wind surf crew

Crew Repatriation – How Windstar Managed to Return Crew Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 12, Windstar Cruises ceased embarking guests as the COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide. By March 15, all guests had disembarked Windstar’s ships and crew stayed on board as the company worked to find places to dock or anchor our ships.

As the pandemic evolved over the next few weeks and months, it became clear the ships would be out of service longer than initially anticipated. The crew on board had been kept busy with many projects and made good use of time without guests, but now it was time to take crew home.

This proved to be a monumental challenge.

Countries closed borders, travel in and through countries became restricted, air flights are few and far between and making it even more complicated, countries have differing requirements for health screenings and approval processes. Further restrictions were enacted for ships’ crews in the U.S. that prevented them from taking any commercial flights or public transport en route home. No public planes, buses, Ubers, taxis or trains allowed. Only private modes of transportation. Similar travel restrictions and rules on quarantine varied by country.

This was a new environment for us all to navigate. It was an all-consuming project for many in the Seattle office, and the team came together to work long hours to repatriate the crew – our valued team members.

First, we reached out to other cruise lines to see if we could partner on charter flights to different countries. While it sounded smart, it didn’t work because of the problems it could cause with mixing crews from different ships and the fear of cross contamination. We knew there were no crew with COVID-19 on the Windstar ships and the air charter was unlikely to be approved.

Next, the team worked to secure charter flights out of Barbados and St. Maarten, but those fell through due to government restrictions. Back at the drawing table, the idea of consolidating homeward bound crew onto one Windstar ship and using it to help transport them home gained traction as the most viable option. Air charter bids were obtained in Lisbon and Amsterdam – two cities still allowing flights for repatriating crew. Windstar’s marine operations and safety team, and HR team did the heavy lifting on logistics around health clearances, COVID testing and the applicable government clearances needed to board crew on flights. And the plan fell into place.

On April 27, Star Pride, Wind Star and Wind Surf met up in St. Maarten to transfer crew heading home onto the Star Pride. The ship sailed for Lisbon, Portugal where it arrived on May 14. The Star Pride’s Captain, Purser, Hotel General Manager, and Doctor worked together to handle the logistics on crew health screening to gain clearance for the crew to leave the ship. Flight approvals came in on May 25, and on May 27 crew boarded a Qatar charter flight to Manila and Jakarta with stops in Athens and Doha for fuel. 250 total crew flew to their home countries – 120 Filipinos and 130 Indonesians.

Happily in their home country, but not quite yet home, arriving crew members were required to self-isolate in hotels for potentially up to 14 days to ensure they were COVID-19 free before continuing on to their homes. Windstar arranged hotels and ensured they were looked after with three meals a day. Finally, they were on their way home!

Mike Inman, George Howell, and Mary Chaussee led the Seattle team and managed the repatriation process. There were applications to file for entry and exit to countries and approvals to chase down from Ministries of Health, Homeland security, Department of Foreign Affairs, military, and civil aviation authorities. Imagine the coordination!

While coordinating the charter flights, Mike and George communicated over five time zones and a dateline. They provided updates at all hours of the night/day to ensure connections were made and people were met and transported promptly. It was a long two days. But as George said, it was even longer for the crew who were traveling during that time.

Mike says that for the Indonesian seafarers, they dealt with the Indonesian Embassy in Lisbon, our Port Agent in Portugal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Civil Aviation Authority and Immigration, and through our Port Agents in Indonesia with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Army and Ministry of Transportation. For the Filipino seafarers, they dealt with the Counsel General office in Lisbon, the same Portuguese authorities, and through our Manning Agency in the Philippines with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Civil Aviation Authority. This list is indicative of the labyrinth they navigated.

Repatriating our crew during this pandemic was a collaboration of several departments: Marine Operations, Windstar and Xanterra management, Finance, Human Resources, the team aboard Star Pride, and Guest Services Crew Travel.

Truly a joint effort.

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Diane/Stephen Zack
1 year ago

What a monumental task this was to have safely sent the Windstar crews back to their homes !
After 20 years sailing with Windstar, we have watched many grow older and mature into jobs of greater responsibity. Stephen & I are the only ones who no longer cover our grey hair! Hope to sail with you all again in the foreseeable future. God bless and stay safe, Diane & Stephen Zack

Anne Arnold
1 year ago

I was following by seeing occasional posts from crew friends! Every step of the way our prayers followed these amazing men and women who give so much to us when we travel with WindStar Cruises! OUTSTANDING support! Kudos!

Trudy stolte
1 year ago

You have an amazing crew. Thank you for taking care of them. Can’t wait to get back aboard the Wind Surf.

Morag Murray
1 year ago

Superb!! Such amazing persistence through a logistical nightmare – congratulations to all involved! 👏🥰🥳💐🤩

Janet and Rich Stanton
1 year ago

Amazing! So glad they all were able to get back home to their families. Job well done! Looking forward to meeting up with the crew on our next voyage.

Ann Roman
1 year ago

So glad the windstar family is home! They are the best!

Bob and Renee Carbone
1 year ago

While I thought of you often, I feel selfish to think that so many of you wonderful staff weren’t even home yet! Glad you finally made it, especially now that the start-up dates are delayed. Stay safe, and spend some quality time with your families.

Steve and Linda Cantrill
1 year ago

Truly a Class Act! We would have expected nothing less from Windstar. That’s one of the major reasons we keep coming back. When things don’t go as planned because of circumstances beyond their control, they do everything they can to make it right.

Ann Zitaruk
1 year ago

I was on the Wind Star in Colon when we had to depart our ship 10 days early. The professionalism, kindness and caring of the Wind Star staff was unbelievable. I knew that they had to be terrified — as how were they going to get home? I am so glad to read this and in knowing that, once again, Windstar went above and beyond for their staff (as they always do for their customers). I am currently booked on the Wind Surf for a Christmas trip and can hardly wait. Thank you for being such a quality company!

Jan Perrault
1 year ago

I’m relieved to learn that Windstar crews got home. Peg and I were crossing on the Surf in April.
We would have dealt with an extra 2 weeks in Lisbon. We want to go on a long cruise as soon as the company Gives the ok.

1 year ago

I am so happy that arrangements were able to be made for the cruise staff. The staff work so hard to make the cruises perfect for the guests, so it is nice to know that someone did what they could to make things good for them. They are the heart of the industry! Knowing that Windstar took the time and effort to do this during such a difficult time is just one reason that I will continue cruising with them. As soon as it is possible to safely cruise again, Windstar will be my choice. I have been on several… Read more »

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