By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
SANDRA Moss is angry that her son, a college student in Arkansas, has to pay Bahamasair to return to the country this week even though residents who were repatriated here during the first exercise flew on the airline free of charge.
“This is not fair,’ she said yesterday. “Don’t start something that you can’t finish. They made it seem like they’re going to bring y’all home, that you should make the arrangements and we’ll bring you. They just ain making no sense.”
Bahamasair has flights scheduled to leave from Fort Lauderdale on Thursday and Saturday, with one flight going directly to New Providence and the other stopping first in Grand Bahama to disembark some passengers before heading to New Providence with the remaining passengers. The cost of fare is $150, though customers can use an existing ticket if they have one.
Tommy Turnquest, chairman of Bahamasair, confirmed yesterday that the “government paid for everyone to come home” during the first pair of repatriation exercises earlier this month.
Most of the 183 people who returned to the country at the time had already been in Florida but Ms Moss’ son is among residents who have to take connecting flights to get to Fort Lauderdale, increasing his expenses. The government covered the cost of tests for returnees connected to the first two flights but it is not clear if that benefit will be provided again.
“These are students,” said Ms Moss, who used an alias for this article. “Even if they were students with a little job or something, that job has been stopped now for months and they don’t have any entitlements in the States, no social security or otherwise to help them. They been over there for months now and everything shut down. The parents over here probably already lose their jobs and may not be able to send a ticket for them to come home. I’m a nurse, I have a job. I had to send basically last month my whole salary to my son because he has to pay rent, he has to find food and this is his graduation year, so basically the remainder of his fees had to be paid.”
Her 24-year-old son, an electrical engineering student at the University of Arkansas, told The Tribune it will cost $348 for him to get a flight from that state to Atlanta and $213 to get from Atlanta to Florida.
One reason he stayed in Arkansas, he said, is that 2020 is his graduation year and he had to remain in contact with a professor who will sponsor his graduate school education.
“This a lot of money for him to be coming home and when he gets to Florida he shouldn’t have to pay to come on Bahamasair,” Ms Moss said. “They repatriate the illegal immigrants for free so why can’t you bring your own people home, and not just people, but students for free?”
Ms Moss said she tried to get her son on one the first two flights that left Fort Lauderdale earlier this month but had no luck because officials in consulate offices did not answer phones or respond to messages.
“Initially we assumed the Bahamasair flight would be free because their first flight was free,” she said. “We just find out now he has to pay.”
The Minnis administration has grappled before with deciding to pay for people to return to the country because such decisions can create the impression people are entitled to a free trip.
In March, before the borders were shut, Education Minister Jeff Lloyd told this newspaper the government chartered a plane to Jamaica to bring 61 students studying around the region. However, he said the students will have to reimburse the government for the flight and he warned that the policy of sending flights for students overseas would be reviewed because it could not be a benefit citizens come to expect.
Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell criticised the uneven policy yesterday. “On the face of it, it seems like a double standard,” he said. “The British, when it sent their flight in to pick up its citizens, they announced the charge would be five hundred pounds so people had to pay for their return home. Once you start by saying we are going to get you back home, that creates an expectation that you are going to do just that and that there isn’t a cost associated with it.
“If this is the case that they’re charging people for these flights, one simple mechanism might be to allow the commercial airlines from the United States which I understand are coming in to pick up US citizens, let them be allowed to bring Bahamian citizens by using the same procedures as Bahamasair because it may be cheaper for the people to use them than taking on all the additional charges that we are hearing about.”