How #FyreFestival Happened, or “That Time British Airways Paid Someone to Hold Me Hostage and Called it a Hotel”

Stakeholders don’t always know what’s going on on the ground. And before social media, they didn’t care.

This is not profound, just a story from my own life to demonstrate why I do believe Ja Rule had zero clue as to what was being organised, because I’m 100% sure B.A would fricking die if they actually knew the hell they paid someone put their customers through while thinking this was “care”, but I didn’t have the energy to go into it almost ten years ago when I got back home. And besides, other stuff happened almost immediately when I did get home making my travel story the least of my concerns — but that’s for another day. Or never.

So, this was 2008. Android was a special interest project that a few die hards said “had promise”, pretty much like that Mozilla phone today. There was no whatsapp. No GPS as standard in phones. I didn’t have an iphone, although it had been out for about a year. I was a front-end web designer and the idea of apps instead of the open responsive web offended my purist idealogical sensibilities, which is really funny because I design apps now. Because apps ate the open web. Oh life.

I think I still had a motorola razor, special edition for project red. It had a shitty camera for the time but I could text type blind with one hand on that thing while it was in my pocket, back in the days when phone companies offered text bundles. That was really useful for texting your friends to hurry up and get to the pub because the people who where there were boring or creepy or whatever. On that phone, you pressed the dial UP for new text and I don’t remember how I selected names.

What phones looked like back then. zero megapixle cameras and no instagram.

My mother is from the East Caribbean. An island so small, green and (at this point) undeveloped that it’s used as the backdrop for films where you want that “untainted by modernity” or “far away from the life you know” look.

So, there was no international airport on that island yet. You had to get a connecting flight from another Barbados in something the size of a white van with wings, and that was just the way it was.

I was flying there to spend christmas with mom and my grandparents. I had just got a permanent job at a fancy all-glass office with it’s own shuttle bus and I felt like I finally had some good news for the folks after years of freelancing and not being sure if I could stay in the uk or not. For me, it was about showing them I finally did good. I could even afford the ticket semi last minute (by flights-to-the-caribbean standards — tourists love the low mosquito season) by booking in October, a month after getting hired. It cost a lot for a girl in her first “real” job. But I was celebrating and it was a secure job.

When I landed, the lady at the immigration desk decided that the barbajian embassy in London didn’t know it’s own immigration laws when it assured me I didn’t need a transit visa and she refused me entry.

Her attitude was something I brushed off ass annoying, but I was about to get my connecting flight anyway in half an hour.

Only, there was an airline strike that day and my flight wasn’t happening. I’d need to stay overnight. In a country where I wasn’t allowed outside the airport. No big, I thought. I can sleep in the airport.

Desk lady said that wasn’t possible, for my security, but don’t worry, British Airways would provide me with a hotel and a free dinner for the night, and I’d need to be accompanied by an airport security personnel to ensure I didn’t run away since I’m not officially in Barbados and under the airport care. My passport was unstamped for Barbados.

So I text mom what was happening but I was pretty chill. Until they yelled at that I wasn’t allowed to text in the airport. My mom was at the airport on her island waiting for me to land, she needed an update. This was kinda weird that they wouldn’t let me do that. So I pocket texted.

The security guy shows up and he has zero ID, no uniform, zero surname. Just a random guy who looks like a bouncer with a plain unmarked white van. Nothing creepy about going off into the night in that from an airport that was trying to stop me telling my family what was happening. No sir.

So I texted mom and she told me it’s not too unusual for a little less formality in the caribbean and to chill, my child.

So I get in and some other very sorry, broken spirited looking women from other islands are in the van and I’m wondering what you have to do in the caribbean to get denied entry into another island, but remember they’re probably wondering that about me too and this IS Barbados, which is the fancy island. So I zip it and remind myself there’s a hotel and dinner coming up and at least I’m not alone in the unmarked white van with a person with no airport id who looks like he might have knuckle tattoos, so count my blessings.

He drives us to his house. This feels weird again, but maybe he needs to feed the dogs?

Someone is watching TV. A bucket of off brand “KFC” is there and we all get single portions of chicken on styrofoam plates and a roll of bread. I realise this is our “dinner”. I’m now afraid that his home will also be our “hotel”, so I use my-hand-in-pocket text method to update mom. And mom is a little uneasy by this last bulletin so she calls me thinking her ‘bajan accent on the phone will sort all of this misunderstanding on my part out.

The guy flips out at mom asking where I’ll be staying and threatens to break my phone if she calls again.

At this point mom and me are both like 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨.

This isn’t normal.

I’m not a prisoner. I’m a traveller in transit and he’s being paid by British Freaking Airways, the carrier I’ve been flying on to visit my far flung family yearly at least since before I had teeth.

Mom and I continue pocket texting, and by now you can see the benefit not having smart phone had on battery life back in the primal age. It was late at night after a 6 hour flight and I still had juice enough to ping her every half hour to assure her I was still alive and not sold into slavery by “my first name only, no ID, no outside communications” friend.

We wind up deep, deep of-road, surrounded by the natural overgrowth of the island. I was looking for any landmark to text mom, but there was nothing but dark roads and then this green spot and an unsigned house they were calling a hotel in the middle of nowhere. I notice it had bars on the windows, but in the caribbean that’s not unusual.

We go inside and I see that me and the other ladies are all to share a room, but that’s ok with me. I feel like a fish in a shoal with them. Safer. I see there’s a metal door with bars outside the door to our room.

That IS unusual.

They lock it and then chain it. Mr “No surnames, no badge, no location, no outside info” tells us this is for our safety.

There is a man sitting at a table in the kitchen with a gun on the table (I think it was a kitchen, it was late and we weren’t really given a chance to look around much before being ushered into our cell). They tell us this is for our safety.

It was at this point I swear to myself from henceforth on I will only get phones with gps (blackberry had models with gps) because then mom would know where I was, although how she’d get past our friend with the gun, I don’t know.

In the morning we are taken back to the airport and it turns out mom asked a friend of hers to fly a van-with-wings plane over to get me ASAP (it’s a very small island she’s from) so I get to leave as soon as we get to the airport.

I don’t remember hugging my fellow detainees and saying goodbye to them. I don’t remember being in the van, entering the airport, talking to anyone. The only clear memory of that morning is seeing that plane.

And Mr no surname-looks-like-a-bouncer towering in front of me blocking my path to it, asking for my email first.

Like this is a normal interaction we’ve had in the last 12 hours. I realise he thinks he’s offered a great service. And so will his employers. They have no idea what’s being done with their money. There will be no report of anything being amiss, a passenger was stranded overnight and got on the plane safely. She was fed and sheltered, they will be assured.

To get on that plane, I give him my gmail, thinking I can get his surname that way and report him.

I imagine the people organising the Fyre Festival were a collection like Mr No Surname. All thinking they were doing a fine job of providing what they promised and reporting that everything is fine. They have no idea what their customers expect in terms of service, because they are so far away from being the target customer.

A drumstick on a styrofoam plate eaten on my knees isn’t “dinner”. A tent city isn’t luxury. But you need to have organisers who are deeply familiar with your audience and their expectations and their lifestyle to know this. You can’t cater to travellers expectations if you’ve never left your home island, and you can’t cater to rich kids without knowing what kinds of festivals they’ve been to and what kind of accommodation and food they expect.

There are amazing event organisers all over the caribbean, but I guess Ja Rule wanted to go with unknowns who said yes to everything, rather than trusted names who cost what they are worth and are often booked up. And he didn’t get involved. Just trusted what he was being told. That’s where Ja, and B.A messed up.

I don’t have an email list. Just a lot of gratitude if you read this far. Thanks! ❤