BRIDGETOWN — Bonnie and Bill Jennings flew to Barbados in early March.
They went to visit their daughter and son-in-law who live year round near Bridgetown on the southwest coast of the island.
The couple, who are in their 80s, planned to stay a month. But they became stranded after the coronavirus pandemic quickly shut down flights into and out of Barbados.
On March 2, after flying from Dallas to Miami, they took the next flight to Barbados. But their return flight was put on hold. And hold. And hold.
Each tentatively rescheduled flight was delayed again and again. “Every month, American Airlines would call and say, ‘You’re canceled,’” Bonnie Jennings said.
“That was really depressing for Bill and me, because we really want to go home.”
Fingers crossed, they’re now scheduled to fly out of Barbados on Monday, seven months after they landed.
For some folks, an extended stay on an island paradise might not seem such a bad thing. But Bill has developed medical problems, which will require immediate treatment upon his return to Texas.
“He kept having kidney infections really bad,” Bonnie said.
He’s getting some treatment, but he’s likely to need a more involved procedure and a specialist that isn’t available in Barbados — which is about one-fifth the population of Dallas.
Since Medicare won’t pay for health care outside the United States, the couple have had to pay for all of Bill’s medical expenses out of pocket, including one procedure that cost almost $2,000. Their daughter and son-in-law, Janna and Bob O’Donnell, have chipped in with the costs.
“He’s come to the limit of what they can do for him in Barbados,” Janna O’Donnell said of her father. “Our hope is that when we can get him home, he can get the right treatment.”
Bill, who is 88, has seen his weight drop 20 pounds to 160 on his 6-foot-2 frame.
“It’s been hard for him,” Bonnie said. “He has trouble concentrating. And his hand shakes so he has trouble eating. It’s called involuntary tremors.”
According to the State Department, Barbados has slowly begun reopening to some international flights since July. Updates on the status of flights into or out of Barbados can be found on the U.S Embassy’s website.
Before the coronavirus pandemic that began in March of 2020, the beaches of Barbados proved irresistible to tourists. The Caribbean island began slowly opening up its borders to international flights in July.(file)
American Airlines spokeswoman Nichelle Barrett said the airline follows the guidelines of each country regarding international flights.
“Barbados has very strict rules,” Barrett said.
American intends to return to Barbados with flights from and to Miami beginning Thursday, Barrett said.
The Jennings’ daughter and son-in-law have decided to accompany them to North Texas on Monday. They will all have to stay overnight in Miami because the flight from Miami to Dallas isn’t until the next day.
“If American flies, we’ll go back via Miami,” Janna O’Donnell said.
The only other option would be to fly JetBlue to New York City, where they would also have to stay overnight.
“The necessity of spending the night was one of the reasons we haven’t tried to send them home on that [New York] route before,” O’Donnell said. “Mom couldn’t handle Dad plus the luggage and getting them to and from a hotel.”
The other option — spending the night in the airport — would “pose too much danger of exposure to COVID, as well as being way too hard on them physically,” O’Donnell said.
For most of his life, Bill was a Baptist minister at churches in Ohio, Indiana and around Texas. In recent years, he had been working at Life Outreach International, a Christian relief organization founded by North Texas televangelist James Robison.
But Bill lost that job when he couldn’t make it back from Barbados in time.
Bonnie and Bill Jennings, of Arlington traveled to Barbados on American Airlines in early March to visit their daughter and son-in-law, who live there year round. The elderly couple became stranded when the coronavirus pandemic led Barbados to shut down its borders. They expect to finally get to return to North Texas next week.(Janna Jennings / Courtesy Jennings family)
The O’Donnells have four children. Two are away in college in the United States and another is working for a ministry in Florida. So there is plenty of room for her parents at her home.
“It’s been absolutely nice having them here,” Janna O’Donnell said. “I’ve considered this time with them to be a blessing.”
The O’Donnells live near the Atlantic Ocean, and Bonnie likes to spend time relaxing and contemplating the view from the patio while her husband naps nearby or plays games.
“I can see the cruise ships coming in and the beautiful clouds,” she said. “Usually I just sit out there and do puzzles or solitaire.”
As nice as it is, it’s not home.
“I have been so homesick. I just want to go home,” Bonnie said. “We’ve got a new great-grandbaby, and I haven’t gotten to see him except by video call.”