After being grounded for several weeks due to the second emergency lockdown, the first domestic flights for the national air carrier had dismal passenger numbers, Bahamasair Chairman Tommy Turnquest said yesterday.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced on Monday that local air carriers would be permitted to resume domestic flights this week.
Turnquest said while he didn’t expect a robust start, the low numbers were alarming.
“I can tell you that the three flights that went out so far this morning went out with dismally low numbers,” he told Guardian Business.
“I don’t have the exact number, but when I saw the reservations they were all under ten, our lowest seat count – you know we have three 50-seaters and two 70-seaters.”
Asked specifically if he believes the requirement that travelers to the Family Islands from New Providence or Grand Bahama must produce a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test is hindering people from traveling, Turnquest said, “I’m satisfied that that’s the case, absolutely.”
He continued, “Well, persons unless they really have to go are not going to go through the testing regime to go to the Family Islands and then quarantine for 14 days. So it’s not the testing by itself, it’s the testing plus the quarantine. Unless you really have to go, you’re not going to go.
“Now there is some pent up demand in some of the islands, I’m sure people wanted to get out and come to the capital. Those people will travel today or tomorrow I would imagine. It’s just important to start back up. I think it’s a work in progress, it gives everyone an opportunity to settle into a routine. I didn’t expect it to be robust in the early days and that’s probably good for any number of reasons in terms of the psyche, in terms of getting people back in the routine that travel is safe.”
Although passengers are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test, Turnquest said Bahamasair will not impose a requirement that crew members also produce a negative test.
“We think that that’s a different dynamic and so unless the Ministry of Health changes its protocol or suggests that we need to test more frequently or need to test widespread, there’s no immediate plan to do so unless as a result of contact tracing,” he said.
“If an employee is traveling as a passenger they have to test, that’s a requirement. But there’s no requirement for the flight crew.”
Turnquest added that the move by Doctors Hospital – one of only a few private establishments providing COVID-19 testing – to absorb a reduced price for the test when requested for domestic travel, could help encourage more travel among the islands.
“We are very pleased to note that. To take a flight to a family island from New Providence for example, that would cost $78 or $90 and to tack on $220 inclusive of VAT, to now reduce that to $120 is a huge savings,” he said.
Turnquest has said that because of travel restrictions and the inability of Bahamasair to fly for weeks on end, the corporation is struggling financially, having ran through in excess of $20 million in operational costs since the start of the pandemic in March and earning minimal revenue.