- Holland America plans to disembark around 1,160 passengers from its stranded MS Zaandam and MS Rotterdam cruise ships today.
- According to the cruise line's published plan of action, which was approved by Florida officials Thursday , those guests will be shuttled from Port Everglades to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport via bus.
- The mask-wearing passengers are scheduled to board charter flights to Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris, and London.
- Passengers still showing signs of illness will remain onboard the ships.
- Four passengers have died on the Zaandam after an outbreak of respiratory illness sickened at least 250 people.
- Nine passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.
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More than 1,100 stranded Holland America cruise passengers are scheduled to begin their journeys home today and early Saturday, after nearly two weeks stranded at sea with escalating numbers of coronavirus cases on board.
The cruise line has booked charter flights to Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris, Frankfurt, and London, which are set to takeoff from Fort Lauderdale between 10:30 a.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday.
The total number of passengers earmarked to fly by Holland America in the plan was 1,164.
On Thursday, Florida officials approved of Holland America's formal disembarkation plan, and permitted the MS Zaandam and the MS Rotterdam to dock at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades and begin allowing guests off the ship.
It brought a conclusion to a distressing saga which had seen both ships floating off the Florida coast for days as local officials wrestled with how to resolve the brewing humanitarian crisis onboard without opening the state up to more infections.
According to Holland America's plan, the cruise line should have begun sending "fit to travel" passengers residing in Florida home via car yesterday.
The plan also outlined the cruise line's plan for getting healthy guests who do not live in Florida home. The scheduled flights represent a major step for passengers, who became trapped at sea after the coronavirus pandemic saw ports across South America and Central America close to cruise traffic.
The Zaandam cruise started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, and was slated to end in San Antonio, Chile, on March 21.
Some passengers, however, had booked back-to-back cruises and were due to sail from San Antonio to Fort Lauderdale, for an April 7 arrival. After passengers and crew onboard the Zaandam began falling ill, the Rotterdam was dispatched to provide medical aid and take on healthy passengers.
According to a statement from Holland America, 250 guests and crew members 90 guests on the Zaandam and 17 guests on the Rotterdam, as well as 143 crew members on the Zaandam have fallen ill with flu-like symptoms since March 22. Four passengers have died, and nine people have tested positive for COVID-19.
This morning, healthy passengers in need of a flight home are scheduled to begin boarding Academy buses with their luggage.
Each passenger will don a protective face mask, and buses will hold up to 26 passengers. The cruise line's plan said that "social distancing practices" will be "in force" on the bus rides, which will be escorted to the airport by the Broward Sheriff's Office. Between runs, ABC Cleaners will sanitize the buses.
At the airport, guests will disembark the buses on the tarmac. Holland America has booked charter flights with private jet chartering company Volanteus, using the carrier Eastern Air Lines.
Guests' checked luggage was previously collected on the ships by only well crew members, the plan said, and then sprayed down with disinfectant.
After undergoing a second disinfectant spray-down in the Port Everglades terminal from ABC Cleaners, the luggage was slated to be checked by Customs. The bags were then set to be put on trucks and delivered to the airport by a company called Safeguard America, Inc.
A timetable for passengers flying out of Fort Lauderdale
The first batch of guests is due to leave the ships at 8 a.m. and the last is scheduled to fly out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at 1 a.m. on Saturday.
Holland America's plan noted that the time table for its charter flights out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport could change.
Guests cleared to travel to Toronto Pearson International Airport are scheduled to disembark from the ships at 8 a.m.
Holland America estimated that 243 passengers would be on the charter flight flight number EAL212. The buses carrying Canada-bound passengers are supposed to depart for the airport at 9 a.m. The charter flight to Toronto is slated to leave at 10:30 a.m. Non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale to Toronto usually last around three hours.
Passengers given the okay to fly to the HartsfieldJackson Atlanta International Airport are scheduled to leave the ships at 9:30 a.m. Holland America estimated that 199 passengers would be on the charter flight, flight number EAL209. According to Holland America's plan, the buses will depart for the airport at 10:30 a.m.
The charter flight to Atlanta will depart at noon. Google Maps has non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta lasting around an hour and 40 minutes.
The 236 or so guests cleared to travel to San Francisco International Airport are supposed to leave the ships at 11 a.m. The buses bearing California-bound travelers are slated to depart for the airport at noon and drop guests off on the airport tarmac at 12:30 p.m. The charter flight EAL267 will depart at 1:30 p.m. Non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco last around six and a half hours.
At 3:30 p.m., the 260 or so guests permitted to journey to Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport and then Frankfurt Airport are slated to exit the ships. The buses full of Europe-bound passengers will depart for the airport at 4:30 p.m., according to Holland America's plan. The charter flight EVE7603 is scheduled to depart at 6 p.m. Flights from Fort Lauderdale to Paris usually last around 12 hours. The journey from Paris to Frankfurt by air takes an hour and 10 minutes.
The last group of passengers departing the Holland America ships in Port Everglades will be heading to London's Heathrow Airport.
At 10:30 p.m., guests allowed to fly to Heathrow are scheduled to disembark the ship. Holland America estimated that 226 passengers would be on the charter flight, number PVG6886. The buses full of passengers bound for London are slated to depart for the airport at 11:30 p.m. and drop guests off on the airport tarmac at midnight. The charter flight will depart at 1 a.m. on Saturday April 4. Non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale to London usually take around 11 and a half hours.
In its approved plan, Holland America included information on what will be done for any guests "whose home countries will not accept inbound citizens."
"These guests will be flown on the Atlanta or San Francisco charter flights on Friday," the document said.
Holland America will also request that Port Everglades authorities allow both the Zaandam and the Rotterdam to "stay in the respective or nearby berths" until the afternoon of Saturday.
In its plan Holland America said 1,211 people in total were fit for travel.
Around 14 passengers have been medically evacuated to local Florida hospitals for "severe illness and critical care needs." Any guests experiencing "mild illness" will remain on the ships in isolation.
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SEE ALSO: Florida authorities clear stranded Holland America ships Zaandam and Rotterdam for arrival in Port Everglades, and the cruise line expects its 'fit-for-travel' guests to be off the ship by Friday night