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Feb 23, 2015

P.G.I.A. on Semi-Lockdown

Travelers were piled up at the Philip Goldson International airport on Saturday morning; no flights were coming in or going out. The early flights of Delta and Avianca couldn’t land because air traffic controllers did not show up for work all day. The Delta flight was diverted to Honduras and Avianca was delayed. Later, United Airlines would also cancel a flight and one other delayed. This was the first time in the airport’s history that this has ever happened. The persons who provide this essential service called in sick since they cannot strike. There was no one to direct outgoing and incoming flights and the country was cut off from the rest of the world by air traffic for about six hours. Passengers were at the airport just waiting. It was a very bad look for the country, for tourism in particular. We covered this very significant event from all angles and we start with Andrea Polanco who was at the P.G.I.A. on Saturday.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

At the P.G.I.A. on Saturday morning, the presence of the police, an empty tarmac and long lines of passengers greeted us. News of the sick out by air traffic controllers travelled like wild-fire; some at the P.G.I.A. thought it was a strike. Travelers didn’t know if flights were going to be able to land that day or if they would be able to depart as scheduled. One thing was for sure, the cancelled flight and delays were costing money and time.

 

Mario Perez

Mario Perez, Tour Guide

“Well, they have been postponing, you know. They said probably next hour or hour and a half.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Did they give a reason why?”

 

Mario Perez

“Not really. Not really. Some people said it is some kind of strike.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, what are you going to do? You’re just going to wait out today?”

 

Mario Perez

“Yes. I got some information from inside that the plane left for Honduras and that they might return back by ten thirty, but I have to wait around.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Okay. So the flight left and it’s going to come back?”

 

Mario Perez

“Yes. And if I go and come back to Belize, then it’s just wasting time and money.”

 

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams, Delayed Flight

“We were supposed to catch a straight flight, but they say the tower people shut down the tower. I nuh know weh di happen.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What time was your flight supposed to leave?”

 

Thaddeus Williams

“At nine-forty-five.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now, I would imagine this is very inconvenient for you?”

 

Thaddeus Williams

“It is. Because you know, I have a doctor appointment in L.A.”

 

And with people waiting for hours and not much information provided by the Civil Aviation department, military presence was beefed up upon accessing the airport. Vehicles were being stopped and drivers questioned briefly. Police were called out to just ensure that order and peace were maintained.

 

Inspector Gordon, O.C., Ladyville Police Formation

“We were called out here and came here and see, as a part of protection of law and order, protection of property. We are out here to see that everything is okay.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Okay. How many officers out here today?”

 

Inspector Gordon

“From the Ladyville Formation, we have about eight officers.”

 

So, why was Belize not accessible by flight at the only international airport, at the peak of the tourist season? Well, the people who man the tower and direct aircraft on the ground and the airspace, to prevent collisions, organize and expedite the flow of traffic, called in sick. Travelers were not happy campers that day. Matthew Miller arrived at the airport at six-thirty. He concluded that the voice of the controllers was felt, not in the best of way, but it was felt.

 

Matthew Miller, Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

“So we are waiting to see if our students will be able to arrive. In the meantime, we have contacted the school which they came from in California and they have been in touch with the parents, so at least we have a clear line of communication open because a lot of people are concerned about their kids going Honduras instead of coming here. It sounds like a labor dispute and it seems that other airport employees are supportive of the strike because they feel like they deserve better wages. It’s going to affect a lot of people today and over the weekend if they can’t resolve it.  And there will be a lot of tourism resorts and what not impacted as well. So, I am sure the voices of the air traffic controllers are being heard now.”

 

Daniel Elliott

Daniel Elliott, Visitor

“I have to get back to work. Other people have to get back to their jobs, so it bothers me that a handful of people can have that kind of control over people’s life. And it should not be allowed that people in such a critical position can be allowed to strike. They should lose their jobs in my opinion.”

 

For seasoned tourism partners, the focus was on the guests. For guests, this is the last ‘experience’ and impression they have of Belize before they get on a plane. Today wasn’t a good one for most travelling on the early flights.

 

Dan Portman

Dan Portman, Canadian Visitor

“Disappointing. Everything else was fine. We had a good time in Belize but now it’s going to cost us one or two flights to get from Houston to Ontario.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“This also the cost unu time and money?”

 

Valdemar Varela, Turneffe Island Resort

“Well, ih the cost the company more because they have to di pay me more fi deh up and down. We have to see what happen to our guests because our guests are very important to us and if they cannot fly out we have to take them back to the Radisson or back to the island and bring them tomorrow or when they open the airport.”

 

Valdemar Varela

Andrea Polanco

“So, it’s definitely a lot of planning on your end?”

 

Valdemar Varela

“Well, on my end it is very hard for this morning especially that I have thirty-odd guests to deal with.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, definitely you’d say this is a bad look for the tourism industry?”

 

Valdemar Varela

“It is very bad for the tourism industry because the guests are saying, Valdemar, what are you going to do? I say we can’t do anything.”

 

Just a few minutes to midday, the Delta flight that was re-routed to Honduras landed in Belize, almost five hours after its scheduled arrival time. Visitors were in a hurry to get to their destinations. Warren Anderson was on the flight with a group of teens. They were just excited to be in Belize.

 

Warren Anderson

Warren Anderson, Visitor

“We were circling around Belize City for forty five minutes and then we ended up in San Pedro Sula in Honduras.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Were you guys concerned?”

 

Warren Anderson

“Everyone took it good. The flight attendant kept us informed. Everyone was confident. We looked at it as another adventure.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “P.G.I.A. on Semi-Lockdown”

  1. lowjack says:

    you better belize it! what a shame for our country

  2. Belizean Soul says:

    Glad I was not trying to fly that day! One of the most immature & embarrassing things that Belizeans have done to their own country, DON’T CRY ABOUT LOST TOURISM DOLLARS!!! Grow up!!!

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