Direct, nonstop flights between St. Croix and the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, which ceased nearly two weeks ago, will resume around the end of the month, to the relief of the big island's many residents with family there.
Vieques Air Link, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines all very recently ceased nonstop service between the two islands, because the route was losing money. As a result, travelers between St. Croix and Vieques would have to travel first to San Juan. But changes in the market – and calls from Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and the V.I. Department of Tourism – helped persuade two of the companies to tentatively resume service for now.
Whether service will continue depends on how marketing efforts work out, according to officials with Cape Air and Seaborne – the two companies resuming flights.
Hansen interrupted a Senate hearing Wednesday for an extensive public relations announcement from the floor of the legislative conference room in Frederiksted to announce her office had contacted the two airlines – and taking credit for the resumption in flights.
Hansen broadcast a conference call with Cape Air President Andrew Bonney and Seaborne Airlines President Omer ErSelcuk over the media system, in which the two airline heads announced the resumption.
ErSelcuk said Seaborne Airlines was retuning flight service to and from Vieques as early as May 31, and tickets would be available for purchase online and by phone starting today. ErSelcuk explained that Seaborne will offer these flights on Thursdays and Sundays – departing from St. Croix at 12:30 p.m. and arriving in Vieques at 1 p.m., and departing from Vieques at 2:40 p.m. and arriving on St. Croix at 3:10 p.m.
Bonney said Cape Air would be offering daily flights between St. Croix and Vieques most likely beginning on July 1. The daily flights would depart St. Croix at 10:15 a.m. and arrive in Vieques at 10:39 a.m. and then depart Vieques at 11 a.m. and arrive on St. Croix at 11:25 a.m.
All flights will be established before the Vieques’ annual carnival known as Las Fiesta Patronales, July 11-17, according to Hansen's office.
Reached afterwards, both Bonney and ErSelcuk said calls from Hansen's office and talks with V.I. Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, along with changes in the market, influenced their decision to resume flights.
About a year ago, Cape Air decided to tentatively try seasonal nonstop flights to Vieques, with a preplanned exit date, Bonney said, when reached by phone Thursday.
"It was a little disappointing on the revenue side, so we made an affirmative decision not to extend," he said. But with Vieques Air Link and Seaborne ceasing service, "all of a sudden we saw our regular income go up," Bonney said.
"So after conversations with Commissioner Doty and Sen. Hansen, we now have a go recommendation for nonstop service between Vieques and St. Croix," he said.
Cape Air will be "monitoring the competitive landscape very carefully," and will decide whether to continue, expand or decrease nonstop flights, depending on the success of marketing efforts, and the ability to make money on the route, Bonney said.
Seaborne "temporarily suspended the service as a cost-cutting measure with the plan to reinstate flights this fall," ErSelcuk told the Source in an email, saying Hansen's office had contacted them about resuming flights.
"If flights prove successful, more service will be added, ErSelcuk said, noting that Hanson's office is working with them to promote the new service.
Hansen said in a statement, “The returned flight service between St. Croix and Vieques is something we must have to foster our tourism. We should all be relieved that they are available again,”