I needed to get from AUA (Aruba) to POS (Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago) for a meeting. For those of you who don’t have a Caribbean atlas in their head (most people I guess), both are Caribbean islands just off the Venezuelan coast. The straight-line distance between both is about 600 miles. I had never been to Trinidad, so we decided to make it a short holiday with the family, we’d leave on the Friday evening, spend the weekend in Port of Spain and come back on Tuesday after my Monday meetings. We had the following possibilities:
Option 1: American Airlines / American Eagle AUA-SJU-POS-SJU-AUA. Disadvantages were
• the planes (in an ATR-72, a 1-hour jet flight easily becomes 2 hours, and they are just cramped and noisy in my opinion);
• having to undergo American paranoia at immigration and security;
• taking up two full days wasted in various airports – or the risk of delayed luggage due to short connections if we took another combination of flights.
The only advantage for me would have been the possibility to save AAdvantage miles.
Option 2: American Airlines AUA-MIA-POS-MIA-AUA. Disadvantages:
• see the above
• have a look on the map...
Option 3: a combination of BonairExpress, Surinam Airways and Aeropostal in an AUA-CUR-POS-CCS-CUR-AUA routing. Disadvantages were
• in my view quite a high risk for missing connections at some stage.
• also taking up a huge amount of time, especially on the return leg.
Option 4: Aeropostal all the way, AUA-CCS-POS-CCS-AUA. As I had never flown Aeropostal before, it looked good, reasonably priced, and it had a 6-hour layover in Caracas on the way back, which offered the possibility to do a quick tour of the city I wanted to see for quite a while already. Now, I had been to South America before, but it turned out to be still a bit of a culture shock…
So basically, we selected the last option, knowing it could mean a bit of delays and adventure, but it seemed realistic!
There is an excellent trip report about Caracas on this forum, written by James Sullivan, which I’d like to mention. Seems like he had a better experience then ourselves…
Aeropostal flight VH823
Delay: 2 hours
I’ve been checking Aeropostal flights to/from AUA regularly, and I must say, most of their flight are delayed rather than on-time, apparently. This Friday, our plane’s schedule was CCS-AUA-SDQ-AUA-CCS, and the incoming flight from CCS around noon already had a 90 minute delay. I called the airport to check, they said they’d still be able to fly at 6PM rather than the scheduled 5.10PM. Optimistically believing this, we left to the airport for check-in at 4PM. Meanwhile, with every stop the plane was making on its journey, the delay increased, rather than that they were making up for the lost time. Although we only had 90 scheduled minutes in CCS to change planes, we hoped that the delay would be system-wide. At least that turned out to be correct! By the time we were past immigration and security, the wait time was increased to 7PM. At 6.40 the plane came in, and I must say the ground crew did their best to let it leave with minimal delay. Unfortunately Aeropostal only gives itself a 30-minute layover, and as this was a full flight, it was 7.20 when we were airborne, again having lost a few more minutes.
The Aeropostal DC-9’s (see below for a pic I made a few months ago) have ample legroom, there is a complimentary sandwich and drink service (even on such short flights) and the flight attendants were helpful and professional. Now if they could only do something about the delays… Less than an hour later, we touched down in CCS. The plane was parked on a remote parking space, which means you get to travel on one of those “driving jetbridges”.
Photo © Ward Callens
First problem – as we were travelling with a baby, we’d had to leave the stroller at the door before boarding. Now where was it? The flight attendant told us just to wait at the gate for the second “bus” to arrive. However, when we arrived at the terminal building airline staff were very swift in taking transit passengers upstairs, through security and to the correct gates. Organised, but hectic… In any case we were happy to find out that the flight to POS was delayed until 10PM as well, that gave us enough time to settle down in the waiting area at the remote gates (gates 17-22), and to recover the lost stroller (I eventually succeeded in explaining the problem in my very basic Spanish, and we got it back just before boarding!)
Aeropostal flight VH860
Delay: 3 hours
Strangely enough, the boarding, which started around 9.30, proved to be another delaying factor in itself. When a flight is delayed for 2 hours already, you’d expect the ground crew to make sure that the actual boarding is done swiftly, right? Not here: checking passports and boarding passes for the 120+ passengers took a full 30 minutes. And then from 10 to 10.30 negotiations took place with various passengers to have their excess carry-on suitcases removed and stowed where they should be. We were quite happy with the fact that we found ourselves on the very same plane again that brought us from Aruba. At least our luggage would be fine, and with a bit of luck we could be at our hotel before midnight…
The flight was almost an exact copy of the previous leg, uneventful but with devoted service from a new crew. With about 3 hours delay, we touched down at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad around 11.30PM. The immigration queue took ages (why is it that every Caribbean island wishes me to fill out a form stating where and when my passport was issued???), and then came the nicest surprise: only one of the two checked bags had made it through. That took of course another half hour to wait until everything had arrived, wait in the queue and file the claim. Apparently the explanation was that with such a full flight, random pieces of baggage had been offloaded! Knowing that the next flight was only coming in 48 hours later (on Sunday evening), this was just great news… Luckily, after learning from previous experiences, we had plenty of things to “survive” easily for 48 hours in our hand luggage (not oversized, let it be clear!)
During the weekend, at several moments we called into the Aeropostal airport office to check if they actually knew what had happened to the missing suitcase. No one could however tell where it was, whether it had been found, nor any other details. Each time I was reassured they’d call as soon as they had it. On Sunday evening though, as the flight came in (3 hours delay again), no one called despite the promise, and no one could be reached when we called ourselves. Only after trying several times on the Monday morning, someone finally confirmed that the suitcase had arrived. “But if you want it, you’ll have to come and pick it up!” Allright, so I spent $40 on taxis to get there and back… I was told that that was all I would be getting back as compensation, provided I could go to the Port of Spain city office. As I didn’t have time to do that, the airline will get away without having to pay any form of compensation… But at least I had the suitcase, with my good shoes, tie and shirt so I could go to my meeting!
Aeropostal flight VH861
Delay: 20 minutes
Allright, this couldn’t go wrong… An 8.20AM departure with the plane parked at the airport for the night. The flight was full so check-in took quite a while, but it wasn’t anything unusual. We checked our bags through to AUA, and got nice seats on both the CCS and the AUA flight. Good service from the local Aeropostal staff again. POS airport is set up nicely and is well-organised, and we had just enough time to have a quick breakfast, buy some rum, pay airport tax, get through security and arrive at the gate as boarding started. Although everybody was sat in time, they once again had to negotiate with passengers to get hand luggage off the main cabin. I hoped our checked baggage wouldn’t be the victim again! All in all this took the flight again to a 20-minute delay.
Photo © Dinesh Maharajh
The flight to Caracas was another very pleasant experience, with a basic breakfast served and a smooth flight over Venezuela’s coast line. A good hour later we landed in CCS and parked at a normal gate, so with only minimal delay we got out, through immigration, and out of the airport, ready to explore Caracas.
Photo © Ander Aguirre
Photo © Enrique Rodriguez L.
It would take me too far to describe all the details of our city tour, which basically took us up the mountains to downtown Caracas (forget European or US traffic jams…this is gridlock!) and up on the Mt. Avila with the cable car, and then back to the airport. It’s sad to see such a great city surrounded by ever-expanding slums and poverty. I know the rest of the country is quite different, and I hope to get back some day and do some more in-depth exploration.
Once again, read this to find out more about visiting Caracas:
Aeropostal flight VH820
Delay: 2 hours
As we were checked in already, had our boarding passes and just knew there was going to be a delay for the Aruba flight, we were quite comfortable with getting back to the airport about half an hour before scheduled departure.
Strangely enough though, we could hear an announcement that boarding for our flight was starting! So we increased the pace a bit and walked up to the security checkpoint, only to be confronted with the request to show our airport tax proof of payment.
Now I have to say, airport taxes are the stupidest thing I know when it comes air travel. Why is it that so many airports and airlines outside of Europe and the US still can’t get themselves organised with this rubbish? Most of the times the rules are obscure at best, if not completely unknown. Only cash is accepted in many cases, and to make things worse I’ve seen many airports where you’d have to walk all the way to the other side to find an ATM, then hope it would work!
Same here in Caracas… As we didn’t have to pay any taxes while transiting on our flights from AUA to POS, we didn’t count on having to pay now this time, but okay, the (legitimate) difference is whether you leave the airport or not: we were considered transit passengers on the way in, and now “departing” passengers. In any case, there was an ATM close by, and I got just enough tens of thousands of Bolivares out to pay the tax.
Up to this point, I guess it was a bit our own fault – a seasoned traveller should know that there may always be this kind of departure tax issues. But once I actually had the money, things just got worse! Money alone was apparently not enough, we also had to pick up another form from the check-in counter! It was as if our boarding pass was useless – we had to check in again through some alternative procedure. Another 5 minutes lost… Allright, off to the gate then? “No sir, pass by my colleagues over there”. So we went over to the next booth, and were completely shocked to find out that a second tax needed to be paid there. Not even a small sign indicated this, and of course the first clerk hadn’t told me when I went over to the ATM. So back again, back for more cash, and we’ll probably never know whether this was a legitimate tax or just a levy on stupid non-spanish speaking tourists. Together with the second tax, we had to fill out more forms asking for very relevant information such as profession, passport issuance date and flight number. I’ve not been so angry as then for a long time!
One advantage was that our baby started crying by now, and we dramatised our situation a bit, so at least they allowed us to bypass the queues for security and immigration now (it was 4.15PM, 15 minutes past scheduled departure time). Sorry for anyone who was in the queues, yes we passed before you!
Once in the boarding area, the monitors still showed the Aruba flight as “boarding”. When we arrived at the gate, which is basically one waiting area for several flights, it took another while to find out where we were supposed to go, but when I eventually found the relevant Aeropostal employee, he reassured me that actual boarding wouldn’t start for another 10 minutes. He checked all the boarding papers and tax receipts though, so that would mean we wouldn’t have another 20-minute delay when boarding would actually start. Great.
Needless to say of course that the “10 minutes” was wrong as well, the plane wouldn’t come in for another 40 minutes, after which it took another 40 for boarding to start. That’s another thing they should forbid: if you have bad news, just tell us! Don’t say it’s going to be just 10 minutes! Staff did distribute free airplane sandwiches while we were waiting. In the final circus event, the Aeropostal employee came up to the passengers, declaring that he had food vouchers in compensation for the delay, but unfortunately couldn’t hand them out, because boarding had to start. They promised to hand them out in Aruba, for local use there, but that never happened. Again, no compensation…
The plane eventually left 2 hours late, for our final well-serviced flight to AUA. To my surprise, it turned out that our luggage had actually made it through… To give you an idea how low my confidence level had sunk…
It’s a shame really: Aeropostal has nice planes, great service, good schedules (on paper) and affordable tickets, but unfortunately, after an experience like this, I will avoid their flights and CCS airport in the future if I can. I know it’s horrible, but I think I prefer a loud and cramped American Eagle ATR, and TSA paranoia instead… Please try flying on time, Aeropostal!