Fears over the coronavirus have led Stuart-based Southeast Florida Honor Flight to announce Sunday that it is cancelling its two spring flights from Palm Beach International Airport that treat war veterans to visit memorials in Washington, D.C.
“This was difficult for us, knowing that for a lot of these veterans, their clock is ticking and they’ve been waiting to go for so long,” says Kathy Sreenan, spokeswoman for the Southeast Florida group.
“A lot of them even say that: ’I don’t know if I’ll even make it to the next one,” she adds. “But their health and welfare comes first.”
Honor Flight takes veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to their wars’ memorials on the National Mall, and to the Air Force Memorial and to a Arlington National Cemetery changing of the guard ceremony.
Each flight, which happens on a chartered American Airlines A321 Airbus, carries 80 volunteers, 80 of their guardians and 22 additional volunteers.
The Southeast Florida group cancelled its April 11 and May 30 flights but will take those veterans on its fall flights, which are set for Sept. 26 and Oct. 24, according to Sreenan.
“The Southeast Florida Honor Flight Board of Directors determined their best course of action based on risk assessment and averting the possibility of exposing their older, vulnerable veterans to the COVID-19 virus,” Sreenan says. “Honor Flight trips include constant handshakes and hugs by appreciative Americans throughout the day, which, although typically very appreciated, are currently not advised to avoid possible infection.”
“Furthermore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s suggestion that people over 60 years of age and those with underlying health problems “strongly consider avoiding activities that involve large crowds, such as traveling by airplane…” added to the prudent call to cancel the two Spring 2020 flights, as well as the associated Operation Homecoming events at Palm Beach International Airport.”
Southeast Florida Honor Flight is one of nine Honor Flight hubs in the state. Based in Stuart, it serves veterans in Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Okeechobee and Palm Beach Counties, all of whom fly out of PBIA.