The Jetstar Experience

I’ve mentioned that Jetstar has some amazing sales throughout the year so it’s always worth looking at these before redeeming miles on Qantas or Virgin.

I took these screenshots a couple days ago and they are pretty much what I had bought the year before at around this time for travel in September.

Jetstar1

Typical of the low-cost carriers, they will try to upsell you to various bundles.  I knew that we would have already had dinner by this time and just want to sleep on this flight, plus I also knew we would have carry-on backpacks only.  So I just kept the original fare with no added extras.Jetstar2

Jetstar will still try to upsell you features one by one.  This time I went for the pre-booked seat, as far forward as possible but still in the $7 zone.

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Jetstar flies an Airbus A320 on this sector all economy in a 3 x 3 configuration.  Nothing to get excited about but it’s always nice to get on and off as quickly as possible.

I did the online check-in and we took our carry-on backpacks to the gate.  Much to my surprise (this being my first flight on Jetstar), the ground crew were weighing the carry-ons!  Even the small ones like ours which were well under the maximum measurements but we did have the camera gear and the Pizzey-Knight field guide.  They have scales at the kiosks where you can check in if you haven’t done so online and they were strictly enforcing the 7kg weight limit.  Thankfully they weren’t familiar with Scottevests and Ina and I quickly shoved some books and a camera in our pockets, then presented the backpacks for weighing.  They passed and were tagged as carry-ons.

The weight thing is probably the most frustrating thing to birders as it’s fairly easy to pack light but the camera gear, especially those 400mm lenses can weigh 2kg all by themselves!  I didn’t bring the Canon gear for this trip but even the Nikon P900 was still heavy compared to a normal tourist camera.

The other shocker is that sometimes they don’t even give you water on the plane!  This time they did in small plastic cups which was enough to survive the flight.  One way around this would be to bring a small empty water bottle and refill it after security.  We were prepared for the return trip and did this.

Anyway, Jetstar has its place as a cheap way to get from A to B with no frills.  Be prepared and keep your eye on the prize – the birds that await at the end of the journey!

Falcon Frequent Flyers

I’ve traveled around the Middle East several times and I have seen falcons on planes before but not quite THIS many!  According to quoted news sources, a Saudi prince bought 80 seats in economy (a prince couldn’t afford 1st class?) for his beloved falcons.

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HT:  View From The Wing

I did some hunting around for more pics of falcons on planes and the various means of accommodating them.

Sometimes they have their own stands.

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Sometimes they ride on their owner’s lap.falcon3

Or even the tray table!

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It is not yet clear whether each bird has his own frequent flyer account and earns miles, how they amuse themselves when they can’t see the movie because of the hood and what do they eat?

If you do find yourself seated next to a feathered frequent flyer, don’t worry.  Falcons do not make noise when they travel, they don’t smell, they don’t kick the seat nor do they recline their seats–so enjoy the flight and be grateful they aren’t snakes!

Wrapping Up An Amazing Trip & Southwest Observations

After our brief visit to El Yunque, cut short due to car mishap, it was time to return the car and get to the airport for our Southwest flight to Orlando.  I am really glad that Puerto Rico is part of the USA and has the full CDW with no excess, otherwise I don’t know what would have happened with the ding on the hubcap.

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San Juan’s airport is modern and easy to navigate.  The rental car return area is well-signed and thanks to the full CDW package there were no dramas on returning the car.DSCN4598

San Juan to Orlando is a domestic USA flight so there was only security to get through (no dramas or delays) and then we were free to explore the gift shops.DSCN4601

My husband watching my backpack while I shop.DSCN4599 DSCN4600

We are new to Southwest so a few observations that are probably nothing new to those who fly them often.

  1.  Do online check-in at exactly T-24.  Since these were award tickets booked with transferred Ultimate Rewards points, we each had our own record locator.  I had my ticket open in Firefox and hubby’s ticket in Chrome and was refreshing from 3 minutes beforehand until it allowed us to check in and get boarding positions.  We got A46 & A48, not bad for beginners!
  2.  Despite all this manoeuvering, there were at least 20+ wheelchairs queued up for preboarding.  A few regular pax tried to sneak ahead of us in the A line claiming not to understand (in Spanish) but I had enough Spanish skills to point them to where they were supposed to be and make it clear I wasn’t going to allow line cutters.
  3.  When we got on board, the first section of the plane was completely filled with the preboarded wheelchair pax, their companions and then the people ahead of us in line.  Despite all this, we could have had exit row except the FA wasn’t happy with my husband’s command of the English language (his first language is Maori) and chased us off.  We got aisles across from each other a few rows behind.  The flight was full.
  4.  I don’t know what they put in the water on Southwest but miraculously, there were only about 5 or 6 wheelchairs waiting for the disembarking pax to clear so they could disembark their assigned pax.

Here’s the gate area at SJU for Southwest.  We were there fairly early.

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Anyway, we live in Australia and not likely to fly Southwest again so I am not going to dwell on it, but I wouldn’t have chosen this airline in the first place if there had been award seats available on AA or UA (there weren’t) so we did the best we could.

Well that wraps up the epic adventure to Ecuador, Colombia & the Caribbean.  In the end, we saw some truly amazing birds.  Many at a distance, but still they were there flying freely in all their glory!

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.

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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.

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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