57 take last flight out of Saipan


Photo shows some of the 57 passengers and companions lining up to check in at the counter of United Airlines at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport yesterday morning. It was United Airlines’ last flight between Saipan and Guam as it suspended its flights starting today, Monday, until April 30, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

A total of 57 passengers took the last United Airlines flight from Saipan to Guam yesterday morning, with the airline saying all flights will remain suspended until April 30. As the last off-island flight out of Saipan in the next 24 days, that effectively locks all CNMI residents on the islands until then.

Saipan Tribune learned that about 70 booked for the flight as the airlines’ suspension of flights starts today, Monday, to April 30, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As Saipan Tribune saw yesterday, the process at the United Airlines’ counter at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport appeared orderly. Passengers and their companions were mostly wearing hospital masks and observing social distancing.

According to Commonwealth Ports Authority board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds, United Airlines’ flight suspension is “unfortunate but necessary and critical” to the whole-of-government approach to identify, contain, and isolate the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

King-Hinds said the effort to halt all flights began last January, but there were a lot of hurdles that they needed to get through to make this happen.

“To be able to say that our air bridges are closed in a U.S. jurisdiction is testament to the governor’s and his administration’s willingness to keep the community safe,” she said.

Last week, United Airlines granted the request of Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres to suspend all its flights into and out of the CNMI from Guam effective April 6 to 30, 2020, in the wake of the then-two confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death in the quarantine center on Saipan.

A 39-year-old Japanese national, who was among the passengers yesterday, said he would have preferred to stay on Saipan but his company instructed him to leave for Narita, Japan.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he believes it’s more dangerous to stay in Japan because of the coronavirus situation there. He said he has been working as a maintenance worker in a company on Saipan for four months already.

Another passenger, Ken Kinsin, 24, said he is going to reunite with his parents in Kansas. Upon reaching Guam, Kinsin’s connecting flights will be Tokyo, then Chicago, and finally Kansas. Kinsin had just resigned from his job at McDonald’s and purchased his plane ticket only last Saturday.

U.S. Postal Services, air shipment of cargo to and from Guam, and medical evacuation transport for health emergencies will not be disrupted by the temporary suspension of the Guam/CNMI United Airlines flights.

CPA said the daily transport of mail between the CNMI and Guam is serviced by Micronesian Air Cargo.

Skymark Airlines Inc.’s last flights between Saipan and Japan was last March 25, temporarily closing the CNMI’s door to international flights. The suspension of Saipan-Narita, Narita-Saipan operation will be until May 10, 2020.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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