I Spent Just 15 Minutes in The Bahamas Saturday, Here’s Why
The island of San Salvador is one of the easternmost Bahaman islands. San Salvador is home to just over 900 full-time residents located almost entirely in the village of Cockburn Town. The island is just 63-square miles and features just one main highway. The island’s economy relies entirely on one sector: tourism.
Tourism is the one and only economic sector on the island. Even then, tourism is relatively small compared to other Bahaman Islands. San Salvador features just four hotels or resorts, notably a Club Med resort. Though small, the island boasts some of the most beautiful natural attractions in The Bahamas. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single one of those attractions nor did I soak up the sun at one of the island’s four resorts. During my visit to the island of San Salvador, I spent just 15 minutes on the island. Here’s my experience.
Background: The Tiny San Salvador International Airport (ZSA)
San Salvador Island is served by San Salvador International Airport (ZSA). The airport features a single runway measuring 7,999 feet. Given the size and exclusivity of the island, there are very few flights in and out of San Salvador. Currently, the only two airlines offering scheduled commercial service are American Airlines and Bahamasair. Though just two airlines operate regularly scheduled service, Club Med Resorts and other travel agencies operate sporadic charters to and from the island.
American Airlines operates just one weekly flight from its Miami International Airport hub. Flight 2395 departs from Miami International Airport on Saturdays at 12:30 PM and arrives on the island at 2:01 PM. That same flight departs San Salvador Airport at 2:56 PM and arrives back in Miami at 4:41 PM. The flight is operated by an Airbus a319-119 with 128 seats, 8 in business class and 120 in the main cabin. I flew both legs of American Airlines flight 2395 last Saturday.
I wasn’t even aware that San Salvador Island existed until Saturday morning as I thumbed through the American Way magazine on my flight from Toronto to Miami.
As I always do, I looked over American’s route network in the back of the in-flight magazine and noticed the small island on the far right of the map. I used the in-flight wi-fi (which worked very well) and Googled the island. Not having to be back home until Sunday evening, I decided to take American Airlines flight 2395 to and from the small island.
Spending 15 Minutes in The Bahamas
After arriving from Toronto, I spent some time in the American Express Centurion Lounge in Miami (which is an absolute mess at the moment) until my flight to San Salvador Island was scheduled to board at 12:00 PM. I made my way to the gate around 11:45 AM, checked in with the agent to show my documents and boarded on time.
The flight was uneventful though enjoyable. After a beautiful climb out of Miami, the aircraft leveled off at 30,000 feet and cruised high above the Bahaman Islands. Just 35 minutes after takeoff, the aircraft began to descend for San Salvador International Airport.
The Only Issue, Would I Make It Home?
Throughout the first flight, and while I waited in the Centurion Lounge, it occurred to me that there was a real possibility I wouldn’t make the return portion of my flight. The flight from Miami would land a little before 2, I would disembark around 2, and make my way to customs at around 2:05 PM. At the time, I had no idea what customs would consist of at the small island airport. There was a high likelihood that I would have to wait for up to an hour as documents were checked. There was also a small chance that The Bahaman authorities might want to look further into my travels given the odd nature of my itinerary.
Luckily, the flight from Miami arrived early and I was able to sit in the first row of coach on arrival meaning I could get off the aircraft within seconds of the door opening. When the door opened, I grabbed my bags and made my way to the terminal.
I could tell the second I stepped off the aircraft that this short visit was going to be one to remember. The gate agents were already back at the terminal and trusted a plane full of almost 60 passengers to make their way to the terminal by themselves. After a brisk two minute jog to the terminal in insanely windy weather, I entered what resembled a small suburban ranch.
The immigration hall consisted of a single desk with two agents. I lined up behind two business class passengers and eagerly waited while the customs agents slowly opened up the immigration hall. An American Airlines agent took my passport and arrival form and asked some questions about my stay. I quickly informed her that I was headed back to Miami on the return flight. She laughed and said, “Oh, you’re that guy, come on sweetie, I’ll get you on now.”
The agent grabbed motion towards the customs desk. The business class passengers were held back a moment as I was brought to the front of the line. The agent quickly threw my passport at an immigration officer and said, “Stamp his passport and let him go, he’s headed back to Miami.” The agent looked up and chuckled. He responded, “Why? Don’t you want to stay in The Bahamas.” I explained why I was headed back as he stamped my passport and continued to chuckle at the absurdity of my trip.
I followed the American Airlines gate agent a few steps passed the desk. She turned to me and said, “Now go through customs.” I looked at her and said, “Where’s that?” She pointed to a black rope draped in the center of the narrow hallway and responded, “On the other side of the rope.” I went under the rope and walked up to a table where an officer stood waiting to search my bags. The American Airlines agent barked at the officer and said, “He’s going back to Miami, let him go.” The officer waved me on.
I exited the terminal where I was escorted back into the “Departures Hall” by the American Airlines agent. I bypassed the comical ticketing counter and was given a VIP escort through airport security. Security consisted of an ancient looking x-ray machine connected to one of those computer monitors with a massive tube mounted to the back. The screening area also consisted of a fairly modern metal detector and one of those machines that tests for explosives and residue. I removed my liquids, laptop, and shoes and stepped through the metal detector.
I was waived on to the gate, which was just ten steps away from security and approached the counter. I was handed my return boarding pass and waived on the plane before anyone else.
I took my seat and was greeted by the same crew. They laughed at my crazy itinerary and made some small talk. The return flight departed on-time though we did encounter some weight and balance issues due to the extreme winds and somewhat short runway. After a bumpy climb, we turned left towards South Florida.
A Slight Hiccup, US Immigration Officer Skeptical of My Travels
I used the US Customs and Border Control Mobile Passport application and proceeded to the dedicated line for mobile passport users. The airport’s mobile passport systems were actually down and the only document agents were checking were passports.
I walked up to the immigration officer who looked especially exhausted. I handed her my passport. She flipped through a few pages and began asking me a few questions. “Where are you coming from?” I responded, “San Salvador, The Bahamas.” She looked up at me and said, “I don’t think that exists. Do you mean San Salvador, El Salvador? There’s one in Honduras. I’ve never heard of a San Salvador in The Bahamas.” I went on to explain some details about the island and chuckled telling the agent that I too had just learned about the island.
She asked me how long I was out of the country and I responded. “I was gone for maybe an hour and a half.” She looked up dumbfounded. I went on to explain that I wanted to take the round-trip flight and that I’m a travel blogger. I noted that it was certainly odd but it was all for the experience. She looked at me, handed me my passport, and let out a sigh.
After my two minute interaction with the immigration officer, I was back in the United States and made my way to the Element Hotel Miami International Airport.
Overall: 15 Minutes in The Bahamas
Though I wasn’t booked in business class and service consisted of pretzels and soft drinks, I enjoyed this flight more than some of my transcontinental and international flights in business class. It’s exciting to experience something new like visiting another country for 15 minutes and receiving VIP escorts through tiny airports. The one aspect that made this trip so enjoyable was the light-hearted and welcoming nature of every government agent and American Airlines crew. For once, I wasn’t given any trouble for doing what I love most, flying.
Have you ever taken a crazy trip like this? Are you surprised that I didn’t receive any trouble at either airports?