Government’s sudden decision to cancel flights from the US is not sitting well with some Barbadians who were hoping to return home.
Several Barbadians in the US called radio program Down to Brass Tacks to voice their frustration over the decision to reduce the number of JetBlue flights from four weekly to just one, and to postpone the American Airlines flight scheduled for August 5 to September 8.
However, Head of Global Markets at the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) Petra Roach defended Government’s position, saying the rising cases of COVID-19 in the US was of great concern.
Roach said JetBlue was informed on Monday about the cancellations following “long and intense” discussions.
She maintained that the safety of Barbadians was of utmost importance as they sought to prevent a re-importation of the virus, pointing out that Government’s decisions were driven by data and not dates.
“JetBlue has pushed back its service. They were going to come back in with a four times weekly service on July 25 and we actually, because of the protocols which were changed, the fact that the virus continues to be quite virulent in the USA, we then said let us look at the risk, let us look at what capacity we can handle and we focused on bringing back visitation from medium risk countries like Canada and the UK where the virus is trending downwards,” Roach said.
She said JetBlue completely understood Government’s position.
“They continue to work with us so we have now in order to mitigate the risk, to fly just once a week until we see that there is a change in the rate of the virus in the USA and we know that we can handle the number of intakes that we have from the USA market,” Roach added.
While noting that the cancellations had come at late notice, the tourism executive said the situation could not be avoided.
Roach said persons would have to rebook their flights with JetBlue now only coming to Barbados on Saturdays.
“I am sure that you understand that this virus is nothing that we’ve seen before. It continues to be extremely fluid. We see things that are trending in the right direction and then it changes and we have to be guided by the empirical data that is in front of us.
“The last thing that we want to do is inconvenience anyone, that certainly is not the case, but at the same time we have to be cognizant of the fact that Barbados is 166 square miles and we’ve heard all of the furor of the importation of the virus and we have to understand and respect also the local population and their voice,” Roach added.
She revealed that authorities had initially contemplated pushing back all of the entries for airlift out of the USA.
Roach said they would be willing to ramp back up capacity once the situation improved.
According to her, they would now focus on medium-risk target markets such as the UK and Canada.
Roach noted that British Airways would be returning on July 18 once a week, with the view to increasing to twice weekly in August.
She said this was partly due to the fact that it was easier for people in those countries to get the required COVID-19 test 72 hours before coming to Barbados.
Roach said Air Canada, which has already begun service to Barbados, has two weekly flights and would also be ramping up service in August.
She explained that while Canadian airline WestJet has an MRG agreement with Barbados, the airline was not yet flying here as it did not feel there was enough capacity.
Consulate General of Barbados in New York, Mackie Holder told Barbados TODAY he had received several calls from upset Barbadians.
He however, said he fully supported the decision.
“If you watch what is happening in the USA I think most reasonable persons would have expected some adjustments. Barbados’ policy, which is the correct one, is to protect the country and its citizens.
“I’ve spoken to numerous Barbadians as obviously there are numerous calls coming to the consulate and all of the Barbadians I have spoken to have been understanding. Of course people are agitated, especially in circumstances where you have sick relatives or persons wanting to come down for a funeral. I think the suddenness of the changes is what is affecting persons,” Holder said. “Some persons have obviously been away for a while and some have been waiting for the window of opportunity to get to Barbados but I’m sure that it will all work out. The flights have not been cancelled totally so persons will get there sooner or later.”