Over 200 United States (US) citizens and permanent residents were yesterday repatriated.
The charter flight, which was co-ordinated by the US Embassy and received an exemption from National Security Minister Stuart Young to this country’s ongoing travel ban due to the COVID-19 pandemic, left the Piarco International Airport around midday yesterday.
Passengers on the flight were advised to be at the airport, which is currently operating only domestic and cargo flights, three hours in advance and when a news team from Guardian Media arrived around 10 am, passengers had already begun the check-in process.
While some passengers wore masks and gloves, others wore no personal protective equipment as they said their last goodbyes to their local relatives and friends, who dropped them off.
For the most part, everyone present observed social distancing as the queue to check-in snaked around the departure hall of the airport.
One couple was seen standing with their Labrador Retriever, Yogi Bear, for whom they purchased a US$1,500 ticket to accompany them aboard the flight.
“He usually travels in a dog crate in the cargo area. He is really excited because it is his first time in the cabin,” they were overheard saying to a member of the US Embassy staff, who stopped to pet him.
One elderly passenger, who agreed to speak to Guardian Media on the condition of anonymity, claimed that he struggled to purchase the ticket as he only came to Trinidad with a small quantity of cash when he came on a short trip, two months ago.
“I paid US$500 to come here and now the ticket is three times that. I didn’t mind staying but I have to get my medication,” he said while pointing to his bandaged right forearm.
Another passenger, who said she had to catch a connecting flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York, said she was happy to return home to her young daughters, who she left in the care of their godmother.
“It is a stressful and bitter-sweet moment because I am leaving my mother and I don’t know what is going to happen to her,” the teary-eyed woman said.
While the news team from Guardian Media were present, staff from the Ministry of Health were seen using hand-held infra-red thermometers on the passengers before they were allowed to make their way to the check-in desk.
Passengers were advised to purchase a bottle of water before they cleared the security checkpoint leading to the departure lounge as there were no refreshments available for sale in that area at the time and none would be provided on the flight.
In a press release issued around 5 pm yesterday, US Embassy press specialist Charleen Thomas announced that the flight landed safely. She noted that the passengers were among 25,000 that were repatriated by US Embassies across the world.
“A big thank you to the superb staff at the Piarco International Airport. Consular Chief Cindy Diouf and her team were on hand to ensure all went well. #AmericansHome,” Thomas said.
Last week, the British High Commission organised for some of its citizens to be repatriated on a similar charter.