Jamaica air traffic controllers continue strike

AP News
Posted: May 23, 2011 4:59 PM
Jamaica air traffic controllers continue strike

Dozens of flights to and from Jamaica were delayed or diverted Monday and at least four flights were canceled as a strike by air traffic controllers stretched into a second day, aviation officials said.

Mark Williams, vice president of commercial operations for the Airports Authority of Jamaica, said the walkout left hundreds of disgruntled passengers waiting in airport lobbies.

"All flights in and out have been delayed by a couple of hours," Williams said. "There have been multiple diversions."

He said a couple of flights to the Cayman Islands were canceled.

Jamaica's civil aviation authority called in managers to supervise flights after traffic controllers abandoned their posts Sunday. Spokeswoman Nicole Hutchinson said the agency would "ensure the safety of the industry and we will not operate in such a way to compromise safety."

Martha Pantin, spokeswoman for American Airlines, the dominant Caribbean carrier, said the company was forced to cancel two flights due to the strike, which coincides with Jamaica's Labor Day holiday.

At Norman Manley International Airport in the capital, Kingston, about 200 travelers waited for flights near the ticketing counters Monday afternoon.

Evert and Ettle Koster, of Modesto, California, were resigned to waiting for a replacement flight home after their morning departure to Miami was canceled. The couple spent two weeks in Jamaica, where they travel each year.

"Well, you just have to be patient and not get upset because it's out of your control," said Ettle Koster, resting her feet on one of their suitcases.

Dutch college students Rosanne Brandjes, 23, and Maaike de Bruijn, 20, were trying to make it back to the southern Caribbean island of Curacao, where they have spent much of the last four months doing internships. They said their afternoon Insel Air flight was diverted due to the strike, leading to an expected delay of more than eight hours.

"We've got some paper and a pen so we'll just play some games and wait," said Brandjes, who is from a suburb of Amsterdam. "Hopefully we'll get back tonight, cause we don't have any money."

The controllers, who ignored a Supreme Court injunction issued Sunday to return to work, are demanding retroactive pay raises and inclusion in the government's negotiations over public sector wages.

"The island's air traffic controllers are restive, and as a result normality cannot be guaranteed at the island's international airports and within the Jamaican airspace," the Jamaica Air Traffic Controllers' Association said in a statement issued Saturday.

Telephone calls to the group's president and general secretary went unanswered Monday.