Being home for the holidays is a feeling like no other. For Paul Puckerin, there was a point when he felt like that emotion would pass him by this year.
However, on Sunday, 20 Dec., Puckerin and 49 other passengers boarded a special Cayman Airways charter flight to Barbados, allowing them to spend the yuletide season with relatives.
“Earlier, when the first charter got postponed, I felt that hopefully it would go for Christmas, and by then I knew that more persons would have been prepared to travel for Christmas. So I was always positive that it will happen,” he told the Cayman Compass via video call on Tuesday, 22 Dec.
Puckerin, a training coordinator with Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman, said the feeling of touching down at the Grantley Adams International Airport was extra special this time, given all that had transpired in 2020.
“It’s an exciting feeling,” he said. “I know my family is even more excited that I’m back home for Christmas, because they were not anticipating that I was returning home for Christmas. They thought I will be home next year when I’m celebrating my 50th birthday.”
He said seeing the reaction from his family when he arrived was “heartwarming”.
He said when he got confirmation of the flight, he hit the ground running to put everything in place to make the trip.
“I was, like, when do we need to do the [PCR] test? What is the baggage allowance? Because I need to carry stuff home. I was just moving with the moving pieces, and then arriving at the airport. I thought it was even smoother than I thought. I really have to commend the Cayman government for the strict protocols that are in there to ensure safety,” he said.
Mary-Ann Chase, her son Alexander, together with Tevin Taylor, also made the trip to Barbados.
Some of the passengers on the flight also went on to Trinidad and Tobago.
Juliette Gooding, honorary consul to Barbados, said the timing of the flight could not have been better, as Cayman was initially on the high-risk list in Barbados.
“Halfway through the planning and booking phase, Barbados moved Cayman to high-risk status, which meant quarantine for arriving passengers, regardless of the fact they were flying direct. I wrote to the Ministry of Health in Barbados, presenting a case why Cayman should not be on the high-risk list. I cannot say that that letter had any impact but on arrival in Barbados passengers received an early Christmas present – Cayman was taken off high risk and so there was no longer a need for quarantine at a government facility,” Gooding said, in an emailed response to Compass queries.
Puckerin said passengers were delighted when they got the news at the airport.
“We are still required to take the second test and monitor our temperatures and follow the protocols as expected,” he said. “But I thought it really worked out well as a good Christmas gift not having to quarantine and have to go through that process.”
Gooding said she was happy that the flight took off without a hitch and, while she could not make the trip herself, the response from the families that could was satisfying.
“Passengers told me they were overwhelmed with emotion when the aircraft touched down and when they got the news that they could go and see their families immediately. Some openly cried tears of joy. This could not have happened without the help of Cayman Airways and its staff, who bent over backward to walk me through the things I needed to do to get the charter off the ground,” she said.
Kimberley Griffith, who also returned to her family home in St. Michael, Barbados, could not contain her joy.
“My Christmases have been traditionally spent with close friends and relatives, so after a particularly difficult year, I was thrilled that the tradition would not be broken,” she said via email.
Griffith said touching down in Barbados was quite emotional.
“I have never gone this long without visiting home and it felt amazing to be able to reconnect again. I tried to return earlier this year when my grandmother passed away in June. It was just not possible to travel and return at the time, especially with the requirement for a connecting flight,” she said.
Griffith said she was thankful for the opportunity to have a direct flight home this Christmas.
Gooding said the charter arose from the need of some Barbadians, who were no longer employed, to go home rather that stay in Cayman to be dependent on the government.
“That was not something they wished to do,” she said.
“It was also born from the fact that several Barbadians longed to go home to visit relatives and some had lost loved ones and could not attend funerals or other family events. It was a mental and emotional strain on everyone,” Gooding said.
When the flight returned to Cayman Sunday evening, 20 Dec., approximately 70 returning residents, including children, were on board.
“My deepest satisfaction is entirely just to be able to facilitate this means of getting them home to be with family at Christmas,” she said. “My deepest sadness and regret – there are two – that some persons who should have been on the flight did not make it as I felt their grief once this was known and, two, that I did not go to Barbados.”