Domain Available A Bit of History Tales of Flight Abaco, so close yet so far. The superlatives to describe Abaco abound but getting there can often be arduous. It seems it's the dream of many a retired pilot with a few bucks and backers to start up a “little out island airline”. Some manage to stick it out for a decade, many just a couple years, one for only a couple months. The reason is quite simple. How to keep the seats full during off peak periods and still run an credible scheduled air carrier on a shoe string. Add to this, swings in the economy. Eventually many switch to becoming "Shared Charters" hoping to sell enough cheaper seats to fill a plane. That may work on weekends in season, still numerous reports were posted on the bulletin boards and the Abaconian Newspaper regarding these carriers unanswered phones, canceled flights, FAA fines for "operating aircraft in violation of its air carrier certificate" etc etc. Fall 2014 saw the below carrier list shortened by four!
Some guidelines to consider when planning your trip.
Updated Feb. 11, 2015
Mackey 1973 - Old Treasure Cay Airport - a DC6 no less.
That's me on Out Island Airways 1978
It used to be that flying to the Abacos on the small 9 seat Cessna 402 commuter is half the fun of a quick fly over from south Florida. It's just an hour flight. The small plains fly at lower altitudes so you can almost see the fish in the turquoise waters near the islands. I think of them as sport cars as compared to a bus. They zip in and out of clouds easily bypassing any thunderheads. Oh, that 9th seat, actually a copilot's seat, was generally filled by a passenger as chosen by the pilot and usually blonde and female.
The only negative is, the longevity of these small carriers. All of the aforementioned have come and gone, and you can add to them Locair, Yellow Air Taxi and Twin Air. In our years flying to Abaco, there have been a half dozen carriers that we have flown that no longer exist. Some ceased within a year of our first flight. Still new carriers arrived to fill the void and like their predecessors disappeared. 2007 & 2008, Chalk's International Airlines, a name synonymous with out island air service, had been resurrected and started flying to the Abacos and a new fleet of leased aircraft including 50 seater jets was promised. Then by the end of the summer they ceased flying due to the loss of it's federal operating license. Island Express Airline closed their hanger doors and no longer flying. Subsequent to that we hear they only had a single leased aircraft. No wonder. Then sadly on top of that, mid July 2008, saw the long time and pretty much reliable carrier of 16 years, Vintage Props & Jets filling for bankruptcy.
As for the Vintage routing (NE & Central Fla) or loss thereof, the slack was picked up by, Island Pass, Craig Air and Air Gate. And within 8 months Island Pass was gone. About the time of their demise, Locair came on the scene with direct flights from the west coast of Florida at St. Pete. As Sarasota residents, we used then in 2010 and it was fantastic. By 2011 they were gone. Lastly, 2014 saw Regional Air disappear quite literally. Their phones their phones & E-mail just stopped being answered in both US and in the Bahamas. At the same time Sea Plane service with Tropic Ocean Air was to begin landing you directly at White Sound by the Abaco Inn at Elbow Cay. There hasn't been a second flight. Still at last check their website was still up.
In 2011 United and Continental merged resulting in the problem ridden feeder of the latter, Gulfstream, to be replaced by Silver Air. 2013 saw the merger of USAir and American with American Eagle continuing its service as usual. For those interested in those early days of out island airlines, see SunshineSkies.com
Back in the 80's. Once during a take off at the Treasure Cay Airport, the pilot abruptly aborted takeoff of the Cessna, turned around, headed back to the other end of the runway and repositioned himself for another try. Since I was sitting right behind him, I asked what happened? He simply replied, he didn't like the sound of the right engines and proceeded to take off again.
A month after 911, We flew over for a week taking advantage of the discounted rates. While at the Green Turtle Club, we befriended a Canadian couple who happened to be on our return flight. He nodded to the pilot and asked, "Aren't you the pilot that flew us over last week?" The pilot remembered him and their conversation and the fact that the Canadian fellow was also a pilot. The pilot invited him to the copilot's seat and asked if he'd like to take the stick after take off. "Absolutely he'd be happy to" was the reply.
2005 saw this one: My sister and husband were returning on Continental/Gulfstream which took them from Marsh Harbour to Ft. Lauderdale connecting to Phila. As it were, there was a delay of another Continental flight to Palm Beach which was supposed to arrive and depart prior to theirs. Well, theirs being the only Continental plane, ground crew loaded both the Lauderdale and Palm Beach baggage in the same plane. Shortly after take off, this mistake was realized and my sisters flight was called back to Marsh Harbour for the unloading of the misplaced baggage. They took off again, luckily in time to make her connection.
Also in '05 (Florida Coastal Airlines was our carrier of choice because of Sarasota being part of their route. Little did we know they wouldn't be in business the following year). On our return leg, We disembarked in Sarasota. And while I was waiting for the "one man office manager, counter clerk and porter" to cary in my bag which took all of five minutes, I realized I left my camera aboard the plane. Well in the five minutes it took to get us our bags, and because the pilot had no pickup passengers, he was already heading down the runway and back to Ft. Lauderdale. What to do? John, the one man Jack of all trades for FCA called the tower who called Norm our pilot who confirmed it was there. He left it on the seat to return to me the following day but dispatch switched planes on him and my camera took off for Stuart. Woe is me. But John tracked it down and I finally got it that evening. Imagine that kind of service from a major carrier. It's just a darn shame they are no longer in business.
Tampa stop added on Silver Air.
After a 24 year hiatus, Eastern Airlines to resume flying from South Fla.
New Plymouth - Settlement at Green Turtle Cay
Chartering sounds like it’s only for the rich and famous. For a family of six or 2 couples some with kids, not so. One charter company that deserves honorable mention, one that has been in business for 28 years, through all the comings and goings, is Air Flight Charters. They are based in Lauderdale and run by David and Lisa Donovan. They are listed below. As of spring 2014, we received a quote for a June charter in a Cessna 402 that seats 8 of $3672 (under $500 pp round trip). That's From Lauderdale to T.C. and back from Marsh allowing us to split our trip between Green Turtle and Hope Town. AND that's on your own schedule arriving and departing, allaying connection concerns. Rhere are no long custom and security lines, no lost luggage, and no hassle. It could be well worth it. IE: the plane is yours.
In a Nutshell, Abaco travel works best flying from Florida and the two US Carriers with Abaco service connecting in Florida, USAir/American Airlines flying as American Eagle / Envoy and United/Continental flying as Silver Airways. Early AM connecting flights are via Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach or Orlando. There is also a West Palm Beach - Marsh Harbour flight via Bahamas Air. One complaint that persists are connections through Nassau. Abaco bulletin boards support many reports of missed connections and or lost luggage with connections via Bahamas Air in Nassau. The good news is, 2013 saw the addition of 50 seat Jets with American Eagle shortening the hour flight to 40 minutes on the Miami - Marsh Harbour run.
Abaco, Bahamas, Air Carriers and Charters, as of February 12, 2015.
Via Marsh Harbour, (MHH) serving south Abaco, Guana Cay, Elbow and Man-O-War.
Via Treasure Cay (TCB) serving north Abaco, Green Turtle Cay & Spanish Cay.
Local Abaco and US phone numbers listed. The US area code for the Bahamas is 242.
Air Flight Charters - Via Ft. Lauderdale. 954-359-0320
Air Gate - Via Daytona. 386-478-0600
Air Unlimited - Via Orlando. 407-585-4300
American(USAir)/American Eagle/Envoy -Via MIAMI 800-433-7300 / Local 367-2231
Baer Air Charter -Via Melbourne- Mon & Fri to Marsh Harbour +Treasure Cay charter 321-956-8695
Bahama Express - Via Ft. Lauderdale. (brokered group seating) 954-356-1540
Bahamasair - Via W. Palm Beach & Nassau. US# 800-222-4262 / Local 377-8451
Cherokee Air Charters - Via MHH Local 367-3450 - US# 866-920-9971
Island Wings - via Ft. Lauderdale - US# 954-617-8804
United/ Silver Airways - via TAMPA, ORLANDO, FT. LAUDERDALE, & WEST PALM, 800-525-0280 / Local 367-3415
Craig Air - via Jacksonville (NE Fla) 904-641-0300
IJET Charters - Spring 2015 via NEW YORK and Ft. Lauderdale. 954-318-3327
Island Air Charters - via Ft. Lauderdale. 954-359-9942
Sky Bahamas -Scheduled Nassau flights & Out Islands 242-377-8993
Southern Air Charters -Stateside Via Nassau & Out Islands Local 367-2498, 323-7217
1) If you are considering going in high season, May, June, July or around Christmas and especially on weekends during those periods, book well in advance. This applies not only to airlines but boat rentals and to a lesser degree, golf cart rentals.
2) Reconfirm your flight a few weeks prior to departure to avoid any surprises.
3) Use carry on luggage if you can, in case you have to change flights in a hurry.
4) Late arrivals could cause conflicts trying to catch the last scheduled ferry to your Cay resulting in an expensive charter.
5) Get to your departing flight early. The is not to deal with lines, but to allow time for your passport number to clear with Homeland Security in the US. It’s not uncommon to hear of a passenger arriving 15 minutes before departure and not be allowed to board.
6) If you have an early AM flight, you might want to consider a day in Marsh before your leave - Rent a car and do a little Big Island exploring. The Lofty Fig and Conch Inn allow one night booking.
7) If you have a choice when changing planes in south east Florida, try to use West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami in that order. An earlier trip had us connecting through West Palm Beach. Including baggage pickup, customs and immigration, we were at the departure gate for Tampa in about 15 minutes!
8)Connections via NASSAU can often result in missed connections via Bahamas Air and increase your odds of lost or late arriving "checked" luggage.
9) One last consideration if you find yourself aboard the popular Cessna 402 - a small 8-9 seater; Weight is more critical and all passengers luggage will be weighed and checked. If the combined weight is too much, it could be possible that your bags might follow on another plane. It's happened to us.
A Bit of History
Tales of Flight
Abaco, so close yet so far. The superlatives to describe Abaco abound but getting there can often be arduous. It seems it's the dream of many a retired pilot with a few bucks and backers to start up a “little out island airline”. Some manage to stick it out for a decade, many just a couple years, one for only a couple months. The reason is quite simple. How to keep the seats full during off peak periods and still run an credible scheduled air carrier on a shoe string. Add to this, swings in the economy. Eventually many switch to becoming "Shared Charters" hoping to sell enough cheaper seats to fill a plane. That may work on weekends in season, still numerous reports were posted on the bulletin boards and the Abaconian Newspaper regarding these carriers unanswered phones, canceled flights, FAA fines for "operating aircraft in violation of its air carrier certificate" etc etc. Fall 2014 saw the below carrier list shortened by four!
Some guidelines to consider when planning your trip.