Haiti

JetBlue suspends Port-au-Prince flights as Haiti border shuts down over COVID-19

A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 takes off from the Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., in 2014. JetBlue and Air Canada are limiting daily service to Haiti.
A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 takes off from the Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., in 2014. JetBlue and Air Canada are limiting daily service to Haiti. AP file

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The Haitian government’s requirement that arriving U.S. passengers must present medical proof they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus has led to the cancellation of all flights by U.S.-based carrier JetBlue into Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport, the Miami Herald has learned.

“Officially, we have canceled all of the flights to Port-au-Prince for the foreseeable future with no resumption date,” said JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski.

Dombrowski did not say why the decision was taken by JetBlue, which operates daily flights into Port-au-Prince from Fort Lauderdale and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and also operates flights out of Orlando and Boston on various days of the week.

But a source with knowledge of the decision confirmed the culprit is Haiti’s coronavirus medical clearance requirement and the government’s declaration that it had an agreement with U.S. authorities over its decision to shut down its borders.

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On Sunday, Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe announced that effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, as a cautionary measure against COVID-19, the country would be closing its 175-mile porous land border with the Dominican Republic, and suspending all flights from Europe, Latin America, the Dominican Republic and Canada.

Haiti, which still has no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, will continue to allow flights from the United States, which according to the Pan American Health Organization continues to lead the region in COVID-19 related deaths.

Jouthe said he had an agreement with U.S. authorities that passengers flying into Haiti would be screened before boarding, and his communications ministry later announced on Twitter that passengers must present medical clearance that they have tested negative for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, before they would be allowed in.

The U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince later responded to the Haitian government policy decision by stating that “the government of Haiti did not specify what proof passengers should present.” It also rebuffed the government’s assertion that Haiti-bound passengers would be screened prior to boarding out of the U.S.

“The Government of Haiti will continue to conduct health screenings on arriving passengers,” the embassy said on its American Citizen Services Facebook page.

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Getting tested for the coronavirus is still proving difficult, if not outright impossible for some. Also, in Florida only individuals who meet specific criteria are able to get a test.

So far, neither American Airlines — which flies to Haiti directly only out of Miami after canceling its New York and Fort Lauderdale flights into Haiti in 2018 — nor Spirit Airlines out of Fort Lauderdale appears to have been affected by the Haitian government’s directive. Both airlines flew in and out of Port-au-Prince Tuesday as did airlines out of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands into Cap-Haïtien, the country’s second largest city.

A note issued in French and English from Haiti’s National Office of Civil Aviation to users of Haiti’s airspace said “all flights from or to abroad are not allowed to take off from Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien airports, except those from or to the United States of North America and Cuba. Only passengers with Haitian or Cuban passports are authorized to board on flights to or from Cuba until further notice.”

On Monday and Tuesday the scene along Haiti’s official border-entry points with the Dominican Republic was chaotic as Haitians tried to return.

Some are even attempting to get through at the nearly 100 unofficial crossing points, like through the river in Ouanaminthe in northeast Haiti.

“It’s still unclear how these measures will be enforced as there are too many crossing points easily accessible by everyone,” said Giuseppe Loprete, country director for the International Organization for Migration, which monitors Haiti’s borders.

Loprete said the U.N. agency is discussing its concerns with the World Health Organization and Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health.

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