The family was headed to Philadelphia when a medical emergency involving their young daughter caused them to land in Turks and Caicos.

By Alison Fox
July 07, 2020
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When a medical emergency stranded a Puerto Rican family in Turks and Caicos without a way to get home last week, Spirit Airlines came to the rescue.

The family originally boarded a Spirit Airlines flight on June 30 on their way to visit family in Philadelphia, the airline shared with Travel + Leisure. But right after takeoff, their 4-year-old daughter suffered a medical emergency: her lips went pale and her eyes rolled back, her mom, Ana Desiree Rodriguez Sanchez, said in a video interview shared with T+L.

“It was horrible,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “I was scared… I started to scream.”

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the Providenciales island of Turks and Caicos and while the little girl was taken care of and cleared by the hospital shortly after, suddenly the family had no way home.

Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory made up of more than 40 small islands and cays, doesn’t plan to fully reopen its borders until July 22.

According to Spirit, the family would have had to wait days to get back to Puerto Rico, but the airline jumped into action.

“I have no words to describe how thankful I am to the airline and to the people of the island who were so good to us,” Rodriguez Sanchez said in a statement. “We left all of our luggage on the flight to Philadelphia and didn’t have anything on us to spend the night, so they quickly helped us find a place to stay, clothes, and food for us. The airline was so great to us and we are so thankful.”

Courtesy of Spirit Airlines

On July 1, Spirit received special permission to fly an empty plane to the island to pick up the family and take them back to San Juan — and arranged everything while they waited.

“I’ve never operated a flight like this — very unusual,” said Captain Steve Omick, who piloted the near-empty to bring the family back home. “It’s pretty rewarding to find out that we’re able to help a family that’s stranded, essentially, because they had no intention of going international and emergencies happen. It’s just a nice, warm feeling that we’re able to come in and take them back to their home.”

Puerto Rico, which has recorded more than 8,700 confirmed cases of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University, plans to reopen to tourism on July 15 with visitors required to show a negative COVID-19 test from 72 hours prior to arrival to avoid quarantine.