officially canceled again.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions. When they said MBJ was opening, everyone applauded. When they said it had been canceled (again), people weren’t necessarily mad, but sad. People were crying.” Fletcher Langen said.
She said that people at the airport were saying how they had not traveled for a long time and that a lot of people were traveling for weddings.
She said she expects to fly on a rescheduled flight on Friday.
American Airlines, which had more flights affected in Sangster than any other airline, issued a waiver for change fees to affected passengers.
Delta Air Lines also issued travel discounts for its affected passengers.
“Due to the disruption of air traffic service affecting air travel in Jamaica, Delta has issued a travel waiver for those whose travel may be affected between May 12-13,” it said on its news website.
“This exemption allows waiving the difference in fare for customers when traveling in the same cabin as the service booked on or before May 16, 2022.”
You should check with your carrier if your flight has been interrupted.