2016 Airline Timeliness Awards

I have mentioned how frustrating it can be when airlines are late like LIAT.  SO which airlines are most reliable for timeliness?  Flightstats tracks airline departures and arrivals and they have just released their annual report for 2016.  KLM takes out first place overall but they also have categories for regions and low cost carriers.  Here’s a sneak peek, then check out Flightstats full report.

airline awards

For some reason, Etihad isn’t mentioned, I hope that doesn’t mean they are always late!

Liat Late To Dominica, Surprise Airport Charges On Exit

Leaving St Vincent, I was annoyed (but not surprised when both Liat flights (connecting in Barbados) were late.  Especially because it meant that we would miss the last bus and have to get a very expensive taxi to the other side of the island.

It’s possible to get a good deal on this flight and the taxes are supposedly included.  This direct flight wasn’t available when we booked.  Dominica had been hit badly by a hurricane and some flights were curtailed for awhile.  It may look like taxes are included but there is an extra departure tax to be paid at the airport.  They want cash which I didn’t have since I had made a point of spending all our ECD save a few bucks for snacks and I knew there would be ATMs at SJU to get USD easily.  They finally took me upstairs to some kind of office and processed the fee on my credit card.

Liat DOM

Waiting in the departure gate area.  St Vincent Airport does have a small gift shop before security, nothing in the departure area.

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We had a longer layover than expected in Barbados but at least they had a good variety of fast food places that take credit cards.dscn4275 dscn4276 dscn4277 dscn4278 dscn4279 dscn4280

Some of the gates are in a different building down this long-ish hall.  The shops and restaurants are in the main terminal.dscn4281 dscn4282

Is this flight EVER going to leave?dscn4283

Boarding at rear only.dscn4284 dscn4285

You better put that backpack on the plane!dscn4286

By this time I had caught on and we were sitting in the rear.dscn4287

Goodbye Barbados!dscn4288

Hello Dominica!dscn4290

Another small airline.dscn4291

Yay, the backpack is on the truck!dscn4292

Outside the terminal, we met a man who had come to pick up his son and was headed our way so we paid him about half the taxi would have cost to take us to our hotel (which was on his way).dscn4392

After birding in Dominica (post to follow) Dr Birdy dropped us at the bus stop outside Portsmouth.  We waited about 15 minutes until a minibus arrived.  They dropped us on the road outside and we walked into the airport.dscn4394

Last minute birding outside the airport.dscn4395 dscn4398

Goodbye Dominica!dscn4400

Even after the airport tax hassle our troubles weren’t over.  The flight to Antigua was only about an hour late.  Much to my surprise, the flight from Antigua to San Juan left on time.  It was a puddle jumper that stopped at St Kitts and Tortola enroute.  It was in one of these islands that the schedule went all to hell.  We were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for another late Liat plane which had passengers connecting to our plane. At first they left us sweltering with no AC or water until everyone on the plane was in near mutiny, then they turned the AC on and brought us water.  We finally arrived in San Juan just after midnight.  Already exhausted, I had to navigate a rental car to our hotel, finally arriving around 2am.

 

Introduction To Liat Airlines

If you’ve been researching the Caribbean, you’ll have heard it before.

Leave

Island

Any

Time

or

Luggage

In

Another

Terminal

 

But if you want to visit some of the smaller islands like St Vincent, St Lucia & Dominca and travel between one or more island you won’t be able to avoid Liat.  Believe me, I tried!  These are the routes we ended up taking:

St Lucia – St Vincent

St Vincent – Dominica

Dominica – San Juan, Puerto Rico

liat-map

Liat does not have a loyalty program nor does it partner with any other airline so your only option is to pay cash.  This is fairly easy to do on their website.  Try to book a few months in advance so you can get the “web promo” deal which is good value, otherwise flights can be expensive for the short hops.  Also check out their Facebook page for the occasional promo code.

liat-fb2

A FEW THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LIAT

  1.  Online check-in is limited to a few islands and for carry-on bags only.  You can’t choose your seats, they are assigned automatically.  If you check bags, you have to check in at the airport and get your seats.    dscn4135
  2.   Carry-on bags are extremely limited (7 kgs)– and they will actually weigh every bag even if it looks small.  We were caught out here as our backpacks are fairly small but with camera gear weighed about 10 kgs each.  We ended up carrying on what we could but we still had to check one bag with the least valuable items. Thankfully the bag didn’t get lost on any of the flights
  3. dscn4137dscn4272   Boarding is generally via stairs on the tarmac through both front & rear doors.  Therefore you don’t want a seat in the middle of the plane.  Passport control lines are long and move slowly at most islands.dscn4143
  4.   The planes are small with a 2 x 2 configuration.  I liked this as it meant we didn’t have to squish in with a stranger.   dscn4145
  5.   This is a rare occasion.  Our flight from St Lucia to St Vincent was on time!  All the rest of our flights were 2-3 hours late.  In Dominica, we missed the last bus to Portsmouth and would have had to get an expensive taxi but we ended up paying a local a lesser amount to take us along as he was headed that way.  In San Juan, we arrived well after midnight but at least we had a rental car and they are open 24/7.     Try to build in a buffer of an extra day if you have to be somewhere at a certain time (like a cruise or group tour).  dscn4136
  6.   Flights are often cancelled due to storms and hurricanes.  I would avoid visiting the Caribbean during the hurricane season.  Or you could leave it to a couple weeks ahead if you must travel during July-November as hurricanes are usually predicted a couple weeks in advance.
  7.   Check in lines can be very long and move slowly.  Get there as early as possible.  But bring your own entertainment as the waiting rooms/gates usually leave a lot to be desired!dscn4271

 

 

BOTTOM LINE

If you are traveling directly from the USA, UK or Europe to your chosen island and returning directly, you probably won’t have to fly Liat.  But if you want to island hop around, especially the smaller islands (where all the cool birds are) then you can’t avoid Liat.  Hopefully these tips will help you make the best of it.

British Airways 5th Freedom Flight Trinidad – St Lucia

If you are island hopping around the Caribbean for birding, you need to visit some of the smaller islands that aren’t quite so easy to get to with miles.  More about that later.  But if you need to go to both Trinidad & St Lucia, both birding hotspots you are in luck!  You can book a flight on British Airways for a mere 4500 Avios!  It’s a huge 777 with full service and business class if you want to spring for 9000 Avios.

I didn’t have enough Avios for business but I did get a quick look at the cabin as we passed through.

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Somehow I managed to snag the first row of economy (maybe an elite got upgraded) and the roominess was a real luxury which I appreciated for the 1 hour flight.dscn3997

Look at all that legroom!dscn4004

My “office”!dscn4005

The flight was spot on time and we soon landed at St Lucia’s larger Hewanorra (UVF) airport.  dscn4006

Welcome To Trinidad’s Colourful Airport

Probably the most important tip I can give you is try to sit as far to the front of the plane as possible as immigration lines can be long and slow.  We arrived on Copa from Bogota via Panama and were near the front so we got through very quickly.

First stop after exiting customs was the tourist information office to grab some leaflets and maps.  I knew my car wouldn’t have a GPS so wanted to be prepared.

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We then headed to the car rental booths (Hertz for us) to pick up our rental car.  They have a shuttle to take you to where the cars are.dscn3556 dscn3976

After our visit to Trinidad, we were back to Port of Spain’s airport (POS) to check in for our British Airways 5th Freedom route to St Lucia (only 4500 Avios)!dscn3977

We never flew this airline but I love the hummingbird logo!dscn3978

I can’t walk past a Cinnabon stall, we don’t have them in Australia and it’s a rare treat!dscn3979

Once past security, POS has a modern layout with a nice variety of shops and artwork.dscn3980 dscn3981 dscn3982

We could have used Priority Pass to enter this lounge but didn’t have time.dscn3983

I did pick up a few knick-knacks here – bird themed of course!dscn3984 dscn3985

Avianca Flight Pereira – Bogota

I had originally planned to do this trip by bus for the scenery but when I stumbled onto a big sale on Avianca’s website, I couldn’t resist booking the two one-way tickets for under $100 AUD!  I had run out of Lifemiles but you can also book domestic Colombian flights for 3000 Lifemiles.   It turned out to be a good thing as my husband was feeling the altitude sickness and Bogota is lower than the Central Andes Paramo region.

We were dropped after the Fuertes Parrot Quest at Pereira Airport.

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I was surprised at how good the facilities were – lots of eateries, shops and seating space for a small domestic airport.dscn3485

Just the thing to cheer me up after the “Curse of the Cloud Forest” – Cinnabon!  It’s a more limited menu than you find in the USA but still yummy!dscn3486

Flights were going out on time.dscn3487

Waiting roomdscn3488

Standard garden-variety all-economy Avianca plane.dscn3489

Quito To Santa Marta, Colombia Via Bogota With A Few Dramas

When you are flying to Colombia, Avianca Lifemiles are a great miles currency to have.  Flights are easily booked online and sometimes they have better award flight availability than their other partners.  I found this to be the case at the time I was booking this route.  For some reason, United was only giving availability in the early morning when I wanted to travel around mid-day to squeeze in one more morning of birding at Guango Lodge.

Lifemiles charges 11,000 miles one way for this routing.

AV8374 Quito (UIO) 16:45 Bogota (BOG) 18:25

AV9792 Bogota (BOG) 20:44 Santa Marta (SMR) 22:18

Theoretically, United should charge 10,000 miles but even on my test run these flights weren’t available and their connections were terrible on what was available.

Up until the day of departure I got several emails from Avianca trying to sell me upgrades on a per segment basis but I didn’t think it was worth it for such short flights.

The taxi from the bus stop at Pifo dropped us right outside the terminal and checking in was quick and easy.

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I would have been tempted by the Johnny Rockets as we don’t have them in Australia but there wasn’t time and I was desperate to get online.  The only stop we made was at the ATM inside as the currency of Ecuador is the USD and I wanted to withdraw some to use in the Caribbean Islands coming up.  DSCN2598

Typical over-priced airport shopDSCN2599

We used our last remaining Lounge Club passes from the Chase Ink (now discontinued) to access the lounge.  I had no internet access for the last 3 days and was dying to know more about the earthquake and check my emails.  DSCN2601

I was shocked to see the extent of the earthquake on the coast, it was really horrifying.  It didn’t seem to have affected the airport and all flights were going out on time.DSCN2602

We grabbed some snacks and drinks at the small buffet in the lounge.DSCN2603

Typical Avianca shorthaul flight, an A319.  It wasn’t full and we had an empty middle seat.  I was glad I didn’t pay money for an upgrade.DSCN2604

Beautiful Andean scenery enroute to Bogota.DSCN2606

We arrived at dusk and had just over an hour to make the connection.DSCN2607

We had to use a bus to get to a different terminal which was easy as we only had carry on bags.  I would have worried about checking bags with such a short connection.DSCN2610

I had one errand in the Bogota airport – use an ATM and withdraw some local currency – Colombian Pesos for things such as taxis, buses, food and anything else I couldn’t pay by card.  Much to my surprise, the NAB ATM card wouldn’t work in any of the different bank’s ATMs!  Not wanting to miss the flight, I changed a $50 note cash so we could get a taxi to the hotel.  At the time I just thought the line was down or banks were updating or something.

The flight brought a new drama.  We all boarded just fine but then as we tried to taxi away, something started beeping.  The pilot brought the plane back and although I didn’t understand the details which were in Spanish there was something wrong with the plane.  We were delayed about 2 more hours while they found another plane for us.

It was only about an hour flight and I was much relieved to see Santa Marta airport lights out the window and to watch the plane on the seatback air show get closer.  I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel and get some sleep.  But all of a sudden, I felt the plane pull back and start gaining altitude and I saw the air show plane get further away from the airport.  WTF?  Why doesn’t he just land?  The crew were strapped in and no one around me spoke English.  The pilot did come on and say something in Spanish but it was way beyond my tourist-level basic Spanish.  We circled for around 15 minutes, then FINALLY descended and made a normal landing.  DSCN2611

We got off the plane as quickly as possible and joined the taxi line outside with pretty much the whole plane.  Taxi fares from the airport are posted and fixed rates.  Santa Marta is 27,800 at night but good luck trying to get change from 30,000 pesos!  Direct to Minca would have been 90,000 night rate, 80,000 day rate.

After around 20 minutes, we arrived at our hotel ready to drop from exhaustion!

Can A Coup In Turkey Affect Your Travel Plans?

I am sure that everyone has seen the news reports of an attempted coup in Turkey and the temporary shut down of Istanbul’s airport.  The FAA has banned flights from Turkey landing in the USA until further notice.  Reports on Flyertalk show that Turkish Airlines has been very difficult to contact regarding upcoming flights.

Turkish Airlines is one of the members of Star Alliance and a popular redemption for people traveling between the USA or Australia via IST to Europe or Africa.  If you have an African safari booked and are depending on Turkish airlines to get you to your gateway airport you need to call your ticketing airline (UA, SQ, SA or ??)  immediately to see what the options are.  Award tickets issued by United are being rebooked on other airlines provided saver space is available.  If you are coming from the USA, try one of Ethiopian’s or South African’s USA flights or route through Europe on United, Lufthansa, Swiss or TAP.  Coming from Australia, try routing via Singapore or Bangkok to Africa and connecting to Ethiopian or South African.

This is a good example of why I always encourage people to build in a buffer day or even two before starting a prepaid Africa safari.  Travel insurance usually doesn’t cover “acts of war” and you could lose your prepaid safari if you can’t find other flights.

It’s impossible to predict world events that could affect your travel plans, especially if you are booking 11 months in advance to score those elusive award seats.  We are going to Africa next year and things I considered among routings and airline quality also included airline reliability and how they respond to emergency situations.  In the case of the FAA blocking TK from flying to the USA, you don’t even get the choice of using IST as a transit point should flights be restored.  Turkish Airlines has an excellent product and great in-flight service but their ground service and phone agent availability has been lacking.  In our case, we aren’t using a pre-booked safari and are arranging things independently but I still chose to go with Etihad to AUH (VA miles booked before devaluation), spend a couple buffer days in Dubai and use Kenya Airways (Flying Blue) to get to our first stop in Uganda.  If Etihad is delayed we just miss out on extra shopping in Dubai.  We arrive in Entebbe around noon and if this flight is delayed we would miss an afternoon of birding locally but we can still get to these locations the next day.

In this day and age, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing your flights so look at all the options and try to imagine the worst case scenario and what alternatives you would have if it happens.  Always build in a couple days buffer, especially if you have expensive prepaid travel arrangements like a safari or a cruise.