This is my first trip report so please be kind. In mid-December I traveled with my family (six people total) from Boston to the Caribbean for a nice vacation and a respite from the cold New England weather. Unfortunately, I did not bring a camera so this trip report will be composed of words only.
Boston, Massachusetts (BOS)-San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
US Airways Flight 835
Scheduled Time of Departure/Actual Time of Departure: 10:40 a.m./~11:00 a.m.
Scheduled Time of Arrival/Actual Time of Arrival: 3:29 p.m./ ~4:45 p.m.
Airbus A319 701UW
Seat 11F changed to seat 10F
Because the flight was to San Juan, there was some confusion over where to check in, and we got sent to different locations until a kind gentleman at the Shuttle counter allowed us to check in, and also helped us to work out some ticketing problems at the gate (a long story). Security was fine, and the terminal was actually pretty nice with a variety of food and shopping options. As I knew that food and drinks were BOB, we bought some at the terminal. I had been monitoring the flight since the day before, but the website always indicated it would be on time. Despite all the falling snow, lo and behold the plane was at the gate and ready to go! I was excited because it was in the Star Alliance livery; does anyone know how many US planes have this paint scheme? Boarding was orderly, but as we were some of the last people on we saw passengers already in some of our seats (scheduled to be row 11 across). It turns out that a flight attendant had moved them from the exit row on account of them not understanding English, so three of us were in 11DEF and three (including me) in the row before, 10DEF. I discovered that this row—and seat 10F (and 10A) in particular—is one of the best on the plane. All the seats had full recline and extra legroom, and the window seats had more than double the legroom because the seat in front (9F/9A) had been removed for access to the exit). I could store my stuff under seat 8F and have a ton of room to stretch out. The tray table was in the armrest and was somewhat flimsy, but I didn’t mind.
A word about the seats themselves. I had expected the plane to have the usual blue-and-white-striped cloth seats, so I was surprised to see that the interior had apparently been refurbished with bright blue leather seats that were very comfortable. In addition, the “no smoking” sign adjacent to the “fasten seat belts” sign had been replaced with “turn off portable electronic devices.” This was illuminated during take off and landing, and turned off when the captain gave clearance. I found this to be very handy, particularly for someone who is Deaf as they would not necessarily hear the announcement by the flight attendant giving approval. Overall, the cabin had a very bright and airy feel.
The safety demonstration was performed manually as the IFE system had been completely deactivated, although the flip-down screens were still present and stored and the audio instruments were still visible in the armrest. We pushed back about 20 minutes late and rumbled over to the deicing zone, where we waited about 30-40 minutes along with several other US and B6 planes. Sitting over the wing, I was able to see all of the deicing action take place, and it was a pretty cool process to watch being sprayed with the orange and green fluid. I felt bad that the man working the de-icing equipment was sitting basically in an open bucket, that is, he was unsheltered apart from his jacket hood. He wasn’t even wearing glasses or goggles; hopefully the weather wasn’t too hard on him. After being deiced we taxied and soared into the air. The flight attendants were friendly overall, and made numerous passes through the cabin with drink, meal, and garbage runs. However, when I went back to use the lavatory, I saw one loudly playing a game on a computer. I know the FAs need ways to pass the time, but I found her manner to be somewhat unprofessional. It’s just my personal opinion, however. The food choices were a cranberry cream cheese sandwich on molasses bread or a barbecue chicken salad for $7, neither of which I tried. The captain and first officer were very good at providing regular updates from the flight deck, with an emphasis on the weather description; I bet they were trying to get us psyched for warm and sunny Puerto Rico! Because of the late pushback and wait for de-icing, we arrived in San Juan about 1.5 hours behind schedule. (However, I saw that the American Airlines BOS-SJU flight, scheduled to leave at a similar time, was delayed 25 hours because of weather-related crew problems, so I guess we got lucky!) Bags came out quickly in San Juan, and our next flight wasn’t until the following day, so we enjoyed some time in the city.
Scores (out of 10):
Check-in: 6.0 (sent to various places in the terminal)
Airport facilities: 9.5 (good views of the tarmac and selection of food and shopping, although a long walk)
Seat comfort: 9.5 (exit row, lots of extra legroom, leather seat, full recline; no headrest)
Crew: 8.0 (good information from flight deck, cabin crew friendly as well)
Baggage retrieval: 7.0 (not US’s fault, but it was a walk to the claim and there were no individual luggage carts! All we could do was hail a porter for help)
San Juan-St. Vincent, the Grenadines (SVD)
LIAT flight 833
STD/ATD: 4:30 p.m./4:20 p.m.
STA/ATA: 7:00 p.m./7:07 p.m.
I had heard many stories of luggage problems with LIAT—hence the nicknames “Luggage In Another Town” or “Luggage Is Always Tardy”—but they offered the only good flight to St. Vincent so we didn’t have much of a choice. The airline’s website had advertised the flight as “nonstop” but in faded gray showed a 15-minute stopover in St. Lucia—they should have called it a “direct” flight instead (false advertising?). Despite a very short line, check-in took a while. We began boarding around 4:10 p.m. Two things to keep in mind at this point: The flight was packed to the gills, and I saw—repeat, SAW—all of our bags being loaded onto the plane. The flight attendant seemed nice, and her uniform was bright and very sharp. Boarding passes showed seat numbers, but it was basically open seating. I tried to sit in the first row (exit row) but the attendant said I couldn’t despite being 21 and being a native English speaker—does anyone know why? I settled in 6C, an aisle seat next to the propeller. Although all of the leather seats were relatively uncomfortable with no recline, the legroom was fantastic, particularly for such a small plane. The captain provided a good overview of our flight path and estimated an on-time arrival. The FA performed a manual safety demonstration to the tune of an automated voice announcer which was clear and easy to understand. We had a quick taxi and a short, powerful, and noisy takeoff. Once in the air, the FA came around with complimentary juice, water, and crackers (which did not taste good). Juice, soft drinks, and liquor (both for purchase) were on the cart, and for water requests the FA would go back to the galley and return with a glass. She then disappeared into the galley for most of the flight, although she responded promptly to call buttons and seemed relatively friendly, but overall robotic with her personality and announcements. The stopover in St. Lucia was indeed quick, and there was a much lighter 20-minute flight to St. Vincent with an arrival about 10 minutes late. Despite the extra legroom, 2.5 hours is a long time to sit on a propeller plane. Now, the bad part: Despite having seen all of the bags loaded onto the plane, only four of seven made the flight with us. Many other passengers groaned upon seeing that their luggage was also missing, and a long queue formed at the baggage counter. It definitely sounds like this is a regular occurrence! Our bags were tagged as “priority” but I felt like that sticker was simply for decoration. The workers said that our bags had been offloaded in San Juan for weight reasons; as every seat was filled, it appears that LIAT prefers passengers over luggage. To make matters worse, we weren’t reunited with two of the three missing bags for 36 hours, and one didn’t come for five days! That was not a fun experience, although we tried not to let it dampen our fun in the Caribbean sun. Our return was a week later, on Sunday, December 28.
Check-in: 5.0 (slow despite short line)
Airport facilities: 7.0 (departure area set away from most facilities)
Boarding: 9.0 (very orderly)
Seat comfort: 6.0 (no recline, but extra legroom was the saving grace)
Crew: 6.0 (nice but robotic)
Food/Beverage: 3.0 (water fine, but crackers not good)
Baggage Retrieval: 2.0 (4/7 bags arrived)
LIAT flight 384
STD/ATD: 10:00 a.m./10:40 a.m.
STA/ATA: 1:05/1:25 p.m.
Dash-8-300 V2-LGG (same aircraft)
Check in was fine, and the St. Vincent airport is very small, a couple of gift shops and not much else. I believe the airport only accommodates propeller planes?
Assuming that our flight was on time, we arrive in the departure area past security around 9:30. No plane. At 10:00, the original departure time, an announcement was made that the flight was delayed until 10:30 as it was late coming in from Trinidad—I learned later that a late arrival in Trinidad from Antigua the night before (air traffic control) cut into the required crew rest time, hence the delay. We eventually boarded and took off around 40 minutes late. There was no welcome announcement apart from the same safety demonstration. We were in the air for about 15 minutes before arriving at St. Lucia. Here, we were required to exit the plane with our bags and be re-screened before boarding. This took about 30 minutes, and we were beginning to think about our connection in San Juan at 2:45 p.m. We were also keeping a sharp eye on our checked bags; fortunately they all followed us to San Juan—it helped that the passenger load was very light, about 1/3 of the seats were occupied. After taking off from St. Lucia, a similar snack and beverage service took place; the flight attendant, Dannah, seemed pretty nice.
Check-in: 9.0 (no problems)
Airport facilities: 7.0 (not much to offer, although fine for a small airport)
Boarding: 7.0 (fine)
Seat comfort: 6.0 (same aircraft)
Crew: 7.0 (friendlier, but still robotic)
Food/Beverage: 5.0 (chips were better than the crackers)
Baggage Retrieval: 10.0 (all bags made it!)
Upon arriving just before 1:30, there were more security checks, and at this point we were REALLY nervous about our connection. However, through a combination of Spanish language skills and some very nice and understanding agents (again!), we made the connection with seconds to spare; the gate information had even changed to the following flight. I must stress that connecting through San Juan on US Airways is horrible. Some airlines, like AA, have a desk immediately after security to re-check bags for domestic flights, but this was not the case on US. Instead, we had to drag our bags halfway across the airport up to the main check-in counter and deal with the long, snaking line. I strongly advise anyone connecting to US to leave ample time, as the process is anything but efficient. We were fortunate to have made it.
US Airways flight 1968
STD/ATD: 2:45 p.m./2:45 p.m.
STA/ATA: 5:50 p.m./5:25 p.m.
Airbus A319 717UW? (Couldn’t catch the registration)
The plane was in the new white US livery. Because of a late check-in our seats were reassigned throughout the cabin, and I was in 9B. I strongly advise people not to sit in this row. Yes, it is an exit row, but there is very little, if any, extra legroom, and the seats do not recline and feel very upright. The plane was packed, though, so we couldn’t move. At least the seats were the new leather ones again, which made the comfort bearable for the 3.5 hour flight. Again, the flight attendants were very friendly and made regular passes through the cabin with food, beverage, and trash runs. Because of the tight connection I did not have time to get anything at the airport, so I shelled out $9 for a bottled water and the barbecue chicken salad. The salad was very good, although it was missing some of the advertised components: it was a simple mix of lettuce, grape tomatoes, and slices of chicken off to the side; there was no bean and corn mix, and the chocolate chip cookie had been replaced by an oatmeal raisin. It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but in paying $7 I was expecting a little more. Nevertheless, despite the small portion size, the salad was delicious, one of the better meals I have had at 30,000 feet. No IFE once again so I watched a DVD, which made the time fly. And fly we did, as we landed in Boston 25 minutes early! After a quick taxi to the gate, we headed down to the baggage claim with our fingers crossed that our bags had made the connection as well. And they did! What a relief, and great job by the US baggage team.
Check-in: 2.0 (long walk to counter and long line for check-in)
Airport facilities: N/A (didn’t have a chance to browse)
Boarding: N/A (arrived at the gate late so can’t comment)
Seat comfort: 2.0 (no recline, no extra legroom, upright, but leather comfortable)
Crew: 8.5 (friendly and good presence in the cabin)
Food/Beverage: 8.5 (salad excellent, but portion size was small given the price paid)
Baggage Retrieval: 9.5 (sent to wrong carousel, although our bags were among the first out)
Overall, while I thoroughly enjoyed the vacation and appreciated that 3 of 4 flights were on time, I will not take LIAT again unless I have to, and I will not connect through San Juan with US without leaving ample time. LIAT’s luggage problems overshadow the good legroom onboard, and the San Juan airport is not conducive to a tight connection. US needs to rework their ground service at SJU and get more agents working to prevent the long line. With fuel prices down, I do hope—but don’t expect—that they consider offering complimentary beverages once again. Overall, it was a good experience.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this; your thoughts and comments are most welcome! Again, I apologize for the lack of pictures. In the future, I may try and write in the style of “abrelosojos” in dividing up my report into different categories (airport, lounge, plane, crew, etc.) Next flight is later this month on JetBlue to Florida, so I will use any feedback to help write that report. Cheers!
[Edited 2009-01-01 13:19:03]