Flying to the Bargain Island
While the end of last year showed a slump in flights coming to Roatan, this spring looks quite different. Airlines are falling over each other to connect booming Roatan with other regional and US destinations. In a worldwide recession, when money is scarce, Honduras is seen as a bargain tourist destination and airline companies are taking notice.
In December 2008, Atlantic Airlines in Honduras went bankrupt and TACA suspended their Roatan connections with Miami. Things didn’t look good for passengers trying to fly to the Bay Islands. One hundred Cayman Islanders were stranded in La Ceiba when Atlantic discontinued its La Ceiba to Grand Cayman flights. The bankrupt airline left dozens of employees unpaid and passengers holding worthless ticket vouchers.
Since then things have improved quite a bit. Connections from Roatan to the US are varied and frequent, with the notable exception being Miami. TACA flew its last international flights between Roatan, Miami and El Salvador in December 2008. For the first time in seven years Roatan is without a direct connection to Miami, a major hub for Central America.
Delta continues to offer two weekend flights between Atlanta and Roatan. Continental also helps to fill the gap left by TACA with its five flights to Houston and one to Newark, operating once on Thursday, Friday, Sunday and three times on Saturday. According to Roatan Airport manager Shawna Ebanks, Spirit Airways, currently operating between Ft. Lauderdale and San Pedro Sula, is not likely to expand its operations with a Fort Lauderdale to Roatan route.
Sky Service Airline has permanently settled on its direct Toronto to Roatan route on Fridays. West Jet also operates a charter flight between Toronto and La Ceiba once a week.
Flying from Roatan directly to Europe is becoming more of an option. Blue Panorama charter continues to shuttle Italian holidaymakers between Milan in Italy and Roatan. Another flight from Italy’s capital Rome is being contemplated for later this year. In May, Libero Jet, a Spanish charter airline, is scheduled to begin direct flights between Roatan and Madrid on Tuesdays.
Regionally, Cayman Airways is in the process of acquiring a license for a direct flight between Cayman Islands and either Roatan or La Ceiba. Mayan Air should begin a connection between Placencia, Belize and Roatan on Mondays and Fridays in April. The Belize hub should offer Roatanians connections with Miami and even Europe and diversify the tourist connections across the region.
Improvements are even happening with national connections between Roatan and mainland Honduras. Direct flights between Roatan and San Pedro Sula as well as Tegucigalpa are in the works.
Rollins Air, which flew in the Bay Islands in the 1990s, has been resurrected and is flying a Russian Yak plane between La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa. Rollins Air has flown a couple of charter flights to Roatan already. Central American Airways (CAA) already has a lucrative monopoly on the business route from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa and is looking to purchase another plane that will allow it to service the Bay Islands.
According to Ms Ebanks an obstacle for airlines in accurately assessing the potential of the Roatan market is that the absence of accurate numbers of hotel rooms available on the island. According to Jorge Marinakis, president of the National Chamber of Commerce, American Airlines awaits construction of a 100-bed hospital on Roatan before they will consider coming to Roatan. [/private]