Mixed emotions as airport reopens
Bermuda welcomed its first scheduled commercial flight for more than three months yesterday.
Karla Aitken collected her daughter, Ashley, 23, who had at last managed to return from college in Denmark — but the joy of homecoming was marred by sadness because her father died last Sunday. Ms Aitken explained: “I've just been waiting and waiting and worrying. I don't know what this world is coming to now.”
It was the first time the two had been together since last Christmas. Ashley's father, Chester “Chet” Aitken died aged 58.
Mr Aitken needed an operation to insert a stent in his heart, but could not afford the cost of an air ambulance after commercial flights were grounded. He died as he waited for a chance to get a flight off the island.
The Air Canada jet from Toronto touched down at the airport at about 1pm. It was the end of three flights for Ashley, who was overseas to study photography, and who had tried to get home twice before.
She said: “I was supposed to go to school for three months and it turned into half a year.
“I was supposed to come back for an apprenticeship and I got stuck in Denmark with no income.”
She said the flight home appeared to be “almost fully booked”.
Every arrival was tested for the coronavirus with a nose and throat swab, which Ashley said felt “horrible”.
She added: “Everything went as normal — only the queues were longer and there were more stops.”
Zane DeSilva, the tourism minister, said 44 tourists had come off the plane. There were 115 passengers in total.
But it was revealed that one of the passengers broke the rules and headed straight to an unnamed restaurant.
Kim Wilson, the health minister, said the breach was “very unfortunate”.
All passengers have to quarantine themselves until they get a clear result from the mandatory test at the airport.
Ms Wilson said the breach was detected after a member of the public alerted police on the 211 non-emergency number. She added that police were on the hunt for the passenger.
Pamela Doherty awaited the return of her son from the University of St Andrews in Scotland after six months away.
Ms Doherty said: “It just feels like you're in a permanent waiting room. I'm just glad it's over.”
She said her son had been in an isolated area, but that it had worried her that he would have to use public transport in London. Families embraced loved ones outside the airport terminal and a line of taxis waited to pick up some of the first airline passengers since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Some cab drivers said that they had been waiting since 8am.
Clinton Muhammad said: “It's refreshing to be able to start working again, but it's still nowhere near like it was before.
“It's going to be next year before it's halfway normal.”
Mr Muhammad added: “I can't even say this a drop in the bucket. It's tough for us. I just spent $1,700 getting new parts for the car. It's going to be ten months at least before we're anything like normal.”
Mr Muhammad, who has driven a cab for ten years, admitted that the return of business came with risks.
He said: “You have to have your guard up. Some people will say they're using social-distancing, but as soon as they get out of your sight, they do the opposite.
“We can see that with the numbers rising in the US. We have to prepare for it and follow the rules.”
Mr Muhammad added: “I hate wearing this mask, but if we don't work together, we're both going to suffer.”
The next driver in line, who did not give his name, said: “Without tourists, we can't live. I'm happy about this, but what can I say? I don't even know if I'm going to get a job today. You can see there are people coming down to pick up people. They said there's a plane, so I'm here.”
John Rankin, the Governor, who watched the passengers arrive, said: “I have come here obviously to welcome arriving passengers but also to see that safety arrangements are in place.”
Mr Rankin added: “It's the first flight — it's good to get under way and no doubt lessons will be learnt in the process.
“From what I have seen, we have the key measures in place.”
A masked Skyport staff member who directed people to wait in their cars, said: “It's a pleasure to be back at work.”
Glenn Jones, the interim chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said he was “impressed” by efficiency of the arrivals operation.
He added: “The teams in place at the airport meeting these first visitors were extremely professional, and the organisation of everything conveyed confidence to travellers.
“The process wasn't perfect, but any glitches can be easily remedied. I actually overheard passengers noting the experience was better than they thought it would be.
“I can safely speak for the entire tourism industry that getting this part right is critical, and based on what I've seen thus far, we have every reason to be thankful to all the agencies working so hard to get this right.”
The airport was closed to all commercial air traffic on March 20 as a result of the pandemic.
Air Canada began a weekly service from yesterday.
The Delta Air Lines service on Monday will be the first of daily flights from Atlanta and British Airways will start a twice-a-week service between London and Bermuda on July 17.
Many airlines have restricted the number of seats sold to allow for social-distancing on board flights. Mr DeSilva said last night that the Delta flight was full.
He added: “The next two or three thereafter are also full.”