Sweeper flight transports 51 stranded foreign tourists

09 May 2020


LAGUINDINGAN, MISAMIS ORIENTAL- 51 stranded foreign tourists coming from different provinces of Northern Mindanao were transported to Manila and onward to their home countries through a sweeper flight that was organized by the American Embassy and Philippine Airlines (PAL) and coordinated by the Department of Tourism-Region 10.

The foreign tourists were composed of 33 Americans, 6 British, 4 Koreans, 2 Japanese, 2 Irish, 1 Chinese, 1 Canadian, 1 Taiwanese, and 1 French national. The PAL Airbus a321 plane carrying the tourists left Laguindingan airport at 12:15 PM headed to Tacloban. The tourists will then be boarding a connecting flight to Manila at 4 PM and will continue on to their onward homebound flights.

Consistent to its travel safety protocols, the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and PAL strictly imposed their requirements before allowing the passengers to purchase a ticket. These requirements were:

  1. A foreign passport;

  2. A Health Certificate stating that they do not bear symptoms related to COVID-19 and are fit to travel signed by the City or Municipal Health Officer;

  3. Confirmed onward flight ticket to their home country; and

  4. A hotel booking in Manila if their international flight is not in the same day as the sweeper flight.

As per instruction by the American Embassy, the sweeper flight prioritized stranded American nationals in Mindanao. After all the Americans have booked, the booking was also opened by PAL to foreigners of nationalities who had onward tickets to their home country.

The tourists were transported to Laguindingan airport from Cagayan de Oro city with the close coordination between the DOT-10, the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the local government units of Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro, and Laguindingan.

The sweeper flight was also made possible with the assistance of the Department of Health – Region 10 (DOH 10), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Department of Foreign Affairs – Region 10 (DFA-10), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and members of the private sector such as PAL, New Dawn Hotel and Red Planet Hotel.

Nineteen-year-old American Calista Gantz is a missionary who had been staying in Mindanao for four months when the COVID-19 broke out. She shared that she was very scared when she heard that the international flights were all canceled as she was looking forward to go home. “This is my second time in the Philippines and this time I volunteered in a Mission’s safehouse for girls who have been I abusive homes. I planned to stay for four months. At the last part of my trip, everything about the Coronavirus got crazy and I was getting worried about getting home on time because I planned on coming home May 10 th . Then I heard that all the flights got cancelled until the 15th and I got really sad and I don’t even know when I’m gonna come home anymore. All of a sudden there was a sweeper flight and that gave me a lot more hope for coming home. I’m sad to leave the Philippines but I’m totally excited to see my family again.” she said.

Department of Tourism-Region 10 Director Marie Elaine Unchuan is very happy for all the support that the DOT-10 has been receiving for the sweeper flights since it started last March. “We’re doing the sweeper flights because we really want to bring all these stranded tourists home, this is the main goal. The DOT is giving our full support for our stranded tourists to make sure that there’s a seamless transition to their travel home,” she said.

As of May 9, DOT-10 has coordinated nine sweeper flight operations and has repatriated a total of 531 tourists.