Article and photos by Elena del Valle
The crowd waiting for security at the Turks and Caicos airport from where I stood in line
It is a shame that the most salient memory I have of my recent trip to Providenciales in the tiny island nation of the Turks and Caicos some 573 miles from Miami, Florida is the unpleasant and frustrating departure. Given the upscale island's high standards compared to other similar sized nations in the region and the number of wealthy foreign property owners I was taken aback by the conditions and process. Although I checked in online, had no wait at the airline counter, and arrived at the airport more than two hours in advance (the airline recommended passengers arrive two hours early as did the staff at my hotel) they called my flight for boarding while I was still in the security line.
The airport in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
I and dozens upon dozens of other travelers stood in a snaking queue that spanned five short lines in front of the entrance to the international departures immigration entrance and an additional line that ran back past the domestic airline counters beyond sight. The line was so thick a security guard insisted waiting passengers step away from the domestic airline counters so departing passengers for those flights could reach their counters. Although most passengers in the line, including families with small children, were patient and quiet, judging by appearances and overheard conversations, many were hot and sweaty (only the final portion of the line was within the air conditioned international departures area), surprised by the length of the line and long wait, and annoyed.
One uniformed staff woman in the main hall urged passengers to move forward in the line. Her military demeanor and biting tone did little to alleviate people's stress and anxiety over possibly missing flights. Another uniformed staff woman guarded the entrance to the international departures area. While her tone was less strident than her colleague's she was no more helpful. Two passengers near me in the queue were called by security over the loudspeakers while we were standing in line within the international departures area. When they tried to respond she insisted they remain in their place in line, dismissing their concerns. As they moved forward another staff person checked their documents and chided them for not responding to the security announcement. He rushed them to the head of the line.
View of the coast just after takeoff
Representatives from two airlines came out to search for passengers for their departing flights. Once they found them, they too were rushed to the head of the line ahead of everyone else, delaying our processing. We watched as a family of passengers paid hundreds of dollars for expedited service. They too were bumped ahead of everyone else in the queue. I heard fellow passengers around me complain repeatedly, saying that such a situation was the equivalent of extortion.
At the end of the line only one of two passenger metal detectors was working, causing further delays as two lines merged into a single one. It did not help that everyone (as a foreign nation Turks and Caicos did not recognize the United States Transportation Security and Administration Precheck Program) was required to remove shoes and extract electronics from their carry on bag. To add to joy of the experience the staff looked tired and unhappy. They had little patience and were just shy of rude to passengers at the slightest question.
By the time I finished the process and I arrived at the single overcrowded shared departure hall the airline had called my flight for boarding three times. I rushed to my gate, wondering if all the passengers had made it on board as I had not seen any airport personnel searching for passengers for our flight in the line behind me. My departure from the Turks and Caicos was the slowest and least pleasant departure I recall having from an island in a long time, perhaps ever. While I had a good stay in Providenciales once aboard the plane I asked myself if I enjoyed my visit enough to counter the unpleasant departure process. I am still wondering.