By Joey Francilus
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — Hundreds of thousands of Haitian Diaspora members in the United States now have access to more airline travel choices between Haiti and South Florida.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise pulled out all the stops Thursday, April 12 to inaugurate a new passenger Spirit Airlines flight route between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Cap-Haitien International Airport.
“Travel to Cap-Haitien has been limited to one carrier, not lending itself to competition or choice,” said Spirit Airlines spokesman Derek Dombrowski. Until recently, American Airlines was the only carrier that served Cap-Haitien. “By investing in Haiti, we are giving options to the country and Haitian community here in South Florida.”
Cap-Haitien served as the capital of the French colony of Saint-Domingue, the predecessor to modern Haiti, from 1711 until 1770. The capital of Saint-Domingue was moved to Port-au-Prince on the Gulf of Gonave in 1770 and has since remained the capital after black African slaves, who revolted against French colonizers in the 1790s, forcefully obtained their freedom and declared independence from France on New Year’s Day, 1804.
Stateside members of Haiti’s Diaspora expressed excitement at the increased number of options to travel to another Haitian city outside of its cosmopolitan hub in the capital city.
South Floridian Rodna Lougeune, 29, praised the new offering, as members of the flight crew at Fort Lauderdale prepared to taxi on the runway for a southeastward-bound takeoff.
“Boarding went smooth, everybody got here on-time,” she said.
“I used Spirit many times to go to Port-au-Prince, and it’s very hectic. This new service will serve Cap-Haitien better, and it’s right across the street from me, so I don’t have to go to Miami Airport,” said Lougeune, a Broward County resident.
In the air, as the plane descended over a lush, green mountainous countryside in the country’s northwestern tip in the Nord arrondissement toward Cap-Haitien, Haitian-American businessman Jude Lherisson, 56, thanked Spirit Airlines for not only the new service, but for increasing economic market competition in a city where one airline operated a monopoly.
“American Airlines is somewhat behind because American’s price is $500 all of the time,” Lherisson said, remarking of American Airlines service from Miami International Airport to Cap-Haitien.
“For this price [on Spirit Airlines, one-way], I paid $211. And also, this service is a way for people to see Cap-Haitien. Sometimes, people don’t always want to go to Port-au-Prince. The Citadelle is very close, so maybe people will want to go there more often.”
One of Cap-Haitien’s main tourist attractions is the Citadelle Laferriere, a castle that was built atop a mountain a few miles south of the city-center by independent Haiti’s first ruler, Henri Christophe, in the first two decades of the 19th century.
The plane landed just after 10:30 a.m. and was greeted on the tarmac with a water salute on either side by uniformed airport firefighters. As passengers descended onto the runway and headed toward the small airport building and its tight Haitian customs and border security apparatus, Haitian national guardsman and women with floorlength dresses and headwraps donned in the flag’s colors, cheered on the arrival of the inaugural flight service.
An hour later, the plane’s crew prepared for departure, but not before the arrival of special guests: Haitian President Jovenel Moise and his wife Martine Marie Etienne Joseph.
Moise and his wife were on board not just to welcome the new service, but to travel to South Florida en-route to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, that began Friday and ended Saturday. Moise was joined there by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, among other Western Hemisphere dignitaries and heads of state.
The Haitian president praised the arrival of Spirit Airlines to Cap-Haitien, saying that residents of the Nord arrondissement will now have greater opportunities to travel to the states.
“The 300,000 Haitians that live in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, a lot of them are from the north,” PMoise told Miami’s Fox station WSVN on board the flight to South Florida. “Those people, they have the biggest opportunity to come directly.”
Spirit Airlines will fly between Fort Lauderdale and Cap-Haitien three times a week. Expanded service is possible, based on the popularity of the new route.