Hello and thank you for checking out my latest trip report! I'm currently pursuing a medical degree at St. George's University. Their main campus is on the island of Grenada but MD students have the option of doing year one at Northumbria University in Newcastle, which is the path that I opted for. I started in January 2020 so as you might expect everything went amok shortly after that because of COVID. We transitioned to online learning midway through that first semester and this format continued for over a year. If you're interested in reading about my trip Newcastle and then what it was like to travel back to the US during the height of the shutdown you can check out that report here
. Finally, in April 2021, with the COVID situation starting to stabilize and vaccine distribution increasing, the school announced that all students would be able to return to in-person learning on campus in Grenada for the August 2021 term.
If you don't know it already, flying internationally during COVID is a pain. The first issue was trying to get a flight down there. Now, even pre-pandemic there weren't a lot of flights going to St. George’s, so obviously my options were going to be even more scaled-back. AA was only flying to GND twice per week and they were charging over $1500 just for a one-way.
In the same email where the school announced a return to in-person learning they also acknowledged that "Although flight options into Grenada are currently limited, we are working closely with the airlines, and they will be adding significant capacity throughout the summer in response to booking demand." It doesn't seem like much came of that though. The school did, however, send out another email that they were going to organize pet charter flights for those wishing to return to campus with their dog or cat. The flights were from FLL on IBC Airways at a cost of $1650. As for myself, the only other option I had was to fly B6 via JFK. The only issue was that the flight from JFK to GND left early in the morning and there were no connections available from ORD. I would have to use the "multi-city" option to book the two legs separately and spend a night in New York. Another drawback was that I was now going to have to pay bags fees TWICE, once for each leg. An additional point of confusion was that B6's website listed the flights simply as "Economy" instead of Blue Basic, Blue, or Blue Extra so I wasn't sure about my carry-on allowance. I called B6 (I was on hold for over an hour and a half before I finally got through to someone) and they confirmed that a carry-on wasn't included in the fare. I also asked if they could somehow conjure up an itinerary where I wouldn't have to pay bag fees twice but they were unable to help me. So when you take into account the fees for two bags and the hotel for one night in New York I saved $380 by flying B6 instead of AA. What do you think - was it worth it? Thankfully booking my flight home was straightforward and I even had enough AA miles for a free fight.
Next, there were a whole bunch of other things I had to do to satisfy the requirements for traveling to Grenada:
- Get fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Initially it was the school that required vaccinations, but effective July 31st all visitors arriving in Grenada had to be fully vaccinated (this excluded citizens and residents of Grenada). I work as an EMT so I had the opportunity to get the shot very early, but some of my classmates who live outside the US had trouble getting fully vaccinated in time and as a result they weren't able to come.
- Negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival to Grenada.
- Pre-pay $150 for another PCR test that is administered upon arrival in Grenada. Curiously, a few days after I arrived in Grenada the school sent out an email informing us that effective immediately this fee would be waived for SGU students.
- Book quarantine accommodation. Fully vaccinated travelers were required to quarantine for up to 48 hours whilst awaiting the results of their PCR test. This was another point of frustration because for several months SGU had a FAQ page on their website and in regards to the quarantine it said "Students may quarantine in their dorm room or off-campus housing while awaiting the results of their PCR test performed upon arrival." It turned out only certain off-campus housing locations were "state approved quarantine facilities" and of course mine wasn't so now I had to pay for a hotel.
- Apply for "Pure Safe Travel Authorization." This was basically an application through the Ministry of Health in Grenada where you had enter all of your information and then get approved to travel to Grenada.
As you can see there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get this all set up. However, as you'll soon find out this was only half the battle because the trip down there was a whole 'nother ordeal. (July 30-October 13)
As is usually the case I was racing to finish packing right up until we left to go to the airport. My flight to JFK was late in the evening at 7:40 PM, so we left home at around 5 and it took right around an hour to get down to ORD. Despite it being rush hour, traffic was minimal right up until we got close to the airport. My mom dropped me off at Terminal 2, we said our goodbyes, and I headed inside to check-in. That's when the problems began. The check-in agent asked to see my Grenada travel authorization paperwork, which I had, but then she also wanted to see my negative COVID test. This was an issue because I still hadn't received the email with my results. Honestly, I was a little miffed I still hadn't received it by that time because it was now approaching 30 hours since I had gotten swabbed. I guess maybe I was a little naive but at this stage in the game I figured they would've had the testing situation figured out and it'd be quick 1-2-3, you know? Putting all that aside, however, what I didn't understand is why I needed to show my negative COVID test now when I in essence booked two separate flights. I assumed that I would only be getting checked in for the first flight at ORD, and that I wouldn't have to present the negative COVID test until the following morning when I was at JFK. She said I needed to present it now because it was a "connecting flight", but that didn't make sense because like I previously mentioned I used the multi-city option and I had to pay checked bag fees for both legs! Her response to this was "Yeah, well, Grenada is still your final destination so we still need to see it now." I was incredulous, but despite my pleas she wasn't going to budge. I tried calling the Walgreens where I had gotten tested but they said they only administer the test and then send the samples off to some lab and there was no way to contact them.
At that point I thought I was screwed and I was just about resigned that I'd have to be rebooked to the next day. The B6 agent pointed out that there was a COVID testing site at ORD and maybe I could go over there and get one done real quick. I wasn't too optimistic about that because obviously I didn't have an appointment and I thought there was no way they could get a test done in the limited amount of time I had before the flight. Regardless, I decided I might as well give it a shot so I ran over there. The testing site is at the Bus/Shuttle Center so thankfully it wasn't that far from the B6 check-in counter, but sprinting through the airport with two large suitcases and a backpack in tow isn't the easiest thing.
Much to my surprise, when I got down there I found out that they do in fact offer a rapid PCR test that can be done in 30 minutes. The only drawback was that it cost a whopping $225.
I felt like I had no choice though, so I hurryingly filled out the paperwork, got swabbed, and hustled back over to the B6 ticket counter. As you can imagine there were quite a few other people there just like me who were scrambling to get a test done right before their flight. One guy in particular, who seemed like he had completely forgotten that he needed a negative COVID test for his flight, called the price of the test a "cash grab" and bemoaned that the previous tests he had done in Canada and other countries were way cheaper.
Out of breath and now quite sweaty, I got back up to the ticket counter and explained to the B6 rep that I had managed to get tested and should have the results within the next 30 minutes. Then a guy who looked like the supervisor came over and informed me that the cut-off for checked bags was in 10 minutes and that if I didn't get my results within that time I'd have to be rebooked to the next day. Well gee, wouldn't that have been something worth mentioning before I ran across the airport and dropped $225 on the test?!
The supervisor guy practically scolded me and said that I should have known about all of this and gotten it figured out ahead of time. I started to enter the ranting and raving phase and my frustration was on the verge of boiling over. Once again it wasn't looking good, but then after a few minutes went by, unexpectedly, he said he'd check me in but if for whatever reason I had some kind of issue with the test results I'd be on my own once I got to New York. Obviously I was relieved that I was going to get on the flight, but it was a little ridiculous that they made go through all of that trouble of producing the negative COVID test and then in the end they checked me in anyways without even seeing it! I received the boarding passes for both of my flights, and my bags were checked all the way through to Grenada.
At that late hour things were starting to wind down so I as able to scurry through the TSA checkpoint rather quickly and from there it wasn't far to my departure gate G2. The boarding process was commencing right as I walked up to the gate area, so aside from getting a quick look at my plane I obviously didn't have any time to walk around and explore. Lost in all the commotion was that this would be my first time flying B6. They're scheduled to start flying from MKE March 2022 so perhaps I'll be flying with them more often from now on.
Now seated aboard the aircraft, I was finally able to relax a bit. It was during this time that I received the email with my results from the ORD testing site, and it was indeed negative. We pushed back on time and taxied over to runway 9R for departure. It almost seemed like ORD was back to the pre-pandemic hustle and bustle that its known for. There was a lot of activity on the taxiways and a bit of a wait for takeoff as well.
It was a little bumpy as we climbed out over Lake Michigan but eventually things smoothened out. I attempted to use the Wi-Fi and much to my surprise it was free in exchange for signing up for TrueBlue (B6's rewards program). For some reason it said it wasn't able to "authenticate" my account but it still connected me to the Wi-Fi anyways. I had no idea B6 offered free Wi-Fi and I had never experienced this on any other airline before. Nowadays it sure seems like free Wi-Fi is commonplace almost anywhere, so it'd be nice to see all the other airlines follow suit. Maybe that's wishful thinking though.
This E190 was equipped with smallish, old-fashioned looking PTVs. It was non-touch screen and the controls were integrated in the armrest. There was also a slot to swipe your credit card but it seemed like those might be obsolete now. Unfortunately the live TV wasn't working.
There was a standard in-flight service with drinks and snacks which included things like Cheez-It crackers and granola bars. About midway through the flight I finally received the email from Walgreens - also negative.
The remainder of the flight was uneventful and eventually we started nearing New York City.
Despite it being dark out I was able to make out LGA, JFK, and both the Yankees' and Mets' stadiums. We flew out over the water and turned back around to land on runway 31R. Following a quick taxi to the gate and subsequent deplaning I found myself inside JFK for the first time and from here it was off to the hotel for the night. Earlier that day I had called them to inquire about the free airport shuttle service that was advertised online, but they said it wasn't running due to COVID and understaffing. That figures.
Anyhow, once I exited the airside area I first trekked quite a ways over to the taxi stand. When I got there a decent line had already built up and it was barely moving. I decided to call an audible and I walked back to the arrivals pickup area where I ordered an Uber. While I was waiting for my ride I got a good view of the TWA Hotel across the road. It definitely looked like a must-visit for any avgeek, but I just didn't think it'd be worth it this particular time due to my quick overnight stay.
I stayed at a Sleep Inn which was 5-10 minutes from the airport. Frankly, it wasn't the nicest hotel and it wasn't in the nicest neighborhood either. I mainly just wanted a cheap place near the airport where I could crash so I guess in that sense it served its purpose.
Back at ORD I was in such a rush that I had forgotten to remove my toiletry bag from my suitcase. All along I expected that I'd have to retrieve my luggage at JFK, so now I didn't have any of that stuff with me. The front desk was only able to provide me with toothpaste and a toothbrush. I walked to a nearby 7-Eleven hoping they might have contact lens solution, but no such luck. I was able to print out a copy of my COVID test result in the "business center" (which was basically a computer they just stuck in the dining room) and then after that I returned to my room and hit the sack. It obviously wasn't a full night's sleep, but I'm certain it was still better than spending the night in the airport terminal. The hotel's complimentary breakfast was also suspended due to COVID so in the morning I headed straight out. My Uber dropped me off at Terminal 5 about two hours before the flight.
The line for security was quite long so having TSA PreCheck definitely came in handy that morning. After clearing security I bought a bagel sandwich to hold me over for the four plus-hour flight down to Grenada. I'm not sure if its just me, but ever since travel has rebounded it seems like the lines for food at some of these bigger airports are way longer than they ever were pre-COVID. I'm not sure if its due to understaffing, some restaurants that still haven't reopened or what, but I noticed the same thing at ATL during the summer. From there I headed to my gate which was all the way down at the end of the concourse. The aircraft for my flight pulled up a few minutes after I got down there.
I was starting to wonder if anyone was even going to check for my negative COVID test, but sure enough eventually the gate agent announced that all passengers had to approach the podium to have their negative test and travel authorization form signed off on prior to boarding. There was still some time before boarding started so in the meantime I walked around and checked out some of the other flights. This A321 NEO was going to SJU.
My seat for this flight was 20A. Once again I was in luck as the middle seat next to me ended up being empty. It was another on-time departure and we took off from runway 31L. It was a nice clear morning and as we turned around toward the east we got a good overview of JFK.
As Long Island faded off into the distance I figured that would be the last piece of land I'd see until we were landing in Grenada. The Wi-Fi and live TV only worked for about the first 45 minutes of the flight, at which point the aircraft left the "coverage area" for these services. The BOB consisted of snack boxes, headsets, and pillows/blankets. I got some coffee and water during the beverage service and then shortly afterward the flight attendants passed out immigration/customs forms. There was a little bit of on/off turbulence but nothing too bad. I watched "Judas and the Black Messiah" via the seatback entertainment system and up until that point everything was going just fine.
Then about halfway through the flight one of the flight attendants made an announcement acknowledging that the toilets onboard the plane had stopped working.
She said that we were still free to use to toilets if we needed to, and that they'd be placing plastic bags in the lavatories where used toilet paper should be discarded. Thankfully I didn't really have the urge "to go", but I had a feeling this might cause a flight disruption. Sure enough, in due time the captain announced that two hours was simply too long to continue without functioning toilets and that we were going to divert to SJU. Almost immediately after this announcement was made, a lady who was sitting in the row right behind me was assisted to the front of the plane by one of the flight attendants. Then another announcement was made that they needed the assistance of any doctors that might be onboard the plane. Now I've worked as an EMT for over five years and I had completed 1.5 years of medical school by then, but thankfully someone else stepped up and I didn't need to be called into action.
Soon another flight attendant hurried through he aisle with what looked like a first aid kit and from what I could see it looked like there was quite a bit of commotion at the front of the plane. For a moment it seemed like it might actually be a legit serious situation, but thankfully things appeared to calm down after that. The person who was sitting in the aisle seat next to me said earlier she had seen the passenger in question keeled over on the toilet at the back of the plane with the lavatory door left wide open.
At that point it wasn't long until we started our descent into SJU. We landed on runway 10 using heavy braking/thrust reverse and just like that, out of the blue, I was in Puerto Rico for the first time.
Upon arrival at the gate the EMTs came onboard and extricated the sick passenger. After that we were allowed to exit into the terminal to use the restroom. As I got off the plane I passed by the troubled woman who was now seated in a wheelchair in the gate area. Having been in the business for several years, I could see the EMTs had that look on their face of "This person is acting ridiculous and I really don't want to deal with this right now."
I didn't stray too far from the gate and frankly there wasn't very much to see or do. Most of the shops/cafes in that part of the terminal were closed and there were no windows so you couldn't see outside at all. It wasn't a very glamorous part of the airport, that's for sure. Right after I got back on the aircraft the captain informed us that the toilets had been fixed but some sort of sensor still needed to be replaced to ensure the problem didn't happen again. This was supposed to take an hour, so everyone was instructed to grab all of their belongings and deplane once again. On my way off the plane I snapped a picture of the cabin. This particular A321 had the "Mint" configuration.
With the extra time we had I ventured further into the airport. Here's a view of our plane at the gate at SJU.
I made my way over to the busier part of the airport near the B & C gates where there were more restaurants/shops in operation. I got in line for Popeyes and it took quite a while to get my food. By the time I got back to the gate most people had already reboarded the aircraft and we were just about set to go, or at least it seemed that way. Before we could push-back there was another delay stemming from the passenger that had been removed from the flight. Apparently they had to update the records/paperwork to reflect the updated roster of passengers on the plane. By the time we lifted off again we had spent about 2.5 hours on the ground at SJU.
Thankfully the remaining trek down to Grenada proceeded without further incident. The flight attendants did come through the aisle with another beverage service. Our approach was completely over the ocean, and upon landing we rolled out along the entire length of the runway, turned around, and then backtracked up to the terminal as there are no taxiways at GND. There are also no jet bridges so we deplaned via the airstairs onto the tarmac. There was a BA 777 from LGW (via Antigua) that landed right after us.
Upon entering the terminal we first had to queue up to have our entry paperwork checked and this part took the longest. From there we were directed to the COVID testing area. Unlike the two previous tests I had just undergone, this time they really stuck the swab WAY up there into my nostril. It was beyond uncomfortable. Next, I proceeded to immigration, baggage collection, and then finally customs before exiting the airport terminal. All told the whole process took about an hour and fifteen minutes. There were representatives from the university waiting for us outside and they arranged free transfer to my quarantine location. By the time I got to the hotel I felt like I had never needed a shower more in my entire life. The long, stressful trip to get down to Grenada was finally over, but as it turned out it still wouldn't be completely smooth sailing from that point.
I did my quarantine at the Radisson Grenada Beach Resort. The hotel itself and the grounds were fine, but the food that I got delivered to my room was meh and the Wi-Fi was poor.
I was in contact with some of my classmates who had already arrived in Grenada and pretty much all of them got released from quarantine within 24 hours. The school had also previously informed us that we should expect that to be the case. Well, the two nights went by and check-out time rolled around and I still hadn't gotten contacted by the health ministry. The "quarantine order" paperwork that I was given at the airport said I had to "remain at the location for two days OR unless you are sooner certified by a health officer to be COVID free and you have been officially released from quarantine." I don't know about you, but to me that made it sound like either one of those criteria needed to be met, not both.
With that, I gathered my things, ordered a cab, and headed over to my apartment. When I got there, the lady who was there to check me into my room started to have a little bit of a freak-out when she found out that I hadn't actually been contacted by the health officials. According to her they take the whole COVID quarantine "very seriously" in Grenada and she was unsure if she could allow me into the apartment. She went off to make some phone calls and when she returned she did indeed allow me to go into my room and wait out for the actual clearance. I already mentioned that I didn't think the instructions were exactly clear, but in addition you were only supposed to book quarantine accommodation for two nights. What am I expected to do if its check-out time and I still haven't gotten my results back? It doesn't seem fair to pay for a third night just because they can't get their act together. Furthermore, apparently the staff at the hotel were supposed to stop me from leaving but they didn't say anything at all about it when I checked out. As the hours went by I was starting to think that nobody was ever going to reach out to me, but they did finally call me via WhatsApp late that night and tell me I was good. By that time it was past the 48 hours that had been stipulated. I didn't have much time to get settled in because the next day was the first day of class.
You might be wondering why I decided to attend a medical school in Grenada. Well, getting into US medical schools is tough, so for those that are unsuccessful this is an alternative option. The downside is that these "offshore" schools don't always have the best reputation and its subsequently more difficult to secure residency placement back in the US. I'm not proud that this is where I've ended up, but my undergraduate GPA was mediocre so this became my best shot to achieve my career goal. St. George's University is colloquially known as the "Harvard of the Caribbean" because its been around the longest and its the most well known. Unlike most of the other Caribbean schools (AUC, SABA) which only have an MD program, SGU also has a veterinary medicine program and they also offer some other undergraduate and graduate degrees. Like I mentioned earlier, even though this was my fourth semester it was my first time setting foot on the main campus in Grenada and I have to say that its very nice.
A nice perk for an avgeek like me is that the airport runway literally runs adjacent to the campus grounds, so even though the air traffic was minimal it was still cool seeing the occasional flight take off right overhead. A few times I even saw a 727 blasting out of there. I can't even remember the last time I had actually seen one of those flying in person.
Let's face it, Grenada is a developing country. While its not quite as backwards as I originally feared it might be, a lot of the comforts of home are still lacking. I had already done quite a bit of traveling, but some of the other students who had never previously stepped foot outside the US probably experience some culture shock coming here. Another thing about Grenada is that its SUPER humid. Within a few minutes of stepping outside my back would be completely wet. During the time I was there it was considered the "rainy" season and while I wouldn't say it rained a ton, there could be some huge downpours. It was also hurricane season, but because of how far south Grenada is positioned direct hits from major storms are uncommon. I lived in L'anse Aux Epines which seemed to be one of the more affluent neighborhoods. The university runs a series of bus routes from campus so that made it easier to get around.
The city of St. George's.
The view from Fort George, originally built in 1705 by the French and now used by the police force as their base of operations.
Undoubtedly Grenada's best perks are the beaches and the warm weather. Grand Anse Beach has to be one of the top 3 beaches I've ever visited. Plus, the warm and sunny weather sure beats chilly Wisconsin.
For most people, however, Grenada is probably better known for its political history than it is for being a vacation spot. Interestingly, part of Reagan's justification for the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 was that he was worried that the American medical students on the island could be entangled in a repeat of the Iran hostage crisis. The US administration also contended that the current airport (which was under construction at the time) was going to aid a Soviet-Cuban military buildup. A monument was built on campus as a memorial to the 19 soldiers who lost their lives during the operation, and there's an older one near the airport.
Unfortunately, it only took a mere few weeks after my arrival in Grenada for things to take a turn for the worst. Up until that point the country had recorded just over 200 COVID cases and only 1 death total since the start of the pandemic (it was up to nearly 6000 cases and 184 deaths by the time I left). Then about 20 cases popped up which were traced back to some "unauthorized gathering" of local folks. The government swiftly imposed a 9 PM curfew, and less than a week later all restaurants/bars were forced to close. Predictably, cases continued to increase, the curfew was moved back to 7 PM, beach access was severely restricted, and "no movement days" were instituted during the weekend where nobody was allowed to leave their home at all unless you were going for COVID testing/vaccination. Needless to say, I was not used to such harsh restrictions and I did not enjoy it one bit. Eventually, the school made the decision to return to online learning and at that point a lot of people started packing their bags and taking off. I wrestled with it myself, but in the end I too decided to pull the plug on Grenada and return home early. When I was in Newcastle and COVID first blew up I was presented with a similar situation. That time I chose to stick it out because I thought things would get better, but that didn't happen and it ended up being a miserable time. There was just too much uncertainty surrounding the future of the COVID restrictions and the possibility of having to suffer through another two months wasn't a pleasant thought. I was able to get out of my lease for November and December so that made things easier. Since I had booked my return trip using AA miles I wasn't able to change my flight. Instead I had to cancel it, but the miles were refunded instantaneously and then I simply used the miles again to secure the new flight.
The situation was starting to improve somewhat at the time I left, but I didn't feel like sticking around in case another wave of infections hit. I changed my departure to the day after the second exam. I felt it was preferable to focus, take care of business, and then take the time to transition home without having any immediate concerns. SGU offered COVID testing for travel purposes twice per week. That fell on the day before my departure, so given what happened during my trip down to Grenada I was naturally a little apprehensive that there might be another issue. However, this time around it was stress-free and I got my results back in a mere couple of hours.
There's no Uber/Lyft in Grenada so I had to arrange my own ride to the airport. Basically, there was this guy who had delivered me food a few times through the local version of Uber Eats, so I simply texted him and offered him some money to drive me. As another reminder of just how humid it is in Grenada, I took a shower just prior to leaving and all it took was me hauling my bags down to the car to turn into a hot, sweaty mess.
It was a quick ten minute ride from my apartment to the airport and I got dropped off there around two hours before my flight. The exterior of the Maurice Bishop International Airport terminal building isn't too glamorous.
My flight to MIA was the only one scheduled to depart within the next few hours so the airport was pretty quiet. During check-in I had to produce my negative COVID test and after that nobody asked to see it the rest of the trip. Shops way outnumbered food options post-security. There was free Wi-Fi that seemed to work well.
Right after I took that picture an airport employee came up to me and told me she thought it was strange that I was taking pictures of the inside of the airport and she wanted to know why I was doing it. Every now and then I'll have someone approach me about it on the grounds of suspicion, but thankfully she just seemed genuinely interested about it more than anything else.
The flight information screen showed that our flight was due to arrive about thirty minutes late. I was looking forward to this leg because it was supposed to be on a 737 MAX, my first flight on the type. At that time they had been back in service with AA for just under a year. However, when the flight landed I could tell right away that it was just a regular 737 and not a MAX. Looks like I got burned by the equipment change. I was pretty surprised though by the amount of passengers that got off the plane since I figured almost nobody would be flying to Grenada given the restrictions at the time. In the following picture you can see St. George's University off in the distance.
As luck would have it a rain shower moved in just as boarding got started. Obviously this process isn't exactly streamlined since the line of people heading aboard the aircraft starts/stops and gets backed up, so inevitably everyone got stuck out in the rain for a little bit. I had definitely seen it rain much harder in Grenada, however, so it could've been worse. It still seemed to bother some of the other passengers though. Given the fact that there's no jet bridges at GND, maybe it'd be a good idea for the airport to invest in some umbrellas that can be distributed to passengers when its raining? As I was about to head down onto the tarmac I snapped one more picture of our plane and that's when another guy told me that taking photos wasn't allowed.
I'm wondering, is this an actual policy? Or is it more likely that this guy doesn't know any better and since he thinks its suspicious and he views himself as an authority figure he has to put a stop to it? Like I said that's not the first time I've had that happen to me, but it tends to happen much more frequently when I'm outside the US. Its just a little annoying that something so harmless draws so much attention.
I had decided to splurge roughly $60 for a Main Cabin Extra seat on this flight. I almost never get premium seating when I fly so having some extra legroom for a change was nice. I was in 8F which was the bulkhead seat. The tray table is installed in the fixed armrest so that does constrain you a bit.
At this point we were already running a bit behind schedule due to the aircraft's late arrival, and then the captain informed us that there would be another delay. He explained that the airport procedure requires all arriving/departing aircraft to be towed to/from the runway with their engines shut off. Right at that time a BA flight had just landed, and since there are no taxiways at GND and there is only one tug, we had to wait for the ground staff to bring that plane in before we could pushback. I don't recall this occurring when I arrived in Grenada and even the captain sounded a little annoyed with it. Maybe someone on here can explain the rationale behind this procedure.
Eventually they finally hooked the tug up and towed us all the way out onto the runway. It was all a bit tedious and drawn-out. Once the engines fired up we taxied down the runway and then turned around at the end to takeoff. We buzzed the SGU campus and as we turned away I got one last look at Grenada before it disappeared through the clouds.
Despite the stormy weather that was in the area we were able to avoid most of it during the climb and it was pretty smooth. Wi-Fi wasn't working on this flight, though I'm not sure if that's because it was broken or if its always unavailable on international flights. During the in-flight service I got a pack of pretzels and a can of coke. I used AA's free streaming IFE to watch The Courier on my phone. Despite lots of airlines offering this type of service for a while now I had never utilized it before but it worked fine. For a large chunk of the first half of the flight we were mainly in the clouds and there was light turbulence. Things finally cleared up while we were over the Turks and Caicos Islands and as we got near Miami the sun started to set.
During our approach I got a good view of South Beach and its colorful lit-up buildings, Downtown Miami, and MIA. We turned around back towards the airport over the edge of the Everglades and landed on runway 9.
After vacating the runway it took somewhat of a lengthy taxi to reach the gate, and when the engines shut off I had just under an hour and a half to catch my flight to ORD. I wasn't too worried at that point, but these international connections can be tricky. You have to go through immigration and customs, retrieve your bags, and then pass through security again, so its a bit of a process. Normally I always prefer to sit behind the wing, so at least this time I was able to get off the plane quicker. The Skytrain heading over to passport control was packed to the brim, so as soon as the sliding doors opened I made a break for it to try and beat most of the crowd. It was fairly busy and it seemed like the evening rush of flights from Latin America and the Caribbean were all coming in around that time. Still, there were plenty of kiosks so I was able to get through there relatively quickly. One thing I noticed is that they didn't pass out the blue customs declaration forms during the flight. I wasn't sure if that was something that changed because of COVID or if they just decided to get rid of them anyways.
When I made it over to the baggage carousel our bags had yet to start arriving and it took a while before it finally fired up. It was now under an hour to go until my next flight and I started to get a just a bit ancy. Upon retrieving my luggage I hustled out there and made a beeline for the baggage re-check area. The TSA checkpoint was nearby and it was pretty hectic, so having PreCheck definitely came in handy. It was a bit of a walk to the gate, but by the time I made it over there they hadn't even started boarding yet and they ended up pushing back the departure time fifteen minutes anyways. Interestingly, my flight to ORD was departing from gate D12, the same gate I had arrived at. So I would be flying on the same exact aircraft that had taken me from GND. I took advantage of the extra time by going to grab some food at Wendy's. I didn't have any time to eat it, however, as boarding was in full swing when I got back to the gate area.
I was back in the main cabin in seat 21A for this flight and as you might expect I felt noticeably more cramped. It didn't help that there was a "larger" person in the middle seat next to me. After pushing back we made our way over to runway 8R and we got airborne after a short queue. The flight was uneventful. There was another typical drink & snack service and it was smooth throughout. I was able to successfully use the Wi-Fi on this flight and I spent most of the time reading articles on my phone. The following week I flew AA to DEN to attend a wedding, and on my return trip I got briefly disconnected from the Wi-Fi and then it wanted me to pay for it again. I didn't want to cause a scene and it was sort of near the end of the flight so decided not to bother the flight attendants about it, but for future reference is there anything they would have been able to do for me anyways?
I don't know if someone was listening to music really loud or if they were watching a movie on their computer without headphones or what, but there was noticeably loud noise coming from the back of the cabin. I had something similar happen on a DL flight a few months back and in both instances I can't believe nobody told the person to tone it down. To make matters worse, there was another person seated a few rows ahead of me that started snoring obnoxiously loud (almost like a gargling sounds). As the flight wore on and the tiredness really started to set in after a long day of travel, it really started to drive me crazy.
Also, by this point after nearly a whole day of wearing it the loops of the KN95 mask were really starting to eat into the back of my ears as well. We landed on runway 28C. Normally if you're sitting on the left side of the plane you'll get a great view of downtown Chicago, but unfortunately it was somewhat obscured by low cloud cover. The deplaning process seemed painfully slow, and just for good measure the crying (more like screaming) baby got going during this time as well. Needless to say, I was ready to get out of there. After exiting I got one last look of the 738 that had flown me all the way up from Grenada.
By that time it was approaching midnight and the baggage claim was pretty quiet. Aside from my flight, the arrivals board only displayed two other flights from DFW and CLT and otherwise it was blank. My bags came out shortly after I reached the carousel. I headed outside to wait for my mom and she showed up after about fifteen minutes. From there it was a one hour drive back to Racine, Wisconsin. I was home, though much sooner than I had originally anticipated.
Thank you for checking out my latest trip report! In the end, my time in Grenada was cut short by just over a month and a half. I guess I can say I was there and obviously I love to travel and visit new places, but let's be honest, if I had known ahead of time what the situation was going to be like then I probably wouldn't have gone in the first place. It didn't help that the trip down there was a borderline nightmare. Students had the option to opt-out and continue online learning and apparently they were way more accommodating with this than I thought they would be. A lot of people ended up staying home in the first place. One of the main reasons I went down there was because we were supposed to make several visits to the Grenada General Hospital and I thought that sort of hands-on stuff would be invaluable, but obviously those plans got axed. Especially when it comes to interviewing and assessing patients, Zoom medical school isn't exactly adequate, you know? Fortunately I have worked as an EMT for nearly six years, because otherwise with all the disruptions we've had I would've been woefully unprepared to transition into the hospitals. As for my current situation, I've got about a month left to go in the term and then assuming I pass everything I'll be halfway done with medical school. I'll probably take the Step 1 exam in March and then start my clinical rotations in late May. SGU has agreements with several hospitals across the US and I'll probably end up in the New York City area. When it comes to Grenada, I'm not sure if I'll ever be back. Its definitely not very touristy so perhaps those that are looking for a more authentic Caribbean experience would enjoy it. Maybe I could see myself stopping off there again while on a cruise, but otherwise there's other Caribbean destinations (Barbados, Turks and Caicos, etc.) I'd probably rather visit instead. Thanks again for reading!