Eleuthera, Bahamas, March 20th
Friends said, “If you expect to leave The Bahamas, do it now.” We thought it best. (I failed at retirement and needed my library in New Hampshire in my work for Hillsdale College in Michigan.) Accordingly, we changed our flights to Nassau and Boston from our usual early-April departure to March 25th.
Jet Blue was in chaos. In my first online chat session they said the change would cost $472. It’s always a good idea to disconnect and try another chat link. The second time it was “no charge”! We always use “Even More Space” (premium economy, early boarding), and those seats were wide open. We chose two in the middle, hoping the load would remain light.
We moved into “departure mode.” Veteran Bahamas winter residents know the drill. Hurricane shutters up, top off utility accounts, extra food to the locals, tank filled with gas and Stabile, battery minders set. Problem solved? Not quite…
The local carrier called at 6am: “We’re stopping all service. You have one hour to get on our last flight.” Groggy from sleep I replied, “We can’t possibly clear out in an hour.” “Then you’d better plan on staying put.”
It was outrageous. Inter-island flights were not banned. More than one local carrier acted without warning, leaving customers flat. I vowed never to fly with them again and demanded a refund. They complied, but it took us three months to get it.
Back on the web and phone, searching for a way out. The shutdown order did not prevent airlines from taking passengers at Nassau. Of course, to have a flight out, you need one coming in. And few were coming. You lose big money when you fly empty.
There was one exception: Aztec Airways, a charter carrier with frequent flights to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale. I rang an old friend there, a former Bahamas resident. She saved our bacon.
Through it all, Aztec stood head and shoulders above other airlines in concern for travelers to the Bahamas Out Islands. We strongly recommend them and may fly with them exclusively now. It costs more, but you know they will do their level best to help you out. Plus, they fly from the Fort Lauderdale executive terminal—no security hassles. See www.aztecairways.com for schedules or phone them at (954) 601-3742.
Aztec was complying with the Bahamas ban on arriving passengers, but had secured permission to fly over empty (at a big loss, of course) to take people home. In minutes we were booked out of North Eleuthera on March 27th. It would Aztec’s first flight since the shutdown. (The company is still flying today, subject to government entry health regulations. They charge $500-600 for a round trip. They also offer charter flights, can be affordable if you fill a nine-passenger plane. A charter flight will show up any time you specify, and flight time is ninety minutes.
Following Aztec’s rescue, we booked Delta first class to Boston, thinking that gave the best chance of safe distancing. The cost was $800. I phoned a New Hampshire car service to pick us up at Logan arrivals. Another $200, with tip—in all, this adventure cost us $1200 extra. It was worth every cent.
A dear Bahamian friend I’ve known forty years showed up ahead of time in his taxi and whisked us to North Eleuthera Airport. Aztec arrived early and all nine passengers were there, so we left early and were in Lauderdale by 4pm. It was a brilliant job by the airline and its pilot (who was not even allowed to leave his aircraft).
An airport shuttle took us to the Delta section of Fort Lauderdale International Airport. It was a spotless SUV, its masked driver handling luggage with wipes. We did not bother to touch the seatbelts.
I made one mistake. Waiting for the shuttle, I was parched. Another arriving Aztec passenger handed me a bottle of water. Carefully I wiped it down, drank deeply, put it on my suitcase. Then I picked up his bottle by mistake and continued to drink! I apologized but he laughed it off: “No virus on Eleuthera. No worries!”
If you’ve been through an airport since March, I don’t have to describe the eeriness. At our gate a Detroit flight was boarding. “Anyone who needs more time may board now…First Class and Diamond Select may board… Comfort Plus, anybody?” Nobody stood up. “Never mind—all seats!” Ten people climbed aboard.
The Boston flight was anticlimactic. We wiped down our seats with Lysol and used gloves for passports and boarding passes. Delta left on time at 7:51 pm with about twenty-five passengers. As planned, we were alone in first class. But since they were not serving drinks, the flight crew had little to do, and three of them engaged in close-up no-mask chatter for the whole flight.
March 28th, early AM:
Logan Airport was almost deserted, but Boston’s weather was warm. We’d cleared Customs and Immigration at the no-sweat Executive Terminal, so were right out the door, our reliable NH driver at curbside in a wiped-down van. We headed north on near-empty I-93, arriving in Moultonborough at 1:30am. Thanks to neighbors, the larder was stocked and the hot water turned up for showers.
We sprayed Lysol on our suitcases, shoes and clothes and left them in the garage to mellow overnight. Unfortunately the wine cellar was not at its peak, but has since been replenished. (Gloria at Bristol Liquors on Eleuthera will be abashed to know that the lovely Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc she has to charge $22.95 for in the Bahamas sells in New Hampshire state stores for ten bucks.) Safe at home!
This is a personal experience in no way indicative of what others may encounter, and rules about entry to The Bahamas are changing weekly. Hopefully however somebody will be helped by this account.
More on the Bahamas Out Islands
Several articles on the “Family Islands” will be found in the “travel” section.