Absolutely packed red eye flight to Miami. We have flown a lot during the pandemic and every time people ask about others' masking and did we have any trouble. At least in our experience it seems like all the anti-maskers and/or drama related to protocols are the exceptions, not the rule. Other passengers we have flown with have always followed protocols without issue. In fact I daresay everyone seems a bit more patient and a bit more kind. The only thing we did note this time was the announcements included a very matter of fact you keep your mask on or we have the right to remove you from the plane and cancel your booking. This in part is due to the new administration and the fact the FAA is a federal entity and will be as firm as other federal entities.
In Miami we noted travel has really picked up...or maybe it was spring break and Miami...have you seen the news? The airport was packed and without club access we found ourselves four chairs against a wall a bit away from our gate to grab a bit to eat. Weird that Miami was not asking for travel clearances or COVID tests before boarding the plane because even though a territory we would find out Puerto Rico our next destination requires the "within the last 3 days negative COVID test." But it felt a bit more like "their problem not ours" to be honest. I am generally one who is grounded very firmly in the fact that news is often only a sliver of the whole story, but will admit the airport's atmosphere seemed to match what we've been seeing on the news. A friend of mine said it best...it feels like a football team celebrating a touchdown while still on the 1 yard line.
Into Puerto Rico with a couple hour layover we again found a wall in the less crowded area across from our gate. We grabbed another snack including local sodas and salted plantains. Here, to our pleasure, the COVID protocols tightened again. A new change in our travels was found in the bathrooms...all hand-drying options gone. Air dryers were disabled...which we have seen elsewhere due to the circulation of air particles and hence COVID, but this time...no paper towels either. Drip dry it is...
We were to be traveling on the American Airlines partner, Seaborne. A small company that has a large fleet of Saab airplanes that run circles around the Caribbean all day. Ours was coming in from St. Croix. Again different from the US the British Virgin Islands only have one airport open, its largest, EIS on Tortola. You can only enter and exit the commonwealth country here. Where the US Virgin Islands had numerous entry and exit points. Unfortunately with no flexibility this also meant when our plane broke down we were stuck in Puerto Rico for the night.
Seaborne was rather impressive. Before they even announced it they had new boarding passes printed for our re-bookings. Andy was 2nd in line after we heard a young woman who works in the BVIs mention the cancellation and she and her co-workers scrambled for a private charter to get there for work. 3 people $1500 for the 30 minute flight is what they would get. Nice! We took our rebooking for the next morning and hotel and taxi vouchers and headed down to carousel 6 to pick-up our bags.
Our bags were taking forever so Andy took the opportunity to get the lay of the land when it came to COVID as the baggage claim was crawling with military and people in full PPE. I was frantically reading travel restrictions and noted our tests for the BVIs were 5 days in advance (due to extra time needed to process all our extra documentation...remember the insurance and proof of our quarantine lodgings)...Puerto Rico was only 3 days. Would they accept our COVID tests?
Bags secured we approached one of the military personnel and explained our situation and he pointed to a QR code on the wall for us to scan to start our travel clearance to leave the airport. After a few minutes of struggles without my reading glasses and shaky fingers he pointed us to the area with about 20 workers in full PPE to help us complete the documents on-line.
We were split into groups of 2 and placed next to each other, but 6ft apart, at tables with one person behind a laptop in full PPE and a barrier to keep us from getting too close and they started by asking for our clearances, passports, boarding passes, and more. We would explain our situation and present them with our BVI clearances as well as our negative test results from CVS. The test administered 5 days prior..not 3 as they required. Chatter commenced in Spanish between the two workers and 4 years in high school quickly made out they were discussing the 5 vs 3. They would ask us about the vaccine as well, which we presented our cards for our single dose. This seemed to satisfy them and we get the "You're Done. Welcome to Puerto Rico."
After facial temperature scans in the lobby and guests bracelets were applied exhausted we piled into the small two double bed room. This is our first hotel stay since the pandemic and true to the stories it had been stripped down. No colorful comforters. No hotel or local literature to be touched by the room's numerous occupants. Pillow cases, a sheets, blanket, and towels - that's it.
A fairly restful night. Andy up early walked to the beach and grabbed us coffee and muffins, then we were back at the airport 2 hours before our flight to go again...and that we did. A little prop plane would take us the 30 minutes over beautiful blue water to EIS, the airport at the most eastern tip of Tortola where we would step off to a beautiful blue sky, 80+ degrees, with kite surfers and sailboats visible from the tarmac. Now begins our next set of steps to be able to leave the airport and enter the BVIs.