I’d arranged with my taxi driver the night before who dropped me off at the Hilton to pick me up in the morning at 5am for my 7am flight, despite the Caribbean Airlines people assuring me the night before when I’d tried to check in that I “had” to be there no later than 5am – hmmm, yeah, I’ve heard that story before. The day’s drama began when I tried to take the elevator to the lobby to check out. See, the Hilton Port-of-Spain is built into a hill, and you actually check in on the top floor…all the floors are down from there, and I was a good 6-7 floors below the lobby. Press the button for the elevator…nothing. Press again. Nothing. Used the house phone next to the elevator to call the front desk, yes, they would send someone. It took “someone” (who turned out to be the night manager) three calls to come, and finally he arrived with a maintenance guy who showed me just down the hall to the service elevator so I could get going. They had no idea what the malfunction was. Checked out, and finally on my way around 5:15 am for the 30 minute drive to the airport.
Check-in line was empty when I got there about 5:45, and I was plenty early. For some reason row 1 (the exit row, aka legroom) was still “blocked” so I was told to ask at the gate. There’s no exit immigration in Trinidad, so I decided to grab a quick coffee before hitting security, which had no line. Still got to the gate more than 45 minutes in advance, yes, row one was open, and I could even have seat next to me open. Score!
Caribbean Airlines Flight 300
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (POS) to Caracas, Venezuela (CCS)
Depart 7:00, Arrive 8:15, Flight Time 1:45
ATR-72, Registration 9Y-TTA, Manufactured 2011, Seat 1A
The irony of being on this flight is that almost exactly a year prior, I’d flown this exact same flight the only other time I’d been to Caracas – quite a funny coincidence I was now using it at the last minute to fly around hurricane drama. The last time they’d “informed” me when I arrived in Caracas that oops, my luggage was still back in Trinidad, so this time I insisted on wheeling it to the gate myself and gate-checking it. Hopefully this would solve the problem. Plane loaded up, maybe five free seats total including the one next to me, and we were off. There was a small snack box offered, but it looked far less than appetizing so I settled for a glass of water and an uneventful flight.
When we were about 10-15 minutes out from landing, it started to get really bumpy. Prop planes aren’t fun on the best of days, but the modern ones really aren’t too bad. We were getting blown side to side quite a bit, and there was some serious chop, which got worse the closer to landing we got. It doesn’t help that the runway in Caracas runs parallel to the water, and the approach is low over a very residential area. What looked to be less than 50 feet off the ground the pilot gunned the engines, and it was obvious we were starting to climb again. After about 5 minutes, he came on to let us know the wind was too bad and he didn’t feel able to land safely. We’d wait ten minutes and try again.
Circle around, and on approach, the same very windy, very bumpy conditions. Pilot came on to tell us that “air traffic control” had told us that the winds had died down significantly and it was ok to land now. We didn’t even make it as close this time, and we could see the start of the runway, but at around 100 feet off the ground the engines were gunned again, and we started to climb.
Captain came on again after a few minutes, and was obviously quite peeved with the airport. The winds clearly hadn’t died down, and it was pretty clear he was unhappy he’d had to try a rather scary and unsafe approach again. There would be no third try, we were off to our alternate at Curacao…where, after I asked the flight attendant, it was confirmed there was no Caribbean Airlines operation, so we’d just sit in the plane for an hour or two and wait for winds to die down. There goes my connection! ARGH!
That lasted all of about 3-4 minutes. Unfortunately, the pilot was now “more confident” about the landing in Caracas than he was about going to Curacao with our remaining fuel. Um, when your pilot says something like “of the possible options at this stage, the safest appears to be a landing in Caracas. I will ask the flight attendant to demonstrate the brace position” that’s when you get more than a little nervous. The “all the possible options” part seriously had me thinking he was considering ditching at sea, though, I’m sure that wasn’t an option. So, the brace position was demonstrated, we were told that after the flight attendant announced “BRACE BRACE” over the speaker we were to do it. The bad part is that she clearly didn’t speak Spanish, and the vast majority of the passengers appeared to not speak English, so the other passengers were having to translate. It was more than a little tense.
The approach seemed to be a little bit smoother this time, but we were still pretty all over the place, getting bumped around and blown side to side on the way in. Around 100-200 feet off the ground, the BRACE BRACE command was given, and head between the knees time it was. I have no idea how tall people would manage that anywhere other than the first row…and yes, that was my first thought. We slammed into the ground pretty hard…..but made it. I think it seriously took me at least ten minutes to stop shaking after we taxied in. It was definitely the scariest landing I’ve ever had by far.
Now, the question was, would I have a bag, and would I make the connection? I’d only had 1:40 originally, and now with the three approaches that was down to 55 minutes. Fortunately, the American agents in Trinidad had been at the counter rebooking people who hadn’t learnt of the cancelation in advance, so I managed to get them to print out and check me in for my Caracas to Dallas flight. Hopefully that would help! Bag showed up after a couple of minutes, and it was a quick walk/dash into the terminal. I found no English-speaking staff, but there was a sign for “international connections” so I decided to give it a try. Walking past the immigration counters, there was a desk for transfers…but nobody working it!
There was a security checkpoint that appeared to lead back into the departures area, so I showed my boarding pass to the military security guy and attempted to explain to him in Spanish what I was doing. Found out the couple in front of me had been trying to explain to him for 15 minutes with no luck, however, they didn’t have boarding passes. My explanation seemed good enough for him after he paged through every page of my passport looking at stamps, and he let me through. Once through security I was indeed in the departures area…but the American flight to Dallas wasn’t on the monitors!
Found the AAdmirals Club, and it was just a technology glitch. Was pointed to the right gate where boarding still hadn’t started. Score, it looked like everything would work out well after all!
American Airlines Flight 2108
Caracas, Venezuela (CCS) to Dallas (DFW)
Depart 9:55, Arrive 15:00, Flight Time 5:05
Boeing 757, Registration N656AA, Manufactured 1991, Seat 1E
Pretty uneventful flight. The only two interesting things were my seatmate and the breakfast. The seatmate was unusual because she hadn’t been seated two seconds before she was paging the flight attendant with the call button and asking for a Baileys. She spoke no English at all, but the flight attendant did understand “Baileys por favor.” I had to translate for her on the ground that there was no Baileys on the plane, so she wanted white wine. Flight attendant got that for her, and she was happy. Less than 10 minutes into the flight she was pressing the button again “white wine!” followed 10 minutes later by “mas!” Hahahah the flight attendants didn’t know whether to be amused or annoyed at her, but after somewhere around 5-6 pressings of the call button she passed out and slept the remainder of the flight.
The breakfast wasn’t interesting per se, just different than you normally see on American, so I thought I’d post a picture.
Immigration in Dallas was a breeze, took the AirTrain over to the C terminal, and they were just getting ready to board the flight to Washington.
American Airlines Flight 2442
Dallas (DFW) to Washington National (DCA)
Depart 16:55, Arrive 20:35, Flight Time 2:40
Boeing 737-800, Registration N813NN, Manufactured 2009, Seat 4E
Nothing at all unusual about this flight. Standard mid-con dinner service, decent crew, and kept entertained using GoGo Internet. Although things aren’t perfect on American, I can’t remember why I ever bothered with United. Yes, the international nonstops out of Dulles Airport were nice, but the combination of often surly staff, old planes with no WiFi, and frequent delays have me questioning it. I’m close enough to million miler that I’ll make sure I get that and requalify for 1K this year, but after that, it might be time to do some rethinking!