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October 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How to Avoid a Flight from Hell

it often boils down to how you book your plane tickets

from the October, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent reader John Davis (Englewood, CO) wrote us about his dive trip to Dominica in July, and the hellish experience he had getting to and from there on US Airways and the Caribbean airline LIAT. His experience is a cautionary tale for all traveling divers.

"On my first flight, US Airways was 90 minutes late leaving, so we arrived late in Charlotte, N.C. When I got to San Juan, LIAT had already departed. When I approached the US Airways desk with my dilemma, they disavowed any responsibility, saying I did not book them for the entire trip -- this in spite of the fact that it does not fly to Dominica. I was told by LIAT's representatives that it would be Monday before I could fly to Dominica (it was Saturday), but it was okay if we flew standby.

"The next day, six in my group got seats while the other two still were stuck with the Monday flight, but because we technically missed our flight, LIAT charged us an additional fee. Unfortunately, our luggage and dive gear did not arrive with us. It didn't arrive on Monday when the other two in my group arrived -- with their baggage. It didn't arrive Tuesday, either. Three of us got our luggage and gear at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the others late Wednesday afternoon. Because of all this, we had to buy T-shirts and bathing suits, and on Wednesday finally dived with our equipment.

"On August 3, we woke up at 5:30 a.m.to start our trip back. We all checked into the airport no later than 8:30 a.m. for a 10:40 a.m. departure. LIAT did not show up with an airplane until 1:10 p.m. There was no apology or explanation for being late. Unfortunately, we did not arrive in San Juan until after my US Air flight departed for Charlotte. We were able to get a later flight to the U.S. I got to Charlotte late that night and, once again, had to buy a hotel room to stay the night, then fly back the next morning.

"My family spent over $1,000 for extra hotel rooms and missed-flight penalties. US Airways did not want to take responsibility in either flight direction, and they charged us more money whenever they could."

John, my apologies for your ruined vacation. You were unfortunately caught in a perfect storm of events. You couldn't have done much to prevent the missed flights, but after talking to Ken Knezick, owner of Islands Dream Travel ( www.divetrip.com ) in Houston, may we suggest one thing for future overseas dive trips? Buy a single ticket (i.e., with flight legs combined), not separate tickets for each airline. By having one ticket between Colorado and Puerto Rico, and another between Puerto Rico and Dominica, the airline with which you're connecting doesn't expect you. Neither will care that you missed the other's last flight; you will have no priority for the next flight, and they will charge to rebook you. If you book your own tickets directly on the web, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to produce combined tickets. That's where a travel agent can be critical.

I've been flying LIAT in the Caribbean since the 70s, and have many times written about its lack of dependability for what is essentially a commuter airline between islands. In fact, it's an old joke that LIAT means "Leave Island Any Old Time." But we divers take a chance with connectins, arrivals and departures when we fly any commuter airline serving small countries, such as those in the Caribbean or the Pacific.

When it comes to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is often a trouble spot because there are fewer flights to other small island countries than one might find elsewhere. Flights between San Juan and Dominica are scheduled to hook up with tourist flights from the mainland; if you miss yours, you can be stranded for a day, even longer. When I go to Dominica, I fly from the U.S. to Barbados, and then take one of the many flights to Dominica that go back and forth all day long. That way, if I miss one flight, there are a few more I have a shot at. There are other hub substitutes for Puerto Rico when flying in the Caribbean. Total airfare may be more, but well worth it to avoid an experience such as yours.

Knezick also has this extra advice: When traveling by air, have plenty of time to spare. "I am a major proponent of planning generous connection times between flights," he says. "If, for instance, I'm flying to Los Angeles to connect to a trans-Pacific flight, I'm going to schedule a four-hour span in which to make that connection."

Another of his adages is "The best laid plans of mice and men..." "Sometimes our best efforts will be stymied, and things will go wrong. That's the time to dig into the extra reserve of patience -- probably money as well -- and make the best of it."

And for us divers who travel to the farthest corners to get wet, by skimping on connection time we risk missing a day or more of diving, the only reason we scheduled the trip in the first place. Take an extra day and relax.

- - Ben Davison

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