Sunrise airways, plane, Haiti, flights, Port au Prince

Overview:

While Haitians are accusing Sunrise Airways of exploiting their desperation and vulnerability by significantly increasing ticket prices, Philippe Bayard, the company's president, argues that security concerns and operational challenges are among the reasons for the price hike. The cost of a flight from Cap-Haïtien to Miami has jumped from approximately $300 to about $1000. Many Haitians say they cannot afford these ticket prices.

CAP-HAITIEN — Numerous Haitians have accused Sunrise Airways of exploiting their desperation to escape the country by significantly increasing its ticket prices for flights from Cap-Haïtien to Miami. However, Sunrise's president, Philippe Bayard, refutes the allegations, explaining that the price increase is a response to a complex set of challenges, including security concerns and operational issues.

“The recent incidents of stray bullets hitting aircraft and the subsequent suspension of airport operations due to security concerns have led to a dramatic increase in operational costs,” Bayard told Go West Now via email. “These costs include significantly heightened insurance costs, aircraft leases, crew expenses, and the need for enhanced security measures.”

Since Sunrise Airways resumed its operations on March 25, the average ticket price for a flight from Cap-Haïtien to Miami has surged by over 300%, soaring from $300 to nearly $1000.

A gunfire incident, orchestrated by gangs in Port-au-Prince on February 29, which struck a plane departing for Cuba, led all airlines to cancel flights in Haiti. Sunrise Airways is the only commercial airline that has resumed operations since then, but it is only offering international flights to and from Cap-Haïtien. The suspension of operations at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince and being the only airline offering U.S.-bound tickets in Haiti led to additional expenses, hence the price increase for their tickets, according to Bayard.

Airport, Cap-haitien, sunrise,
Sunrise Airways resumed operations in Cap-Haïtien on March 25, 2024 after canceling all of its flights in Haiti due to safety concerns. Photo by Onz Chery for Go West Now

“The interruption of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport operations, has forced the company to incur additional expenses for rerouting flights and managing logistical hurdles,” Bayard said. “These operational challenges have substantially driven up costs, which are reflected in ticket prices.”

With Sunrise Airways currently the only airline operating international flights to and from Haiti, “it’s a winner takes all game,” some observers say. Other major airlines have either set tentative dates for resuming operations or have not yet announced any plans.

For instance, American Airlines has suspended its daily service until at least Wednesday, April 17. JetBlue Airways has extended its flight cancellations through at least Wednesday, May 15. Spirit Airlines has suspended flights to both Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien airports indefinitely.

Ticket prices hike nearly impossible for some Haitian travelers

For Haitians, these ticket prices are nearly impossible to pay. Some of those trying to flee Haiti are part of the humanitarian parole program (I-134A), known as the Biden Program. Most of them cannot afford Sunrise’s tickets even if approved.

With an average annual income of $USD 1,610, most Haitians find it extremely difficult to afford plane tickets. Often, it's the beneficiaries' sponsors or other relatives in the U.S. who bear the cost of these tickets. However, in some cases, even the diaspora may not have the financial capacity to do so, as is the case for John-Wilken Noel, should he be approved.

Noel, a 5th-grade teacher, considers it “nearly impossible” to move to the United States since he cannot afford Sunrise's tickets. Even if Noel gets approved for the parole program, his aunt, who filed for him, would not be able to afford it either, as she recently paid about $3,770 for his father's funeral.

“We're in a precarious situation [in Haiti], and our only hope has been taken away by an airline,” said 30-year-old Noel. “Given everything that's happening in the country, why would an airline choose to make things even more difficult for people, rather than providing some relief by enabling a group to leave?”

Noel, a resident of Pignon, a community located approximately 36 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, primarily wishes to relocate to the U.S. to better support his 10 siblings, especially in the wake of his parents' deaths. Earning a monthly income of 11,000 gourdes, about $83, Noel's prospects of getting approved for the move were already slim. Now, with the ticket price hike, he feels even more pessimistic about his chances of moving to the U.S.

The price hike also affects people outside of the I-134A program, such as diasporas wanting to visit Haiti, or Haitians who want to travel back to the U.S.

Economist Anglade Boaz argues that it is normal for Sunrise to raise its price since it is acting according to the law of supply and demand. “The law states that when demand exceeds supply, businesses should raise their prices,” he explains.

However, many Haitians, like Noel, are imploring Sunrise to decrease its price. Non I-134A applicants are also hoping Sunrise decreases its Cap-Haïtien to Miami ticket price given that Haiti is going through multiple crises and residents are in desperate need of a way out.

“Give the people a chance to breathe,” Noel said, hoping Sunrise Airways will cut its ticket price down.

“It's strange, even bizarre. The country is already in crisis; I thought they would have provided some relief to the people,” said Tedson Massion, a guitarist based in Cap-Haïtien. “This is sad.”

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Onz Chery is a Haiti correspondent for Go West Now. Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He later wrote for First Touch, local soccer leagues in New York and Elite Sports New York before joining Go West Now in 2019.

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