Escape from Paradise: One Couple’s Experience, Bahamas, March 2020

Escape from Paradise: One Couple’s Experience, Bahamas, March 2020

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.

March 22nd:

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…

March 24th:

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.

March 25th:

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 was 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.

March 27th:

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.

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