By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
BAHAMASAIR is now accepting bookings for domestic flights which resume on Monday, with airline officials saying there will be different protocols in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The airline will operate a reduced schedule to Grand Bahama and the Family Islands which it normally services. Social distancing will be practiced, the airline said, however middle seats will still be sold. Travellers and flight attendants will be mandated to wear masks.
“As of today, anyone can book domestic travel on Bahamasair,” the airline’s managing director Tracy Cooper said at a press conference on Thursday. “Phase four as it relates to domestic travel is expected to start on Monday and Bahamasair has opened up its reservations and has started to receive bookings for flights starting on Monday.
“Given the fact that it is just starting up, we are going to have a truncated schedule starting with only two flights to Abaco and to Freeport daily, but all the other days we will have no more than one flight to each of the respective islands that we fly to.”
The airline is asking travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before departure to allow for additional data sharing.
“There will be forms to fill out for tracing capability,” he explained. “This in itself will require travelers to come in earlier in order to make their flights. These forms will be passed over to the Ministry of Health so if anything happens (COVID-19 wise) they will be able to trace where it came from.”
He said the airline will also adhere to social distancing mandates.
“We will practice social distancing,” he continued. “And, NAD will monitor and make the necessary adjustments as we go on. All passengers are required to wear masks and flight attendants will wear masks as (well). Flight attendants will also wear gloves and there will be no catering of any kind on the flights. We will have some water and that is only for those who need it. We are asking all passengers to hydrate themselves before the flights and after the flights.”
Despite saying there will be social distancing, Mr Cooper says Bahamasair will sell middle seats.
“We will sell the middle seats, but we will practice social distancing as much as possible,” he said. “We suspect that until Bahamians are comfortable with the resumption of their traveling, the planes will not be that full anyway.”
The International Air Transport Association, which is based in Canada, calls for passengers to wear face coverings and crew members to wear masks, but it opposes onboard social distancing.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO in a statement. “The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low. And, we will take all measures such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”
Bahamasair, although incurring losses of up to $8 million - $10 million due to the COVID-19 suspension of travel, has retained all staff members and has continued to pay them.
Commercial international travel is expected to resume on July 1.