In early October, United Airlines announced changes to several routes in the Pacific region. Among the changes was suspension of the only weekly flight from Yap to Palau as of January 7, 2018. There aren’t enough passengers to warrant continuing the service. But with only three months’ warning several hundred residents of Yap, most of whom are from the Philippines, were being cut off from their only link into and out of this remote island.
An American visa is required to transit through Guam, the single remaining point of entry after the flights are terminated, and the majority of Filipinos who live and work in Yap do not have one. Entire families must return to the Philippines to apply for visas with no guarantee of receiving them. But many cannot afford to leave work, take their children out of school and pack up their belongings in case they are not given visas. For some the cost of plane tickets is prohibitive.
The Department of Education has 17 teachers and two staff members who are Filipino on three-year contracts. “United needs to hear us,” states Teresa Filepin, Yap’s Director of Education, “and FSM needs to step in and find another solution.”
Those DOE employees whose contracts are renewed can stay on Yap for the duration of their contract. However, if they have a medical emergency or need to leave for any reason during that time, there are no alternatives other than going through Guam. Without a U.S. visa, that is impossible.
The tourism industry has been heavily impacted, as well. The hotels in Yap have had dozens of cancellations. Manta Ray Resort, the largest hotel on the island, has been offering “combo packages” to divers for a Yap-Palau-Philippines itinerary. According to general manager Ruud van Baal, “With no direct flights between Yap and Palau, visitors will have layovers of up to 16 or 17 hours. We’ve had $65,000 worth of bookings cancelled since the announcement. That’s 80 to 100 visitors during our busiest season and there are pending reservations that we expect to be cancelled that will more than double that loss.”
Numie Acker, the resort’s hotel manager, adds, “And that’s just our hotel. We only have 35 rooms so we send our overflow to partner hotels on the island. Other small businesses will be hurt, too.”
Manta Ray invested $10,000 in a Facebook campaign a few hours before the suspension was announced. This is just one part of their promotional campaign that brings visitors from Germany, the Czech Republic, and other European countries. “Our goal was to double the