“Those who fly us, love us”
Not many airlines come out with such bold statements with which they promote themselves to the world. However, Cayman Airways - the flag carrier of the small British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, has never been afraid to be bold or colourful, and the airline’s iconic mascot, Sir Turtle, with his aviator’s flag and peg leg, has taken pride of place on their aircraft for decades.
Cayman Airways may not be a large airline, but bigger rarely means better, especially in the air transport business. Cayman currently have a small fleet of B737-300s. Cayman Airways Express, a sister company formed in 2003, links Grand Cayman with the smaller islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and has two Twin Otters in its fleet.
Fulfilling an illogically silly 20 year dream of mine to fly with Sir Turtle, after watching John Grisham’s “The Firm” many years ago (which has scenes from Grand Cayman, including a close up departure of a Cayman Airways 737-200), I decided that as part of a planned trip to Florida to visit a fellow avia lover in Miami, I would route myself via the Caymans from London. Who wants to fly on a direct London – Miami nonstop like most normal people?
The decision was made all the easier because as many will know, British Airways fly to Grand Cayman, as an extension of their London – Nassau (NAS) route, using B767s. The flight is not daily though. I would fly to GCM via NAS, spend the night in Grand Cayman, before heading to Miami the following day on Cayman Airways.
After a week in Miami, I would fly back to Grand Cayman, but in true A.netter style, with a couple of stops. I booked myself on the seasonal flight from Miami directly to Cayman Brac and then a connecting flight to Grand Cayman via Little Cayman, with Cayman Airways Express. The Twin Otter ride would hopefully make up for missing the Air Labrador flights in Canada last September.
Here’s how the flights look on the map, thanks to gcmapper.
There are a couple of short introductory sections to put this into context, but this majority of this report will be divided into 3 parts:
Part One: Grand Cayman to Miami
Part Two: Miami to Cayman Brac
Part Three: Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman via Little Cayman with Cayman Airways Express
Founded in 1968, Cayman Airways is a relative newcomer to the airline scene. It was formed following the Cayman Government’s purchase of 51% of Cayman Brac Airways from LACSA, the Costa Rican airline, and became wholly government owned in 1977, the fledging Caymanian carrier flew its first international route to Kingston, Jamaica. Gradually adding routes, mostly to the United States (and then dropping them again), Cayman Airways today flies to the US, Jamaica, Cuba and Honduras. There has been talk for some time about connecting Grand Cayman with Copa’s hub in Panama City and this is currently shown as a new seasonal route on the airline’s route map contained in the July 2013 edition of “Skies”, the airline’s inflight magazine.
I used to collect airline timetables and was able to dig out a timetable I purchased a few years ago, which set the scene for Cayman Airways back in 1979, just 11 years after starting operations when the BAC1-11 was the mainstay of the fleet. In fact, I think they only had one aircraft.
And its routes were thin on the ground - Miami, Houston and Kingston only.
Miami is arguably the airline’s most important international route and has been since flights commenced there in 1972, using the LACSA leased BAC1-11. Back then, Cayman Airways had just 30 employees. Today, Miami is served multiple times a day with B737s. Historically, in addition to the 1-11s, MIA has seen KX DC-6s, DC-8s, B727s (ex Air Florida) and various B737 classics. Cayman Airways also leased a pair of brand new 737-400s in the early 90s, but these were short lived in Cayman service as I remember reading they were too big for the markets served so they were returned not long after.
This year, Cayman Airways turns 45 years old. A celebration not without fanfare, as illustrated by the cover of July’s edition of Skies.
Of course Cayman Airways and a certain Chelonia mydas or as he is more commonly known, green sea turtle, are completely intertwined. It would be sacrilege to talk about one without the other.
So who is this Turtle and does anyone care?
Well, I discovered that turtles have always been a large part of the Cayman Islands' history; from the spotting by Christopher Columbus in May 1503 and the naming of the islands “Las Tortugas” to a staple in the Caymanian diet even today. Not that turtle meat sounds overly appealing to me. I’d prefer a hunk of beef.
While turtles have come and gone, one has reached the iconic stature requiring the name of “Sir”. The unofficial national logo of the Caymans was created by Suzy Soto in 1963. She moved to the Caymans in the early 1960s with her family. It was sold to the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism for the princely sum of $1 in the early 1970s. You can see from the picture that Sir Turtle actually evolved over the years. Suzy was interviewed in the July celebratory edition of Skies.
A variation of the original logo includes the flying scarf and continues to be the proud logo of Cayman Airways today. He features on everything, from the aircraft themselves, to the staff uniforms, ground equipment and signage. You can’t go far without seeing him.
Sir Turtle is of course part of the airline’s celebrations – just for Ricardo who made a special request, here he is celebrating with staff in Grand Cayman captured in July’s edition of Skies.
2013 is also an especially auspicious year personally for Sir Turtle, as he turns 50 this year. To commemorate this lovable one legged rogue, the Cayman Islands is actually hosting a year long celebration to honour him on all three Cayman Islands. I can’t imagine any airline or company in Europe or indeed elsewhere going to so much trouble over a logo. But turning 50 is a big deal in anyone’s books, even if you are a turtle with a peg leg.
Happy Birthday to the little guy.
To finish this section, some turtle “fast facts”: