‘We’d done what was required but we were in limbo’
A cruise visitor called for Bermuda’s Travel Authorisation Form to be scrapped and replaced with a straight $40 fee after witnessing chaos caused by applications snags.
A Canadian resident who travelled on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas reported a “sea of people” held up waiting to board on May 15 at Port Canaveral in Orlando, Florida.
She added that the previous day, from her hotel room, it took her three hours on the phone — and 115 redials — to get her TAF approved.
The former Bermuda resident, who asked not to be named, said she was a chartered accountant and “a numbers girl” who could not see how the island’s resources could cope with the volume of travellers.
“If you have a manual process for this, that’s a lot to process in a small amount of time,” she said. “We’re going to be paying for Covid for ever.
“But you can’t implement a process like this and not administrate it.
“A lot of people said, if they just wanted $40 we would have paid it. But we had to jump through hoops.”
Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, told The Royal Gazette in a May 19 interview that cruise representatives had asked at an April conference for the TA to be dropped entirely.
Mr Scott said the Government was examining ways to make the TAF “more streamlined“.
Government officials have emphasised that the travellers would have a better experience by applying for the TAF as early as possible.
But the former resident said getting tested after travelling into the US from Canada left only a brief window to get her family’s TAFs cleared before the cruise set sail.
Uploading the rapid test results from a phone instead of a computer proved difficult, and their approvals had not come through by the time they arrived in Florida.
“We’d done what was required but we were in limbo,” she said. “Thankfully I was on a Facebook group for sailing and I could see other people commenting they were having issues.
“It wasn’t just us.”
The toll-free hotline either signalled it was busy, or disconnected after she responded to the first prompt.
Even after getting approved, she said the e-signature proved difficult by phone.
But waiting to board at Port Canaveral, the woman said she was relieved to have her documents in order when she saw “hundreds” of passengers, many of them older, held up by the TAF.
“It doesn’t start your holiday off well, I can tell you that,” she said. “I’ve never heard of a cruise ship not departing on time. We were two hours late because they were dealing with everyone that needed approvals.
“I’m sure the cruise lines weren’t happy, and the people standing there all afternoon weren’t happy either.”
She added that disembarking in Bermuda, “no one asked for anything — we just walked off”.
“What was all the panic about if nobody checked if we had the approval?”
Speaking on Saturday, the woman said: “One of the reasons I chose this cruise was Bermuda was a little more stringent, so I felt a little better than other places where I might be more exposed to Covid.
“We would love to go back to the island and all the people we love. We lived there for five years. But something needs fixing.”
A second visitor echoed the cruise ship passenger’s complaints.
Speaking from the UK on Thursday, the passenger said: “We spent hours filling out TA forms, ordering tests, taking tests, submitting tests and over $300 to cover all the costs.
“Our family submitted our TA forms to the government over three weeks ago. We then submitted our required Covid tests four days ago. It’s now 6pm the day before flying to Bermuda and still no sign of TA approval. Without it we won’t be allowed to board the aircraft.”
He added: “E-mails to TA approvals have been ignored. The Covid-19 hotline (444-2498) is so busy that the line goes dead or there are over 90 people queuing.
“It’s stressful travelling at the moment and Bermuda is making it much worse. The Covid hotline is understaffed given the problems with approvals.
“This bureaucratic form isn’t protecting Bermuda. It’s just making Bermuda the least attractive place to go on vacation.”