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We need our airport working properly

Advice for residents and visitors: if you are leaving Bermuda bound for the US and your flight is much delayed, get to the airport before 4pm and bring a good book

Dear Sir,

Re Bermuda airport and US Customs at 4pm (March 11 and any other day). I was due to travel on Friday afternoon, March 11, on the relatively new second daily American Airlines flight to New York’s JFK airport, along with two friends, to a memorial service at noon the next day on Staten Island. My two friends are Bermudians, I have lived here for close to 32 years and we are all seasoned travellers.

The flight I was due to catch was AA Flight 1428 departing at 3.59pm. I and just one of my friends received an automated phone message at 1.30pm on the day which just advised that the flight was due to leave at 5.45pm.

As any seasoned traveller knows, that later time is hardly rush hour at the US side of the airport, especially off-season, and so we all thought of showing up close to the 90 minutes before departure, before the airline starts to close its gates. I ended up getting into the terminal building about 4.07pm after parking my car out in the far reaches, having discovered two out of the three car park toll machines were out of order. (Great — platinum period)

My two friends just made it through to the flight, as US Customs shut up shop at 4pm as they evidently do every day.

I subsequently found out that US Customs were particularly rude to them, as clearly officers may have had to go home one minute late. I turned up, along with at least 15 others — there were only 60 on board — to find a locked door into Customs. I looked for security and eventually found the AA staff having a coffee or something around their office out of sight.

Being a fairly combustible person when I encounter poor service, I was pretty aggressive and AA immediately admitted they were wrong.

Their automated message they admitted should have been relevant to the location and advised passengers to still check in by 3.30pm at the latest. Clearly in the US and normal airports, things don’t close down just because flights are late.

After the genuine efforts of the local manager, Joyce Ming, whom I came to admire and who did go above and beyond, we had to admit defeat in the end. Joyce managed to get someone from US Customs, but I had a checked bag (suit for the occasion) and then security and the baggage handlers were nowhere to be seen. (I was booked in business class the next morning, which made my chances of reaching the service better and the plane was early, etc, and I was only 15 minutes late but really a disgraceful performance by AA and they have my invoice for about $150 for the car which met me at JFK on the 12th).

Next to US Customs. Earlier you will have read how badly they treated my friends, and their arrogance and lack of care was clear the next morning. A lady said to me we never work beyond 4pm and when I suggested they should and get overtime, she said what do we need overtime for? Well, from what I heard in the US on my quick visit was there are many people working far longer hours than a few years ago and all these US Customs employees at the airport should be thrown out for their ingratitude and made to go back to the real world.

How many of us in not well-paid jobs would turn down “easy overtime”? Just say Bermuda Customs took that attitude.

When the two later AA flights or the BA flight is late, Bermuda Customs, security and baggage handlers, etc (and the airline employees) wait and get paid. They don’t just leave at, say, 11pm and the plane turns round or lands somewhere else. This is an airport, not a taxi service.

And to me the Bermuda Government bears responsibility, too. After all Shawn Crockwell and his colleagues claim the glory for getting a new flight but somewhere fail to address the logistics that running an airport requires.

This issue would surely have been addressed years ago.

We used to have a 5pm Delta flight and have had a United (formerly Continental) flight for years to Newark that can be late and makes closing everything down at 4pm, with no flexibility, ridiculous.

The Government should address this problem and get this airport working properly. Bermuda does not need a fancy new airport. It has many other challenges to face, which are very current. There is nothing to suggest, other then the America’s Cup blip, that traffic is going to increase in the foreseeable future.

Clients and friends of mine do not complain about the infrastructure; only about the attitude of Bermuda Immigration and Customs.

I would suggest the Government focus on the present economic issues rather than taking on a project that is not needed and seems lacking in transparency as far as the contract discussions are concerned.

In summary for residents and visitors alike, if you are leaving here bound for the US, and your flight is much delayed, get to the airport before 4pm and bring a good book.

(I would hate to end this letter on a negative note. Well, in my concern to get the timing right and thinking ahead, I left my car at the airport early on Saturday with its right electric window down. I had overlooked this.

When I returned on Sunday, there was a trash bag very carefully attached over the window, courtesy of Calvina Wade, who works at the airport, and she left both a note and a nice voicemail. This re-established my faith in human nature after all the problems and accusations going around Bermuda at present. I am thanking Ms Wade personally, but also wish to publicly, as this was a very kind act).