By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
American Airlines has backed away from plans to conduct pre-flight COVID-19 testing on all international travellers coming to The Bahamas, a top tourism official revealed yesterday.
Joy Jibrulu, the Ministry of Tourism's director-general, told the Exuma Business Outlook webinar the airline had determined that providing the service at its Miami International Airport (MIA) hub was simply too complex and "cost prohibitive".
"We were so very excited when American Airlines made the announcement about the partnership with The Bahamas and Jamaica, in the first instance, for rapid antigen testing at the Miami International Airport," Mrs Jibrilu said.
"In our discussion they talked about this test being available for anyone travelling to any of the destinations within The Bahamas that they flew to. So, last week, we have been trying to finalise the details in trying to marry that with the new travel health visa system that the Government is putting in place.
“American Airlines unfortunately shared the news that they never could have imagined the complexity of putting such a system in place, and trying to work with Miami International Airport," she added.
"They had already sourced the right type of test, but putting in place the logistics and doing the tests and the demos they had to, it became so cost prohibitive. It was also not something they could manage in the time that they had envisaged, and therefore for this moment they are withdrawing from doing any rapid tests at the point of departure for any destination.”
American Airlines, in unveiling the initiative, said the provision of a rapid COVID-19 antigen test before passengers boarding its aircraft would start by end-October. The move was hailed by Bahamas-based hotels and tourism providers at the time as an "excellent" initiative that would “absolutely” benefit The Bahamas in its bid to restart the tourism industry.
The American Airlines initiative was also seen as fitting well with the Ministry of Tourism's plan to replace the 14-day visitor quarantine with increased COVID-19 testing, both as guests arrive at Bahamian airport and marine port-of-entry and during their stay.
This system is due to take effect from this Sunday, November 1, but The Bahamas will now no longer be among the first international destinations where American Airlines will offer pre-flight virus testing for all passengers.
"That was not good news," Mrs Jibrilu said of American Airlines' decision, "but there has been conversations that have been taking place at a much larger level with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), IATA (International Air Transport Association) and major airlines, as well as our cruise partners.
"The proposal that has been put forward is to see the safe return of travel and tourism, and that it has to be seamless. The proposal on the table is that every airline and, I guess by extension, every cruise line will offer the rapid antigen test at the point of departure. So whether at an airport or the airline, before you embark upon your journey you know your status. It is straight through, and you get to your destination with no quarantine in place.”
“We are excited about this but, as said, this is taking place at a bigger level. I will not be surprised that three months from now, between three to six months from now, the conversation that we’re having now is moot and that the global requirement for travel will be now you take a rapid antigen test.”