It was an occurrence like countless others in just about any international airport across the globe, from Aberdeen to Juba. Even in the testing times of Covid, the sight of a small passenger jet airliner approaching in the distance could hardly be considered a traffic-stopping sensation. At Clayton J Lloyd, though, on the plains of the one-time Wallblake plantation, past George Hill, right on the outskirts of The Valley, that is precisely what happened: traffic stopped, with crowds of locals flocking to Anguilla’s international airport to witness the arrival of flight AA3780 from Miami.
Operated by American Eagle, the carrier was a standard Embraer E175, a pretty little jet, compact, modern, but nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing, in fact, Anguillians wouldn’t have seen over the last fifteen years, which is roughly how long the runway at the airport has been suitable to service private jets coming from Miami and well beyond. Back in 2005 the sight of a jet approaching the island, parked on the tarmac or taking off was a total – and deserved – sensation, but in the intervening years Learjets and Grummans and Cessnas and Dassaults have peppered the island’s skyline with such regularity that the wow effect has decidedly worn off.
The Eagle returning to our shores, however, is a different matter altogether, not just because it’s been more than a decade since American discontinued its service to Anguilla but, crucially, because back then their turboprop ATR connected the island with Puerto Rico, their regional hub, not with Miami. In fact, in the relatively long history of aviation in Anguilla the island has only ever had direct links to other islands. Until Saturday 11 December 2021, that is, when the blast of the afterburners changed all that.
It is more than fifty years since Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul characterised Anguilla, in typically ungenerous fashion as ‘the shipwrecked six thousand.’ It is true that Anguilla, a place unlike any other – beyond extraordinary, as the brains at the Tourist Board insist on branding the island – has been indelibly shaped by the isolation and, why deny it, the neglect that for centuries plagued the island’s existence. The tables, however, have long turned and for several decades Anguilla has been able to catch up, turning this small tropical enclave into a luxury destination where the simple pleasures of yesteryear are routinely, if somewhat incongruously, intertwined with the comforts of modern life.
It has taken quite some time, but at last, in the thick of the 21st century, Anguilla can safely and confidently claim to be shipwrecked no more.