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Viva Puerto Rico! ORD-PHL-SJU  
User currently offlineCactusA319 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2846 times:

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I woke up at 0 dark thirty (3:45 AM to be exact) and got ready to head out to ORD for the 6:00 AM arrival. I left along with my travel companions for O’Hare at 4:30 AM through the empty streets of Oak Park. We had quite a bit of baggage, including a Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza, a Roser’s bakery cake (a staple of the Humboldt Park neighborhood), and a cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory that my companion was taking for her grandmother (she can’t get any of this stuff in Puerto Rico). Needless to say I got a lot curious looks at the airport and onboard the planes while carrying that pizza box.

I got to the airport at about 5:20 am to find a long line at the US Airways ticket counter. Fortunately they were trying to check in all PHL passengers ahead of those checking in for the later PIT flight so I was able to bypass the long line. We checked in our bags for Flight 890 and then lugged all of our carry-ons to Gate F8 where our 737-300, N588US, awaited. When we got to the gate they were just boarding so we got on and settled into our seats. This 737 was originally built for Piedmont but went directly to USAir as they had just acquired that airline. As is usual for early morning flights, Flight 890 was about half-full. We pushed back on time and taxied out to Runway 9L where we immediately took off into the dark Chicago skies. I watched the thousands of city lights as we flew over the north side of Chicago towards Lake Michigan. As soon as we hit Lake Michigan, it was lights out for me as I fell asleep. I woke up a little later and watched the sun rise. Nothing beats watching the sun rise or set while at 35,000 ft. We began our decent and approached PHL from the east, giving us a magnificent view of the city of Philadelphia, including the downtown area, Veterans Stadium, the new stadium being built next to it, and the shipping yards. We landed on Runway 27R and quickly taxied to our gate on the B Concourse. Interesting aircraft observed at PHL were a Northwest 747-200 which I assume was carrying the Philadelphia Eagles who had played the 49ers in San Francisco the previous night. This aircraft departed about 45 minutes after it had arrived. I also saw the UPS Olympic 767 parked at the cargo area.

Our next flight was US Airways 1268, a 767-2B7(ER). When I originally booked this flight, it was operated by a 757. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was changed to the 762, which is becoming somewhat of a rare breed nowadays. Another thing that I found surprising was how empty this flight was. This aircraft was only about half-full. I figured it would be pretty packed considering how close Thanksgiving was and the large amount of passenger traffic from the Northeast to Puerto Rico. Upon boarding I noticed the airplane looked pretty tired, despite the fact that it was built in 1991. The First Class seats were cloth-covered as opposed to leather like on other US types. Our pushback was delayed slightly as the fuel truck servicing the aircraft ran out of Jet-A and another one had to be summoned to complete the fueling. Once off the gate we taxied to Runway 27L and again took off quickly.

In-flight service began shortly and consisted of two meal choices, the first being beef tips on rice and the other being penne pasta in cream sauce. I chose the pasta which was actually pretty good. The movie shown on this flight was Men in Black II, which I didn’t feel like paying $5 for when I could rent it at the video store for less. It did seem pretty funny though. After staring at the ocean outside my window, I again drifted to sleep, waking up as the 767 was descending into Puerto Rico. Off in the distance I could see the coastline and the central mountain range. Pretty soon we were entering the island over Punta Salinas and making a left turn to line up with Runway 10. I love the approach to SJU which overflies most of the metro area including my old home and some of the places I used to hang out in. Before I knew it we were over the San Jose lagoon and touching down on Runway 10. I was kind of surprised nobody on the plane applauded seeing as how we had a plane full of Hispanics lol. We taxied past the cargo hangars where there were plenty of old Convairs and DC-3’s of Tol-Air and Four Star Cargo, respectively. We ended up parking at Gate 38 next to a Pan Am 727. Interesting aircraft observed at SJU were Continental 767-400, Delta 767-400, Copa 737-700, Transmeridian 727-200.

I spent 5 days getting some sun and driving the treacherous country roads around San Lorenzo. Although my travel companions had visited Puerto Rico before, there were many places they hadn’t seen and they didn’t know how to get around too well, so I ended up being the tour guide and designated driver. We stayed at the Ramada San Juan in the Condado district, which has some great oceanfront rooms. I also spent some time with family during Thanksgiving, what was probably one of the most festive Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever been to.

I tried spotting at SJU but the Aeroparque observation deck was closed. I had heard it only opens on weekends now but I passed by on Sunday and it was still closed. It was a total bummer as I was looking forward to shooting some of the stuff there. I did hang out on Piñones beach which runs parallel with Runway 8 for a day. The activity at the airport though was a far cry from the old days. It seemed like almost all the planes there were American Eagle ATR’s, with a few AA 757’s and A300’s mixed in. Really dead.

After 5 days of sunny 80 degree weather, it was time to head back to frigid Chicago. I got to the airport 2 hours before the flight to find a massive line at the US Airways ticket counter. The line moved fairly quickly and soon I was checked-in. The ticket counter area at SJU’s Terminal B is in serious need of a facelift. The area is cramped, dark, and just plain nasty. It looks like there’s some work going on so maybe its being brought back up to date. I stopped by the souvenir shop for some last-minute shopping and then proceeded to the gate. When I got there I found out the flight was overbooked so I volunteered my seat. The gate agents thanked me profusely (this was their first time working an oversale so they needed the help), and gave me a free travel voucher for a future US Airways flight. However there was a slight problem. They couldn’t get me to Chicago on the later flights, and it appeared all the other airlines had no seats to give. So I was put up in a nearby hotel and booked on the same flights the following day in first class. Plus I was given meal vouchers for the entire day. Not a bad deal. So off I went to the Water Club hotel, located in front of Isla Verde Beach. Fantastic accommodations. I’d recommend this hotel to anyone visiting PR although it is a bit pricey. I was honestly expecting a cheaper hotel from US Airways, but this was fantastic. At night I went up to the rooftop lounge and watched arrivals into SJU from above while sipping a cold beer. Fantastic!

So the next day I tried it again. I got a really friendly reception from the US agents as I was in the check-in line. It turns out they were so friendly because they wanted me to volunteer as they were overbooked yet again. “I can’t today. I really have to get back home”, I said. Still the agent persisted and said “I’ll go ask United to see if they have anything, that way you can get a non-stop flight and another free ticket!”. Before I could respond, the little man scurried off to the United ticket counter to see what their availability was. I didn’t mind getting another free voucher, but I was looking forward to first class. He returned to tell me that United had nothing available and the only non-stop flight with seats was American leaving at 6 pm that evening, and he figured I wouldn’t be interested. I wasn’t willing to hang out at SJU for another 9 hours so he checked me in for Flight 596 and I was on my way.

Boarding started about 45 minutes before departure, and I boarded N121UW, an A320-214, and settled into seat 4F. An interesting thing I noted about this aircraft was that in place of the “No Smoking” sign was a sign saying “Turn off all portable electronic devices.” We pushed back right on time, and taxied to Runway 8, where we took off behind a Cape Air C402 and the predominant American Eagle ATR, before turning northwest towards Philly. In-flight service consisted of a choice of either an omlette with ham and sausage, pancakes with the same sides or a cold plate with cereal and yogurt. A fruit plate and croissant were served before breakfast, although they were short on fruit so all I got was a banana. When I ordered the breakfast, I ordered an omlette, however they were all out of that too so I settled on the pancakes. My breakfast left something to be desired. The pancakes seemed a bit on the hard side, and the sides were tiny. But it’s airline food so what do you expect? After breakfast I just went to sleep again, as the movie was Scooby Doo and just by watching the first 15 minutes with no audio I could tell the movie was a big steaming pile of monkey crap. So instead I slept. I woke just as we were about to cross the Eastern seabord into PHL. The approach was the same as the flight in from Chicago, and soon we were landing once again on 27R.

My next flight to ORD, US 295, was delayed due to snow storms in the area reducing visibility and thus creating a ground-stop for all flights into the airport. To hear the gate agent tell it, there was a huge blizzard in Chicago and it didn’t look like we’d be leaving anytime soon. She suggested that all pax originating in PHL should try rebooking for the next day. An hour and a half later we’re boarding. So much for rebooking. We departed only 2 hours late (I was thinking it would be much later) and taxied out to 27L where we took off behind an ex-TWA MD-80. American sure did a crap job of repainting them (or de-painting depending on your point of view). The old TWA planes look ragged. In-flight service consisted of a drink service and a selection of snacks. I asked for a class of Chardonay and some Milano cookies. Yup, I was living the High Life. LOL. Approach into Chicago seemed to take forever and eventually we broke though the cloud layer. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out where we were and found I-88 so I figured we were on approach for 4R. That turned out to be the case as we landed on the snowy runway and then seemed to taxi for hours to Terminal 2. I claimed my bags that were sitting outside the baggage service office-they had arrived the day before-and walked out of the terminal into the 21 degree Chicago evening to brush snow and ice off my car. To think only hours before I was staring at the warm ocean waiting for a cab to take me to the airport.

24 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 1, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 2716 times:

Always love to read a trip report to SJU.

The Water Club hotel used to be the Colony Beach Resort. It was very upscale and considered a "boutique hotel" when it opened about 1998.
I stayed there several times as a Continental Airlines/System One employee.
It was remodeled and renamed last year...Fantastic hotel with large floor to ceiling windows in a lot of rooms...

You can get "Cheesecake Factory" Cheesecake in Puerto Rico. You can go to any SAMs warehouse store and special order it at the bakery. They will fly it in from the states and call you to pick it up (for about 15.00).

User currently offlineCactusA319 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 2659 times:


You're exactly right. That used to be the Colony Beach Resort and it is marketed as "the only boutique hotel on the beach in San Juan".

Wasn't aware of the Cheesecake Factory in PR. I do know you can order Lou Malnati's pizza through the intrenet, however orders to Puerto Rico cost an extra $38, so it's cheaper to lug a pizza box on a plane and fly it down yourself.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

User currently offlineLPL From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 2659 times:

An excellent report. How big is SJU airport?

User currently offlineUalisthebst From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 1 hour ago) and read 2654 times:

Fantastic report, I enjoyed reading it.

It was funny you mentioned the passengers not clapping when you landed in SJU. For the past 5 years in a row now, I have flown on UA from ORD-SJU during the holiday season and every time, like clockwork, most of the passengers are applauding once we touchdown. Any idea's of why this could be???

The approach from the west into SJU is always nice, usually you can catch a great view of all the cruise ships.

Anyways, excellent report, keep up the good work.

User currently offlineUSAFHummer From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 6 days 1 hour ago) and read 2646 times:

Great report, wondering if you were aware that US flies their A330's once daily PHL-SJU-PHL???


User currently offlineCactusA319 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 6, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 21 hours ago) and read 2625 times:


SJU is a fairly big airport. There is a central terminal (altough divided into two sections, B and C) with two concourses containing a total of 41 gates. There are two runways, 10,002 ft. 8/26 and 8,016 ft. 10/28.


Why do they applaud? Not sure, it's a custom I guess. Never quite figured it out. I'm thinking it's a mix between congradulating the pilots and being thankful they didn't crash into ocean got eaten by sharks (there are people in Puerto Rico who actually think that way).


I am very aware of that. Forgot to mention I saw the A330 a couple of times at SJU. Unfortunately I didn't book this trip, otherwise I would have flown on it coming back (US 126). I tried getting on it when I volunteered on my return flight but it was packed.

User currently offlineChepos From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 7, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 18 hours ago) and read 2617 times:

You got lucky US Airways took you to a very chic hotel in San Juan maybe next time they'll fix you a stay at the Ritz Carlton San Juan - excellent views of Luis Munoz Marin.
Your description of the approach into San Juan makes me very anxious to fly back home next Thursday and overfly beautiful Dorado (great view of the beach front resorts ), El Morro, the cruise ships in San Juan , Viejo San Juan, Hato Rey, and yes even Barrio Obrero. The best day to go spotting in San Juan is on a Saturday and on the top floor of The Parking Garage (the months of December through March are when the heviest winter charter travel takes place). Did you get to catch the Air Canada 767-300 - I wish I can see that when I go back to the island (the flight is operated Fri, Sat, Sun).
Its very funny the reason why people applaud when they land in San Juan- mainly thanking the pilot that he landed the plane safely and that they surviced the flight. Most young Puerto Ricans consider it an extremely tacky thing while Americans consider it to be extremely hilarious.
Thank You for a great trip report on a flight to Puerto Rico and for making me extremely anxious to get these finals done with an hop an a plane to Puerto Rico .

User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 8, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 18 hours ago) and read 2613 times:

There are many stories going around as to why there is so much clapping by locals upon landing in SJU. As a former airline employee assigned to SJU, I have heard most of them...

The most logical is that it is done out of politeness and as a way to thank the entire crew for a nice flight but one time I was told a story that I was able to research...

Most people from Puerto Rico do not like to fly on Good Friday. It is due to the fact that there was a terrible airliner crash once on a Good Friday. The aircraft took off from the old Isla Grande Airport bound for New York when it suddenly experienced some kind of mechanical failure thus crashing into the sea. It crashed in an area infested by sharks off the coast between the towns of Dorado and Catano. Many passengers drowned when unable to open many of the life rafts and others became shark food. It was said that one of the flight attendants helped many passengers get into the one of the life rafts while she herself lost one leg to the sharks. She is said to have survived and became some sort of local legend. It is said that since then many island people (as the story has spread all over the Caribbean) clap after a safe landing in honor of the flight crew from the fallen aircraft.

There used to be a small stone marker on the beach site of the crash a few years ago. I do not know if it still exists.

User currently offlineChepos From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 17 hours ago) and read 2609 times:

Wow thats a story Ive never heard . Ive always had an interest in airline crashes in San Juan -one the most famous ones was that of an AA who crashed into the San Jose bay, If Im not mistaken there was a couple of famous people onboard the aircraft and nobody died. Then there was also the Dominicana 737 in which everyone died- Im sure there are more but there is not a good recollection of accidents.

User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 10, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2607 times:


AA- Is it the DC10 that skidded off the end of the runway into the lagoon back in 1985? I have some friends who were onboard and filmed the whole thing with their video camcorder. Very interesting to watch.

The Dominicana crash was actually in 1970 and it was their sole brand new DC9. I think that many members of the University of Puerto Rico Ladies Volleyball team perished in that crash.

There was also a Prinair crash. Their aircraft slammed into one of the peaks of the El Yunque mountain. My father was part of the rescue team (more like the recovery team).

Another famous area crash was the DC9 that ditched halfway between SJU and SXM due to lack of fuel....

The above story was a PAN AM crash....

If you need more details please let me know or email me...


User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 11, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2603 times:

Is anyone interested in having an Airliners.net day in SJU?

User currently offlineChepos From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2606 times:

Im prety sure that the AA DC-10 accident you mentioned above must have been the one I was refering too . Was Eastern involved in any incident on a flight going into San Juan or originating in San Juan? I ask because Ive been told by many family members that one of the reasons they felt so confident with the airline was because they were always so safe.

User currently offlineChepos From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 13, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2606 times:

An A.net San Juan meeting would be great other (If Im in Puerto Rico at the time I would love to go and If I could go up to the capital city).

User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 14, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2599 times:


As far as I know there are no accidents involving EA and SJU but hey! I was there the day that AA's first A300 ran over the rampers at SJU! Also the first ever (and only I think) 747 hijacked to Cuba was flying from JFK to SJU (PA).


User currently offlineChepos From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 15, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2599 times:

Hehe - Thanks for that quick answer
I remember that incident with that AA flight - I was a child so I have the facts a bit sketchy -wasnt the flight going to Santo Domingo and the ramper fell and the plane just squished him- not a very good beggining to a trip .

User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 16, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 2600 times:

Yes...the aircraft was operating to SDQ and the passengers wanted to know why the flight was being cancelled. Some of them even said that the flight should not have been cancelled ...

"sacalo del medio y vamonos" was being chanted by the passengers.

I hope that my current airline decides to fly to SJU soon.


User currently offlineRedngold From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 17, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 2522 times:

I stayed at the Ramada San Juan/Condado back in 1995. It seemed a little seedy compared to mainland hotels. At least the service was good. That was back before I got interested in planespotting and I was still an aviaphobe. I alos flew PHL-SJU, but I was on an American Airlines 757-200 both ways. I flew on AA because my grandmother bought the tickets, and she was flying SRQ-MIA-SJU to meet me. I'll never forget how crowded the return flight was, complete with screaming babies every ten rows.

At least Puerto Rico itself was fun!

User currently offlineCactusA319 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 18, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 2509 times:

I heard of that crash Prinair mentioned. That's what I was thinking of when I mentioned the part about being happy to have not crashed into the sea and gotten eaten by sharks. Not sure on the date of this accident, I'll try looking it up.

I remember an ATC guy at SJU (who ironically has a last name of Andino also) telling me about that runway overun by the AA DC-10 back in the '80's. Probably one of the more famous incidents at SJU.

I also remember a few years back (1998 I think) when an AA A300 suffered an uncontained engine explosion and flew back to SJU with the left engine on fire. People who saw it fly over the metro area started freaking out thinking the thing was going to crash. It landed safely altough it blew some tires due to being overwieght. A great photo of the aircraft on approach appeared on the front page of El Nuevo Dia the next day.

User currently offlineCactusA319 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 19, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 2509 times:

Actually found some info. on that Pan Am crash:

Date: April 11, 1952
Aircraft: Douglas DC-4
Fatalities: 52:69
Cause: Engine failure shortly after takeoff.

User currently offlineCody From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 20, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 2495 times:

I liked your story. The Northwest 747 at PHL was indeed going to SFO. We were tow behind it for takeoff that day.

User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 21, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 2492 times:

I think that there was also a Pan Am 707 crash over Maryland whose flight origins had been SJU.

User currently offlineDeltaRules From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 22, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 2451 times:

Great report! Always love to see one involving SJU, which has been my "2nd home" for so long. We took US earlier this year & got a 767 going down via CLT, and the A330 coming back via PHL. Nice trip each way. I agree with you guys- the approach into SJU is the best there is! You see all of metro SJU before landing- I love it!

In terms of incidents, some of our friends were in the condo we stay in & saw CactusA319's AA A300 with the engine fire land on Rwy 8 (the condo is next to the runway.) They called us & said it was spectacular. All kinds of fire equipment chased it down the runway.

Also, was there a situation a few years ago when apparently an AA 757 landed at Isla Grande instead of SJU? I forget who told me that & I found it hard to believe.

Someone mentioned applause: it has only happened once with us. It was this year, where there was some clapping when we landed in the 767. (Of course, I was ready to run up & down the aisles in celebration at that point, but held back!)
They had been going "Whoa!" & saying other stuff as if they were on a rollercoaster a few minutes earlier, when the plane was getting rocked due to high wind. I mean "ROCKED!" We were tilting left & right, I'd never seen anything like it!


User currently offlinePrinair From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 23, posted (12 years 2 months 3 weeks 2 hours ago) and read 2431 times:

Back about 1988 an Iberia 747 was about to land on Isla Grande by mistake. They realized their mistake practically a few feet from the runway and were able to abort the landing. It was on local tv and it was quite spectacular.

User currently offlineDeltaRules From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 24, posted (12 years 2 months 2 weeks 5 days 20 hours ago) and read 2419 times:

Prinair- Ok, I guess that was the story. So it really did happen, just with a 747 instead of the 757 like I heard. That would have been interesting to hear about! Is the runway at Isla Grande long enough for a 747? It doesn't seem like it...


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