The government has repeatedly said that most of the flights prior to the pandemic have resumed to normal operation which I think is true from most of the United States, but there is something missing… Passengers
I flew in from Miami earlier this week and it was a very enlightening experience. There are two daily American flights from Miami, one leaving at 11:00am and the second one leaving and hour and 15 minutes later at 12:15pm.
I was originally scheduled to be on the 11:00am flight and I was running late so I asked to be moved to the 12:15pm flight, which was done without charge as the American Airlines customer service center said both flights were nearly empty. Here is my experience.
I arrive at the Miami International Airport and discover Antigua is one of the few destinations that American Airlines will not allow you to do curbside check-in and you are required to go inside the terminal and check in at a ticket counter.
This is because you have to show proof of your negative Covid test within 4 days and you have to show your vaccination card. This by itself turned the check-in process from a quick online check-in to a hour wait in line at the Miami Airport.
After finally arriving to the front of the ticket counter line, the agent was very confused about the requirements for traveling to Antigua. First, they indicated that there was supposed to be an online health declaration form filled out prior to travel.
It took me 15 minutes and two supervisors to convince the agent that the health declaration form was handed out on the flight by American Airlines. Finally, after two calls to supervisors they figured out that was the case, there was no online health declaration, and it was just a form that needed to be filled out on the flight or upon arrival in Antigua.
Then, my 14-year-old daughter was traveling with me and had not been vaccinated. The agent told me that it was required by Antigua that all arriving passengers be vaccinated. I told her that I read on the website that only those over 18 needed to be vaccinated, she said that is not what it said in the “system” and they said they would refund my ticket but we could not board the aircraft.
I sat at the gate and accessed the ABHTA website and showed the agent where those under 18 did not have to be vaccinated. Apparently American was using an old version of the ministry’s website to get their information. It took another 20 minutes for a supervisor to approve the “exception”. At this point I am over an hour and a half and I have not even been through security yet.
I make my way through security and arrive at the gate, only to find my name being paged by the gate agent. The gate agent is now asking me about the vaccine requirements for my daughter, the same exact conversation now has occurred with the gate agent as the ticket counter.
There is another family at the gate as well talking to an American Airlines supervisor as they are being refused boarding because their Rapid Antigen test results do not have the brand name of the test that was taken.
The supervisor tells the family, “Antigua is one of the strictest destinations and if everything is not right you could be quarantined at a government quarantine facility”. The family is visibly upset and decides not to risk traveling to Antigua, they ask how to get their luggage back and decide not to travel.
All in all, there were two families and a couple going to Sandals that were refused boarding (or in one case scared out of risking travel to Antigua)
I finally board the flight to find it nearly completely empty, about 30 total passengers.
In speaking with the guy next to me, he was coming as part of a group of 25 to Antigua originally, but they were down to 7. Most of them either didn’t have both of their vaccinations or were worried about having to quarantine or be put in a government facility with a tracking bracelet.
I told him that my parents have a vacation property in Antigua, and I travel there quite often, and I had not heard of that happening to anyone. He said the other 18 people in their group went to Tulum instead.
He takes a document out of his case from his travel agent that contained an official travel advisory, sure enough it states, “Persons quarantined at a government-approved facility for a period of fourteen (14) days will do so for a fee not exceeding EC$82.00 per night.” and, “Arriving passengers who are permitted to quarantine at home or instructed to stay at a government quarantine facility may be required to wear a monitoring bracelet according to the Quarantine Authority regulations.”
I was visibly shocked that this was still in in the official Antigua Travel Guidance, which was dated March 2, 2022.
In discussion with the flight attendant, she said that their flights to Mexico are so busy they can’t keep up and are having discussions about reducing flights to Antigua and using the planes and crew to fly to Mexico instead because it is easy and they don’t have any of the same restrictions.
Upon arrival at the airport there was an argument between the Pilot and the American/Airport Representative where before they would let anyone deplane they needed the paper passenger manifest and needed to have the counts signed off by the pilot.
The Pilot said he have flown this route 4 times in the last month and he was never asked for this. Everyone sat on the plane while the pilot and a flight attendant filled out the paperwork to hand to the representative on the jet bridge. The pilot handed the information to the representative and said, “I hate this country”
We deplane to be greeted by rude health officials in hazmat suits at various counters. The health officials herded everyone through lines, making them social distance (from the same people they just sat literally touching on the flight for the last 3 hours) taking temperatures and rudely telling everyone where to stand.
I make it through the health screening and into immigration only to stand there while the immigration official is watching streaming TV on their android phone and listening to it in ear pods. Really? How can this be happening?
It became apparent to me the real question is not “Why is the plane so empty?” The real question is, “Why would anyone ever want to go to Antigua right now?”