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March 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 40, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Perils of Dive Travel

missed flights, travel agents and (egads!) gluten-free requests

from the March, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's old news that international travel is a struggle, but for divers heading to tiny islands, making same-day connections can be chancy. Frequent Caribbean travelers refer to LIAT as the "Leave Island Any Time" airline. It booted Undercurrent reader Todd Lichtenstein (West Orange, NJ) in December. "The LIAT flight from Antigua to Dominica was at least 90 minutes late. We boarded the plane to discover that even though we had assigned seats there were no empty seats left. We had to overnight in Antigua (which was paid for by LIAT) and missed the first day of diving at Castle Comfort."

Still, I prefer to take my chances with LIAT in Barbados, Antigua and St. Maarten, rather than use American Eagle and San Juan, Puerto Rico as a hub (if you miss a connecting flights there, it might be a couple days before you can find a seat on another). Seaborne Airlines code-shares with American and will soon code-share with Delta, so it may be a better alternative for connecting to the Windward or Leeward islands.

Frequent flyers know to expect unexpected delays. Robert Barada (Walnut Creek, CA) arrived at the Roatan airport only to find the weather didn't allow them to land. "We were diverted to San Pedro Sula and sat on the tarmac for three hours, then finally deplaned and went through Customs and Immigration, only to stand in line at the United Airlines counter to get a voucher for taxis, the Hilton Princess, and dinner and breakfast. They had armed guards patrolling the hotel and told us to stay inside -- we heard gunshots around 11 p.m. We went back to the airport at 8:30 the next morning, as the flight was scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. The weather didn't clear at the Roatan airport until about 5:30 p.m."

The Perils of Arriving on Departure Day

Unexpected delays can put you in bigger trouble if you're heading for a liveaboard trip because there may be no way to hook up with your boat once it has left port. Kerry Kiene (Kihei, HI), who was off to dive with the Palau Aggressor last May, says he usually plans to arrive a day early, but this time he didn't, and his airline delay caused him to miss a day of diving. Even so, he was lucky, he says. The Aggressor folks arranged "to pick us up at the airport when we arrived 24 hours late, and had the skiff pick us up that evening."

There are plenty of itineraries in the Galapagos, Indonesia, the Red Sea and elsewhere where a late arrival would make it impossible to hook up with your boat, and you would miss your entire journey. Of course, if you miss a day or more of diving, don't expect to see a refund, even from landbased operations. Michael Traylor (El Paso, TX) reports, "We were delayed a day getting to Little Cayman by missing a connection, and Southern Cross Club refused any refund on the night's lodging we did not use." That's standard practice. Nonetheless, you might as well ask for a credit. Just don't pout when you're refused.

High Penalties for Missed Flights

In reviewing our reader reports and talking to other divers, I'm amazed at the number of missed connections in the Philippines and the additional money spent to get home. Pam Rudy (San Jose, CA) writes that while she was at the Dumaguete Airport, "Cebu Pacific Airlines announced that our flight to Manila was delayed until the next morning, causing us to miss our late-night flight on Philippine Airlines back to San Francisco. There was no way for us to call Manila and inform Philippine Airlines that we were delayed. This led to an additional charge of $795 per person to get on the Philippine Airlines flight the following night!"

In September, Steve Stephens (Valley Springs, CA) had reservations though two airlines -- Philippines Airlines (PAL) from the States, then Cebu Airlines from Manila to Dumaguete. When Cebu cancelled the flight back to Manila, requiring his group to postpone their flight on PAL back to the U.S. by a day, they were penalized $2,000. Stephens notes that if he had made reservations on PAL through to Dumaguete, PAL would have had the responsibility for the late departure, and he wouldn't have been charged extra.

"I wish I had known that the boat
did not have gluten-free flour and no
alternatives were available, so the
'daily cookie parade' was torture."

A good travel agent would have issued a single ticket, which would put the burden on the carriers, but there are other reasons to use a travel agent, especially if you need to leave your destination early, a travel agent may be your savior, as Chrisanda Button (Wesley, AR) found during her trip to Indoensia's Raja Ampat last September. "Thank goodness we booked this trip through Katie Stoyka at Reef and Rainforest. I perforated an eardrum halfway through our time on the TemuKira. We were scheduled to dive for another two weeks in Lembeh, but I could not dive and wanted to get home to see a specialist. We managed to send Katie an email when the boat pulled into the dive lodge to make a second night dive there. On just four days' notice, Katie managed to rearrange our flights home the day we got off the boat. We would not have been able to begin the rescheduling process ourselves until we reached Manado."

Unreasonable Meal Expectations

I pity the resorts and liveaboards that must cater to Americans' food requirements. While there are plenty of good reasons for vegetarian and quasi-vegetarian diets, I live in Marin County, California, where almost everyone is some sort of vegetarian, but with footnotes like, "Well, "caviar is ok" . . . or "Only kosher sea food, you know, with scales. . . .or "Now and then I sneak a grass-fed beef burger." Many just roll with the fish or chicken stock in which their meals are cooked, or the bacon bits in their clam chowder. And me? Well I don't eat mammals -- our genetic codes are too close.

While just one percent of the U.S. population has some problem with gluten, in Marin County, gluten- free bread is everywhere, pizza houses advertise gluten-free crusts, and there are gluten-free labels on products that never had gluten -- ice cream, for example. And I have friends who won't eat farmed fish while their mates won't eat wild fish. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat, I guess. And there are plenty of vegans who disdain cheese,milk and eggs, so are left essentially to graze. I make a soy-cheese pizza for vegan friends, but can you imagine how hard it is to cook for a group of picky eaters on a boat in Raja Ampat, off the coast of Costa Rica, or in a 32-diver resort in Utila, Honduras? Can you imagine how many eyes roll?

One of our readers contacted the AquaCat ahead of her trip to tell then she was wheat- and glutenintolerant, and she writes us, "I wish I had known that the boat did not have gluten-free flour and no alternatives were available, so the 'daily cookie parade' was torture! I had advised the AquaCat months in advance, but while Chef Kirk acknowledged the issue, he was unable to offer alternatives. The food throughout the week was superb, but my choices were sometimes limited, as sauces, desserts, etc., were made with flour. Kirk did work hard to exclude flour and offer sauce-free versions, but be aware of this if you are wheat- and gluten-intolerant. Take your own flour with you for the chef to use."

Well, perhaps, but if one person carries gluten-free flour, another peanut-free flour and a third person can't stomach yeast, I have a hunch a chef on a boat of 16 guests might throw up his hands. Do your best, my friends, but if you have serious food issues, a liveaboard boat may not be a good choice. In fact, many restaurants in island nations -- yes, even those at little dive resorts -- might find it difficult, if not impossible, to feed you.

Take advice from Holly Bent (Kaaawa, HI) who has "a lot of food allergies." She booked an apartment at the Kosrae Nautilus Resort so she could took care of her own needs. "I brought a few spices and canned goods from home (this was a great idea, as grocery shopping is severely limited here), then usually ordered the green salad every night from the kitchen to complement my home-cooked food. You cannot buy fresh produce in the stores. Luckily, the resort has a great selection of in-season fruit and veggies from its own garden."

P.S.: Some of you will surely accuse me of discriminating against those with dietary issues. Write and tell me why. Send your notes to

-- Ben Davison

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