Months into pandemic, expats in Bermuda take charter flight home

Bermuda, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is renowned for its pink sand beaches, picturesque landscapes and verdant gardens.

But, for about two months, it hasn’t had what dozens of Americans were looking for — regular flightsout.

The Bermuda airport shut down commercial passenger flights on March 20, joining the worldwide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Suddenly, overseas workers and their families in the 21-square-mile British island territory found themselves without a clear path to get back to their countries. At the same time, Bermudan students studying in the United States and elsewhere also were left ashore, many unable to easily return home as dorms closed.

Atlanta-based Delta is among the airlines, consulates and travel agencies that have stepped in to arrange one-off charter flights to repatriate people around the world as borders have closed. Since mid-March, Delta has operated more than 150 charter flights to different countries, including Argentina, Australia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines and South Korea.

On the expectation that the Bermuda airport will be closed to commercial flights until June 21 0r later, a travel agency worked with officials and Delta to coordinate a charter flight. The closed airport terminal had to be reopened for the charter flight to and from Atlanta. Customs and immigration staff were brought in to process arriving passengers.

The travel agency, Travel Edge, had chartered a flight in April to and from Bermuda. More than 100 people took advantage of that.

“Then, a couple of weeks ago, the government reached out to us again” said Travel Edge Bermuda director Mike Dawson. “The result was overwhelming this time.”

At $1,000 each for coach, more than 100 people booked seats for the one-way, May 15 flight from Bermuda to Atlanta. And a similar number of people were on the leg from Atlanta to Bermuda — enough to fill a Boeing 737-800 while leaving the middle seats open.

Normally, chartering such a large airliner is even more expensive, Dawson noted. But that has changed because travel has plummeted due to COVID-19.

From Atlanta, passengers connected to other flights to get back home.

Bermuda is a global headquarters for the insurance industry. Many Americans work as executives of companies based there, Dawson said. There’s also a contingent of Canadians.

Among them is Todd Boyd, an accountant who took the May flight to Atlanta with his family and drove 11 hours back home to Sarnia, Ontario.

The Bermuda airport “was a little surreal in the sense that nothing else was open,” he said.

The drive from Atlanta to Canada had little traffic all the way up I-75, Boyd said. But with many eateries still closed or only open for take-out, “you need to be mindful of how much you drink, given that washroom facilities were a little light on the route.”

He said his family normally doesn’t leave to go back to Canada until the summer. But, with uncertainty about flight restrictions, “my fear was that there wouldn’t be another flight until mid-July,” he said.

“There is a lot of travel back and forth, so to be unable to travel for months is extraordinary,” Boyd said. The charter flight was full of people who “just felt that they’ve been on the island long enough.”