Drive alongside the beaches of the Caribbean coast for a bit, then through the vibrant capital where the cruise ships dock. A left turn takes you through the rainforest at the top of the island, then down the craggy Atlantic coast. It’s not a bad drive to work! And one that Kathy Monplaisir, our airport manager at St Lucia does every day.
Being in charge of a small airport with only a handful of flights each day is a job that comes with plenty of variety and responsibility. And you need to be a very special person to do it. You must lead a team. You have to be compassionate and caring, yet remain focused. You’ll need to stay up to date with all the ever-changing procedures, rules and regulations, both local and international and those specific to your airport. And you’ll need to meet some tough targets too, especially with regard to on-time departure and baggage handling.
Hewanorra Airport (the name means ‘the island of iguanas’) sits on the southern tip of St Lucia, and it’s where Kathy and her small team look after our arriving and departing customers. It’s the only one of our airports to handle ‘double drops’, meaning the flights arrive from London and drop off customers, then continue to Tobago or Grenada before returning to St Lucia for their return flight across the Atlantic.
Kathy was born in St Lucia and has lived on the island ever since. Her first taste of airport life came in 1985 when she worked as a receptionist for the St Lucia tourist board at Hewanorra, before a few years at Eastern Air Lines and American Airlines. After seven years at the airport, during which she’d acquired a husband and two kids, she became a partner in a travel agency in Rodney Bay, then started her own travel agency in 1998 where she utilized her skills in the complex world of ticketing and fares. This wealth of knowledge and experience stood her in good stead for the big job as Station Manager, which she applied for.
The crazy world of the double drop day and a large block of concrete
Like any airport, there’s a rhythm to the day. Kathy gets to her small office behind the check-in area at about 1pm and checks everything is running smoothly. Out front, all is quiet – it’s the calm before the storm. A time for paperwork, planning and team briefings.
The first flight arrives from Gatwick at lunchtime, and the team have an hour to offload all the people, cargo and baggage, run security checks, top up with fuel, clean, remove the catering carts, do a crew swap and perform engineering checks. Interestingly, this is the point at which a large concrete block of ballast is loaded in the rear cargo hold*. The aircraft is then pushed back off stand for departure to take the remaining customers to their final destination.
Back inside the terminal, our London-bound customers are starting to arrive for check-in. Helping Kathy is her duty manager Omar Clarke and an overall total of 25 people who work for our ground handling agent at St Lucia, all of whom wear our uniform.
As check-in draws to a close, the team gathers outside on the ramp for the aircraft’s return from Tobago or Grenada. This time, apart from the crew swap (the crew from the previous day’s flight operate the shuttle before returning to their hotel for another couple of nights) it’s all about getting people on. Off comes the concrete block, on goes the baggage and cargo for the UK. Typical cargo from St Lucia includes everything you’d expect – mangoes, bananas, pineapples and coconuts top the list. There are the usual crew swap and catering to be done, together with the uplifting of additional fuel, then security and engineering checks to be completed, before the aircraft sets off on its 8-hour flight back to Gatwick. It’s a complicated day and a lot to do for such a small team, but now, well after nightfall, the airport finally goes quiet.
By the time Kathy gets home to her hubby and two dogs, Gatwick is just waking up. Check-in is opening, excited families are arriving, the crew are checking in, and the next day’s flight is already being prepared for its departure to St Lucia and beyond. More Caribbean adventures are beginning, and lifelong memories are about to be made.
Travelling to St. Lucia soon? We asked Kathy and her team for a few tips on how to make the most of
- Get out of your all-inclusive. Hire a car for a couple of days and explore the island. Climb Gros Piton, hike the rainforest, explore Pigeon Island and see the French-inspired Government buildings.
- Enjoy the local cuisine! The Caribbean has some fantastic food. On St Lucia, the recommendations are pigtail bouillon, green banana salad, green fig and fish and, especially loved by our St Lucia team, breadfish and cheese pie.
- Health: Carry the essentials; sun screen, insect repellent and an umbrella (island weather can change quickly). Stay hydrated.
- Safety: Use common sense, be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Don’t carry large sums of cash or expensive jewellery and don’t go out exploring on your own and you’ll be fine. In other words, normal precautions for just about anywhere.
*The concrete block, affectionately known as Colin, is needed to balance the aircraft. With very few passengers the extra weight of our Upper Class cabin and bar means that the aircraft becomes nose heavy.