Do-It-Yourself Individuals Fly in Relief to Haiti

Haitian Americans bypass charities to raise money for family and friends.

ByABC News
March 8, 2010, 3:39 PM

March 9, 2010— -- Jean Abraham Charles has been so worried about his relatives in Haiti that he decided to undertake his own earthquake relief effort. Today, he left on an American Airlines flight to Haiti with bags full of clothing and supplies, including a tent and a solar panel.

Charles, 48, a barber from Worcester, Mass., only earns about $400 to $500 a week, but he has spent more than a week's wages just on his ticket.

He is one of many Haitian Americans who are bypassing organized charity efforts to volunteer on the ground in the earthquake ravaged country.

"I made my donations to the Red Cross and UNICEF, but I want to go see my family – my niece, my sister," said Charles. "They are close, close with me and I am going by myself."

American Airlines said its daily flights to Haiti have been full since the Jan. 12 earthquake. Charles had to pay $200 extra, $100 for each bag over the airline's two-bag limit.

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"That's why we are limiting the baggage to insure all bags get on," said Martha Pantin, director of corporate communications.

The airline currently offers two daily flights from Miami, one daily flight from Fort Lauderdale and one flight four times per week from New York's JFK airport. They will also add American Eagle flights from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince starting March 12.

"We see a mix of passengers," said Pantin. "We have relief workers, Haitian Americans visiting their families, Haitians returning home as well as international business people traveling to and from Port-au-Prince."

About 24 percent of all travelers said they are interested in a volunteer or service-based vacation, according to 2006 statistics, the latest from the U.S. Travel Association. Interest was strongest among baby boomers and in the 35 to 54 age group.

Anecdotally, Haitian-Americans are reporting that many in their communities across the country are making up a large number of these travelers. The largest Haitian populations are in Florida and in New York City.