Some Advice Before Chartering an Aircraft for Travel Between Florida and The Bahamas
by "Floridacargocat"
This guideline should answer some repeatedly asked questions on the Abaco Board regarding certain aspects when it comes to flying to and from The Bahamas. It will deal with:
1.Reservation process/tickets/confirmations
2.Personal data for manifest purposes
3.Weights (passenger/luggage/other)
4.Cargo
5.Hazardous Material
6.Rates and fees
7.Boarding locations (with/without TSA screening)
8.Transfers & connections at FLL/PBI etc.
9.Required documents
10.Scheduled and non-scheduled air carriers
11.Pre-clearing at Nassau and Freeport

Part 1: Reservation process

Part 2: Personal data for manifest purposes
Any air carrier, conducting commercial flights between Florida and The Bahamas (and elsewhere) is required to submit a passenger manifest by means of established electronic communications (the so-called APIS manifest) for both outbound and inbound legs. The timing of this submission is currently (as of October 4, 2005) up to 15 minutes before departure for outbound flights (19 CFR 122.75 b(2) and 15 minutes after departure from the foreign airport for inbound flights (19 CFR 122.49 a(2)(i)), more changes can be expected over the next few months.

Data required are (as they appear in the identifying document):

Even as per the latest published rule, the home address of a US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident is not required to be entered into the upcoming new form of the passenger manifest. (However charter companies and airlines may still ask for it). For everybody else, the US contact address is required (it is a MUST), unless the passenger is in transit to another foreign destination within 8 hours of his arrival in the US.

Here is an extract from the cbp.gob website (http://cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/apis_final_rule_reqs.xml) regarding the address in the USA issue:
“Address
·CBP is required to collect address information by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.
·Address information, in the larger context of passenger information, is central to risk assessment and targeting.
Carriers should make every effort to ensure the address information they collect and submit to CBP via APIS, is identical to the U.S. destination address declared to CBP by the passenger upon application for entry (for I-94 purposes). Carriers should also make every effort to ensure the address submitted in the APIS manifest appears to be a valid address.
Below is clarification on what information should be included on the manifest for those passengers who are: (1) visiting the US; (2) joining a cruise ship; (3) picking up a rental car or; (4) those not knowing their address while in the United States:
·Visiting the U.S., and the passenger has a known address.
Example:
Street Address: 1300 Pennsylvania Ave
City: Washington
State: D.C.
ZIP Code: 20229
·Transit to a cruise ship: CBP will accept, “transit to Cruise Line and Vessel/Cruise Name” in the address field. The city of cruise embarkation should be included.
Example:
Street Address: Transit to MV Princess of the Seas
City: Miami
State: FL
ZIP Code: 99999
·Rental car pickup: CBP will accept if the first night stay is NOT known, the general itinerary of the traveler. If for example the traveler will be touring, the general itinerary city, state and zip code (if known).
Example:
Street address: Touring the Grand Canyon
City: Grand Canyon
State: AZ
ZIP Code: 99999
·Hotel: For those passengers who are destined to a hotel and do not know the street address for the hotel, CBP will accept, Hotel name (if known), City (of first night stay), State. ZIP Code should be provided if known.
Example:
Street Address: Downtown Hotel Hilton – (be as specific as possible)
City: Houston
State: Texas
ZIP Code: 99999

Currently US citizens are not required to present passports upon their return from The Bahamas. However there is a legal mandate to change this ( and a Proposed Rule has been made public)), so passports are the easiest and most accepted way of documenting a person. It is strongly recommended to have valid passports, although current US law permits the use of expired passports up to a certain time (currently 5 years).

The US Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security have recently proposed the "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" (which has not yet reached the implementation stage, but will within the next few months). U.S. Citizens and others will require a passport when returning by air or sea from the Bahamas beginning this December 31, 2006.  Please check out the www.cbp.gov website for the "official" statement of implementation.

Current US passports have a machine-readable zone (for easy swiping at the US Ports of entry. Older US passports do not have this machine-readable zone, and data have to be entered manually by the US Immigration officer. As long as they are not expired (or even within 5 years after expiry, they will be accepted. Beginning this fall 2005 or later, the new US biometric passports will be issued (with a validity of 10 years). Overall, in order to avoid any problems or denial of boarding, it is STRONGLY recommended to have valid passports, as airlines and charter companies may set their own acceptance rules.

Another important aspect is the weight of the passenger as well as the weight of the luggage (see Part 3).

Part 3: Weights (passenger/luggage/other)
Aircraft are designed to carry a specific maximum amount of weight and a specific maximum number of passengers (plus pilot). When aircraft were designed in the fifties and sixties– which are being used in commerce between Florida and The Bahamas – the average weights of males and females were far lower than today’s actual average weights. Without going into scientific studies, my rule of thumb is the following:
               - Average adult passenger                 195.63 lbs (old 175 lbs)
               -  Average carry-on baggage weight      15.72 lbs (old    10 lbs)
               -  Average checked baggage weight      28.81 lbs (old    25 lbs)
                 Total per passenger                         240.16 lbs (old  210 lbs)
Now take the ever-present workhorse of the smaller commuters and charter companies in South Florida, a Cessna 402B/C with up to 9 passenger seats installed, which has for simplicity's sake a net lift (which means weight of passengers plus luggage) of  1400 lbs (subject to the empty weight of the aircraft). Using the "old" average weights (210 lbs) you could put up to 6.6 passengers (the 0.6 could be translated into a kid's weight, so you would have 6 average adults plus 1 kid, total of 7 passengers) into this certificated 9-seater. The new average weights will results in a loading with 5.8 passengers (the 0.8 passengers could be translated into the weight of 2 kids, so you have again a total of 7 passengers).

Luggage weights can be far higher than the "average carry-on and checked luggage weight", and there are charter companies, who tell its prospective customers about weights, and do the weight & balance calculation with actual weights (and not with theoretical average weights).

BTW, Air Midwest 5481 was overloaded by about 600 lbs and the Center of Gravity was way aft and  outside the envelope. Using approved FAA procedures (contested), the aircraft was on the calculated limits). Lesson from this accident (if not already applied by the smaller air carriers): USE ONLY ACTUAL WEIGHTS.

Luggage weight is very important, especially when it comes to some heavy-weight luggage and some over-sized items like fishing rods. Coolers, filled with provisions and ice, can become more than heavy and can take up quite some space, and it is all part of the weight & balance sheet, and then they still have to be loaded and stowed in the airplane in a safe way. Fishing rods can create a problem due to their length, so it would be wise to indicate, if these rods will fir into the airplane, or if they can be adjusted in length.

The correct placement of these weights (i.e., where do the heavy-weights sit, and where do the light-weights sit) plays a major role in the proper loading of an airplane.

Once all the weights are available, the dispatcher or pilot is able to make his weight & balance sheet and determine, if the aircraft is within limits. In case it is outside limits, then something has to give way, and then comes the discussion, who or what is going to be left behind, who or what of the left-behind reaches the final destination at what time/date, and who can be contacted for a follow-up on the status of the left-behind.

It is definitely not recommended to push pilot or airplane beyond the limits (the best known example is the Aaliyah crash in Marsh Harbour). The pilot is in command, and he has to make the proper decision, weighing all the factors. The chain of events leading to above mentioned crash started a long time before the actual accident. The crash  - in the end – was the culmination of a long series of mistakes committed by quite a few people. This chain could have been interrupted by, e.g., the baggage handlers in MHH who saw and realized the situation, but the pilot let himself be pushed into a no-win situation, and everybody lost. The baggage handlers had a feeling for the situation, and they were not wrong. One US charter operator refused to take the information of the chartering party regarding weights, and did make a weighing himself, and found a more than significantly different and higher weight than originally claimed (basically double).

When asked about luggage weight, give the best possible estimate during the reservation process. A good air carrier (scheduled and non-scheduled) will weigh the luggage before the flight (as is required in its Operations Specification or Manual).

An airplane will lift off even when it is overweight. It just needs a longer runway. What happens if one of the engines quits during this critical phase of the flight or during cruise? It will come down.  It needs a longer runway in summer because the air is thinner (in layman’s terms), and then it is supposed to lift more than it is certified for? What do you expect? What did you pay for? A flight with an unknown outcome or a safe arrival at your planned destination?

Part 4: Cargo
Cargo is basically everything that is not accompanied by the owner. Very specific rules apply to cargo, and US Customs (now Customs and Border Protection CBP) enforce these rules.

Returning cargo:
As of August 2004, rules have changed significantly, and US CBP/Us Customs require an advance electronic manifest for inbound cargo. Only US Customs certificated air carriers can do this. Exceptions are unaccompanied baggage (left behind due to operational reasons, where no advance electronic manifest is required)

Another aspect of cargo going out to the islands is value, and if it can be exported at all. Only a cargo specialist will be able to give the proper answer. Rule of thumb: What ever is above a value of USD 2.500, ask the specialist on what needs to be done.
For example. Do not try to export night vision goggles out to The Bahamas. Restriction and licenses might apply.

Part 5: Hazardous Material
(Click here for an excellent summary of the regs governing hazardous material)
An innocuous questions “Can I take this golf cart battery along on my charter flight?”.. Another one is: “Can I take some air bags with me for my car in The Bahamas. The old ones are gone.”
A third example: “I have a bottle of LPG for my barbecue. Can I take it along?”
A lot of items which you buy in a retail shop are Hazardous Material. Read the label.
Under normal circumstances, they are not packed nor fit for air transportation.
Many of the smaller scheduled and non-scheduled air carriers are not certificated to carry Hazardous Material in their passenger aircraft. There are however a few HazMat certified air carriers operating in this area. It will take some telephone calls to find out who can carry HazMat and who cannot carry HazMat. Regrettably the level of training is not always up to standards, so do not be surprised, if the voice at the other end will say “I will have to inquire if we can do that”. If they can do that, than the customer has to submit these goods in a form fit for air cargo transportation, including packing, labeling and documentation. And who knows the sometimes very complicated regulations of international air cargo? Only trained personnel.
However not all hope is lost for the ladies. Their beauty cases can contain up to 70 fl. Oz of substances like hairspray aerosol, nail polish, perfume and similar flammable items, and it does not have to be marked, labeled, packed and documented. The only barrier might be the TSA screening process, wherever TSA is doing a screening. Passenger on the smaller charter aircraft are normally not subjected to this screening process, as TSA is not doing this function at the various FBO’s on Florida’s East cost.
It is very important, that during the reservation process, both sides establish, what kind of goods will go into this passenger aircraft, as national and international rules and regulations apply. Rules and regulations within the United States of America are not the same when it comes to flying these dangerous goods over to The Bahamas, as a different set of rules and regulations will apply. It will even come to a situation like this: A supplier will deliver some “consumer commodities” to the airline, and will ask the airline to fly them over to The Bahamas. The goods are packed in accordance with US regulations for Ground transportation, but not for air transportation.  Provided the airline personnel has received sufficient training they will refuse this material, as it has not been offered in accordance with international regulations, of which the US vendor may not have been informed, and has no need to comply with, as the vendor is shipping to a US address.

The basic “classic” Dangerous Goods (Hazardous Materials) are

There are many, many more items which are considered Dangerous Goods. TSA has published a fairly good list of what should not go on a passenger aircraft, but in case a passenger is not sure on can it go or not, ask a Hazardous Materials Specialist. A list of “Hidden Shipment Indicators” is attached at the end of this article.

In another link (see further down) you will be able to see which hazardous material can be flown by a “will-not-carry” operator. Whatever is not mentioned or depicted in this 9-page pamphlet cannot go on an airplane (http://ash.faa.gov/docs/HAZMATByPassenger.pdf).

Part 6: Rates and fees
Every air carrier sets its own rates, for both one-way or return trips (individual tickets or charter), subject to the authority that has been accorded by the US Department of Transportation . What should clearly be established during the reservation process, is what is included and what is not included in the offer.
In order to compare the final rate, you should know what kind of fees, surcharges, taxes are to be paid on top of the ticket or charter rate. This will allow you to compare the rates of the different companies. It comes down to:

Example: You find an attractive offer from a charter company based in Palm Beach for a flight from FLL Jet Center to MHH. This offer becomes less interesting, once you hear about the added fees which the company has to pay at the Fixed Base Operators (FBO’s) in FLL and charges back to you. Another charter company – based in FXE – makes you a slightly higher offer to fly from FXE to MHH, but does not charge the exorbitant FLL fees.

Fees:
We have:
No US Departure fees when using a charter aircraft with a max. take-off weight of 6000 lbs (Piper Aztec, AeroCommander 500)
Current (as of January 1, 2006) US Departure fees of (currently) USD 14.50 per passenger (International air Travel Facility Fee, and this one goes to the IRS) for aircraft with a max. take-off weight of > 6000 lbs (Islander, Navajo, Chieftain, Cessna 402, Cessna C208B Caravan etc.)
US Arrival fees of USD 12.00 per passenger for aircraft with max. take-off weight of 6000 lbs (USD 7.00 goes to INS, USD 5.00 goes to USDA)
US Arrival fees of USD 26.50 per passenger for aircraft with more than 6000 lbs take-off weight (of which USD 14.50 is for IRS, USD 7.00 is for INS and 5.00 is for USDA).
In an effort to recover some of the manifest transmission costs, charter companies may charge a varying amount for this effort (The new eAPIS program requires more information from outbound and inbound passengers, and changes to the passenger manifest could result in additional delays in the departure of the aircraft).
Landing/Ramp/parking fees in the USA and The Bahamas: variable from airport to airport and in function of type of aircraft
Overtime fees in The Bahamas : Not always the same amount.
Bahamas Departure Tax: The only fixed thing which you have to pay when leaving The Bahamas. It is $15 in cash (either Bahamas or US currency)
Fuel surcharges: vary from air carrier to air carrier

Part 7: Boarding locations (with & without TSA screening)

As of January 1, 2006, The Bahamas have implemented screening procedures (similar to the ones in the USA) for all air travelers (private and commercial) flying to the USA in compliance with ICAO security requirements.

Part 8: Transfer and connections at FLL and PBI
During the reservation process, the customer should be informed from where exactly the plane will leave, and where it will arrive on the way back..
In Ft. Lauderdale International you have the Terminal 4, from where most of the smaller scheduled air carriers will leave, and you have the Jet Center on the West side of the airfield (requires a shuttle or taxi from the main terminal to the Jet Center). Clearing of US Customs is either in Terminal 4 or in the Jet Center building

In Palm Beach International, you have the Main Terminal on the North side of the airfield, and the various FBO’s on the South side of the airfield (Galaxy, Signature, Jet Aviation, etc.). Clearing US Customs is either in the Main Terminal or in the US Customs general Aviation building (all charters) on the South side. There are no scheduled shuttles between the Main Terminal and US Customs on the South side.

Several Abacoboard members mentioned a very important aspect about missed connections and who pays when for what. Under normal conditions, flights leave and arrive on time, and passengers will make their connections. However, situations arise where the charter company, for one reason or the other, has to deviate from the plan (not always entirely their fault), and the passengers will not be able to make their planned connections with one of the majors/loco carriers (especially if insufficient time was foreseen). As long as the charter company has fulfilled its contractual obligation of flying the passenger from B to A (or A to B), then the charter company is not obliged to pay for any charges incurred due to a missed connection.

In the case of a scheduled commuter with no link/tie-up to a major carrier (or loco carrier), then the smaller air carrier will not assume any obligation due to missed connections. They may assist you with helpful information, or may go even beyond their contractual obligation (depends on the people on the ground, I have heard some very encouraging stories)

In the case of scheduled commuters, having a link/tie-up with a major air carrier, the situation is very different, and the first air carrier is obliged to meet standard demands (like rerouting, accommodation, ground transportation etc.) of the passenger. This is the big advantage of carriers like Continental Express, carriers linked to US Air, American Eagle etc. Another advantage is, that the smaller commuter carriers are flying out of locations / departure gates within the main terminal area (FLL/PBI).

Smaller charter carriers have boarding facilities in a different location of the airport or even at another close-by airfield. The question of shuttle availability arises. This should be settled with the smaller air carrier in order to make a smooth transfer.

Several Abacoboard members mentioned a very important aspect about missed connections and who pays when for what. Under normal conditions, flights leave and arrive on time, and passengers will make their connections. However, situations arise where the charter company, for one reason or the other, has to deviate from the plan (not always entirely their fault), and the passengers will not be able to make their planned connections with one of the majors/loco carriers (especially if insufficient time was foreseen). As long as the charter company has fulfilled its contractual obligation of flying the passenger from B to A (or A to B), then the charter company is not obliged to pay for any charges incurred due to a missed connection.
In the case of a scheduled commuter with no link/tie-up to a major carrier (or loco carrier), then the smaller air carrier will not assume any obligation due to missed connections. They may assist you with helpful information, or may go even beyond their contractual obligation (depends on the people on the ground, I have heard some very encouraging stories)

In the case of scheduled commuters, having a link/tie-up with a major air carrier, the situation is very different, and the first air carrier is obliged to meet standard demands (like rerouting, accommodation, ground transportation etc.) of the passenger. This is the big advantage of carriers like Continental Express, carriers linked to US Air, American Eagle etc. Another advantage is, that the smaller commuter carriers are flying out of locations / departure gates within the main terminal area (FLL/PBI).
Smaller charter carriers have boarding facilities in a different location of the airport or even at another close-by airfield. The question of shuttle availability arises. This should be settled with the smaller air carrier in order to make a smooth transfer.

Part 9: Required documents
US citizens: currently US citizens are allowed to return to the United States without any documents by verbally claiming that they are US citizens. This will results in some delays until the veracity of this claim is verified.A common practice is the presentation of a US birth certificate and a US Driver’s license. This will also result in some delays, and is still considered legal.

The US Government is in the process of implementing a passport requirement as part of the “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative”. The plan is that all US citizens returning from a.o. The Bahamas, must present a passport as of December 31, 2005.
Note: This has been amended to December 31, 2006.

A naturalized US citizen with a foreign birth certificate will face problems with this set of documents, especially when the birth certificate is written in a non-English language. This traveler should have at least his certificate of naturalization and a US Driver’s license. The best kind of documents in any case is a US passport.

US Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s):  The “green Card” must be presented upon entry into the USA. The Green Card cannot be expired. It is always good to have a passport on you, especially the one, where the stamp with the “adjustment of Status” is in.

US Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s):  passport and the “green Card” must be presented upon entry into the USA. The Green Card cannot be expired.

US Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s):  The “green Card” must be presented upon entry into the USA. The Green Card cannot be expired. It is always good to have a passport on you, especially the one, where the stamp with the “adjustment of Status” is in. Sometimes CBP asks for it, sometimes not. 

Non-US citizens: ask the airline or ask a US CBP officer at a port of entry. Airline personnel may not always have the latest information. I have encountered some real strange situations, and airlines may not accept a non-US citizen, unless he can present a passport and a valid visa.

Tourists from Visa-Waiver countries (I-94W visa): these are travelers, who have arrived in the USA on a flight from a signatory country on a signatory airline, and who have left for The Bahamas for a stay of less than 90 days with a stamp in their passport “good for multiple entries”. This request for multiple entries should be stated upon the initial entry into the United States. Sometimes only single-entries are accorded. These travelers can come back on a non-signatory on-demand air carrier from The Bahamas within the 90 days accorded to them by the CBP officer. Once the 90 days are gone, this tourists needs a visa from the US Embassy in Nassau for re-entry into the USA (even when it is just for a 2 hour transit to catch his plane back to Europe or elsewhere), as his 90 day I-94 W has expired. In case a tourist has an expired I-94W visa, then the only way to get back into the USA (in order to catch his/her flight to Europe, is to use one of the signatory airlines out of Freeport or Nassau, and reclaim a visa waiver (I-94W) upon arrival in the USA. A non-signatory scheduled or non-scheduled air carrier cannot be used for this purpose. In case of non-availability of the proper documents, and the airline has flown this traveler to the United States, this traveler can be denied entry, the airline has to fly him/her back, and the airline gets a “love letter” with a request for a contribution to the Government coffers of at least USD 5.000. This can become very expensive, and not every CBP officer is inclined to pardon this traveler and grant an emergency entry.

Part 10: Scheduled and non-scheduled air carriers.
Let’s make it simple. Most of the smaller air carriers in South Florida are of the non-scheduled type. They are authorized to publish a schedule for a limited amount of flights to a given destination, and individual seats can be sold on these flights. Mostly they do flights on a charter basis at times when the customer wants to go.
Scheduled air carriers are companies who do publish a schedule to a given destination with no limitations on the frequency to this destination. Scheduled air carriers are authorized to sell seats on an individual basis.

Part 11: Pre-clearance at Nassau and Freeport
Pre-clearance means, that a traveler is being inspected at a facility operated by CBP in the Bahamas, and granted entry into the United States. These facilities exist at Nassau International Airport and Freeport International Airport, and are meant to be used only by scheduled air carriers. Non-scheduled air carriers – under normal circumstances – cannot use them, unless they give an advance notice of 30 days. Once the travelers are pre-cleared they could fly to any airport in the USA, it does not have to be a Port of Entry.

Practical example: Continental Express (a scheduled airline) flies from FPO to FLL. All the passengers went through the pre-clearance in FPO, and this aircraft does not have to pull up at the international terminal (terminal 4), but can be parked at one of the domestic terminals.

Practical example: A charter aircraft from Nassau, flying to FLL, is not pre-cleared in Nassau (remember the 30 days notice), and has to go to the Jet Center, where US Customs has a General Aviation facility. All passengers and crew have to pass through this facility. The Jet Center is charging a Facility Fee of USD 2.50 per person on board the aircraft, which includes the pilot. 

Part 12: The next chapters will be on aircraft types and performance data, especially how much load can be carried

Enclosure A :HIDDEN SHIPMENT INDICATORS

Cargo and baggage offered to an air carrier under a general description may have hazards that are  not apparent.  The Hazardous Materials Table in 49 CFR Part 172 is not complete and shippers and passengers may not be aware of this.  Some of these consignments have caused incidents that could have seriously endangered the safety of the aircraft and/or its passengers. 

Air Carrier personnel should be alert to these possible hazards.  Items found containing a hazardous material need to be shipped in accordance with the 49 CFR/ICAO Technical Instructions.

(This is a compilation from FAA/DOT documents as well as IATA documents plus some of my own observations. This list is not complete.)

Note 1:  Articles which do not fall within the hazardous materials definitions of 49 CFR and which, in the event of leakage, may cause a serious cleanup problems or corrosion to aluminum on a long term basis must be checked by the shipper to at least ensure that the packaging is adequate to prevent leakage during transportation. These may include brine, powered or liquid dyes, pickled foodstuffs, etc. A classic example would be Coca Cola concentrate (highly acidic)

Note 2:  Magnetized material, as defined in 49 CFR, with a gauss reading of more than 0.00525 is forbidden for air transportation and a package with a reading of 0.00525 or less is not regulated.  The ICAO and IATA Regulations regulate magnetized material with a reading between 0.002 gauss and 0.00525 gauss, thus requiring a magnetized material label.

Note 3:
This list is not complete, as there are more hidden shipment indicators such as




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The author has been involved with the air cargo industry as an operator/investor for the past several years. He is a trained "Hazardous Material Air Cargo Specialist," and has been involved (at the invitation of the US Customs and Border Protection) in the development of the electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS). He is knowledgeable about import and export regulations and procedures pertaining to the US and Bahamas. For questions and comments, email him at floridacargocat@aol.com.