Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Trip Report: Caribbean Airlines, international + domestic (December 2015)

A Trip Report: Caribbean Airlines 
international + domestic (December 2015)
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

When we were planning our trip to the Caribbean and had decided on Trinidad and Tobago, the obvious choice in terms of getting there was Caribbean airlines.  Caribbean Airlines is based in Trinidad and Tobago and they offer direct flights from a number of U.S. gateways including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and New York.  They also have many sale fairs, and we found a great deal from Miami to Port of Spain.  We had two flights on Caribbean: the first flight was from Miami to Trinidad and then connecting to Tobago and was booked through a travel website; while the second flight was from Tobago to Port of Spain and that was booked directly through Caribbean Airlines.  The website for Caribbean Airlines is not very user friendly and definitely needs some improvements - it is fine when booking flights but very cumbersome and not user friendly when managing a booking or managing options.  Another reason we choose to book with Caribbean was for the perks – two free checked bags as well as meal in economy.  Given all this, we were eager to experience Caribbean Airlines.
The day before our departure, I was able to check-in online and print out boarding passes – I have a dietary restriction so I had called to ensure that was on the reservation and I was assured it was.  We got to the airport about 2 hours early, and the line to check-in was not too long – even though it was Christmas Day there were a lot of people travelling to the Caribbean.  Check-in was smooth and we proceeded to go through security and head towards our gate.  Our flight was to depart at 2:05pm and land in Port of Spain at 7:05p, our next flight was around 8:30pm given us about an hour to clear customs and immigration in Trinidad (which I was told was going to be enough time).  The plane was already at the gate when we got there, as it had come from Trinidad earlier that morning and this was going to be the return journey home.  Usually, the tail of the Caribbean Airlines is painted with a bright blue bird but the tail of this plane was white.   Boarding started and we were seated and in the plane by 1:40pm.

Overall impressions of the plane were that it was an older plane – with older seats and an older look.  There were no PTV’s in front of you, no USB ports, and no coat hooks.  The seats were in a 3-3 layout, the covers on the seats were a bit worn out, and the seats had a ‘sat-in’ feel.  While not completely comfortable, the seats were also not completely uncomfortable and were decent for the 3-hour journey (not sure if they would be comfortable for a longer flight).  The only good thing about the older plane was the good amount of legroom that was provided – it was really good legroom and as someone who is tall, I appreciate the legroom.  Other amenities of the plane included a magazine in the seat-back pocket and TV’s that dropped down from the ceiling.While we had left Miami late, we landed in Port of Spain on time. 

There was not a lot of communication from the on-board staff to the passengers – the flight attendants did not communicate that much and neither did the pilots.  Even when our departure was delayed, there was still not a lot of communication.  We were just delayed and then all of a sudden they closed the front doors and we were off, and that is when the flight attendants came on and welcomed us on board.

 The overall flight from Miami to Port of Spain was pretty uneventful.  The screens were showing a commercial for Trinidad and then a really old movie (one that I had never heard of) was screened.  As Caribbean is a full-service airline, a meal was provided to all passengers.  The overall flight time from Miami to Port of Spain is about 3hr 40 minutes, and the meal did not commence until at least 2 hours into the flight.  I am not sure why Caribbean decided to wait this long – was it to coordinate with the 7pm arrival time in Trinidad, or heating up the food? Whatever the reason, the delay was noticed by the passengers as there was nothing else to do on the flight (had they given passengers food earlier, passengers could’ve eaten and then fallen asleep and not been a bother to the flight attendants; that did not happen).  The meal provided was either fish or chicken, and there were also a vegetarian option provided (for those with dietary restrictions).  The food was decent enough for the 3.5hr flight – there are definitely other airlines that provide you with more and others that provide you with a lot less so at least something substantial was provided.  In addition to the food, drinks were served.  Tea and coffee were supposed to be served as well, but those were only individually served to those who requested it.  Even though there was enough time to provide all the services, the crew seemed a bit overwhelmed or unsure about the meal delivery.  Overall, the flight attendants were not rude but they definitely did not embody the ‘warm Caribbean spirit’ –they seemed there to just to do their job.

We were connecting to a domestic flight from Port of Spain to Tobago, so we had to clear customs in Trinidad, collect our baggage, exit the arrival hall and proceed to the domestic check-in hall.  Even though everything took a long time, we still made it in time for our flight to Tobago.

The flight from Port of Spain to Tobago only takes 25 minutes and is operated on an ATR flight.  On both sectors that we flew on – Port of Spain to Tobago and return – each aircraft was brand new with slimline seats that were nice and comfortable for the flight.  Due to the short length of the flight, no inflight services were provided but the plane was comfortable and extremely nice.

Overall, Caribbean Airlines offers you access to the Caribbean to a flight for a low price.  How enjoyable is that flight depends on your expectations.  If you are expecting a 5-star airline, you will be disappointed.  If you are expecting a low-budget, LCC carrier your expectations will be exceeded.  Caribbean Airlines seems to be a hybrid – low fares, free checked bags, meals on board, sometimes older planes and sometimes newer planes.  Given the free meal and free checked bags, they are winning as compared to some of the American mainline carriers they are competing with; however, now airlines such as JetBlue are entering into Caribbean Airlines territory and they offer snacks, PTVs, comfortable seats and lower cost.  We will see who wins in the end.

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