We’ve heard some sad tales from a number of reader/charterers who had troubles getting themselves and their luggage to the desired destination in the Caribbean. There’s no way to solve their problems retroactively, of course, but there are ways to prevent them in the future. I talked with Judy Shapiro, an agent with Caribbean Travel (800-327-5540) for 15 of her 24 years in the business; she’s helped me out any number of times with complicated travel plans. She’s not the greatest living expert, she says—just opinionated, and happy to voice her opinions on her clients’ behalf.
MISSED CONNECTIONS. If you’re flying through San Juan, Puerto Rico—it’s the usual gateway to other Caribbean destinations—your ongoing flight may be scheduled for 1 hour, 10 minutes (the legal minimum) after your scheduled arrival in San Juan. However, Judy says that 2 hours is the minimum time that works; you’ll need more time if you have to clear customs and security.
If you know before you even leave your home airport that you’re going to miss your connection because your departure has been delayed, call your travel agent or the airline as soon as possible and rebook that flight. Have 800 numbers for both with you.
If you’re flying on one major airline on both legs of your trip and miss the connection, that airline will book you on the next available flight that has space for you. It is sometimes possible to have your original carrier endorse your ticket over to another carrier that does have space, but they must have a preexisting ticketing agreement. It’s worth asking.
There are a number of small independent airlines flying interisland routes in the Caribbean. If another carrier won’t take their tickets, a missed or canceled flight on the second leg can leave you in the soup. Judy recommends that you ask your agent or the airline directly whether they have ticketing agreements with any of these small airlines before you book with one of them; if the airline uses paper tickets, she says, it’s a clue that their tickets are not being accepted by other airlines.
However, Judy says that if you can get your major carrier to endorse your ticket (they’re supposed to), most smaller airlines will accept it. But find out first if the smaller airline has a seat for you; they use small planes with limited seating.
Rule 240, a federal requirement before deregulation, describes your rights if you’re stranded. Each airline has its own interpretation of its obligation to provide meals or accommodations. It’s worthwhile checking airline Web sites and doing a search on “Rule 240” to find out how this works; mytravelrights.com has a discussion plus information on individual airlines.
LOST LUGGAGE. We heard from one reader whose luggage took almost a week to catch up with him in Tortola; he and the rest of his party bought a few necessary pieces of clothing and found that you really don’t need much when you’re on a boat in the tropics. My strategy is to use carry-on only; my small bag and small, waterproof backpack (good for transporting a camera in a dinghy or a rainstorm) have done the job on many trips, and I have the comfort of knowing that I’m the only one who can lose my bag. With current regulations forbidding packing some necessities in a carry-on bag, I’m planning to buy toothpaste, shampoo, and sunscreen on arrival.
Report missing luggage before you leave the airport. At the same time, ask whether and how much the airline will allow for replacement of necessities; this compensation will be available only if the delay exceeds 24 hours. If the delay is overnight but less than 24 hours, the airline will probably offer you a packet of toiletries. Here, too, different airlines have different policies. And, says Judy, if you don’t ask, you’re definitely not going to get anything. Document the facts and keep receipts. Amy Ullrich
Sail Away Archive
When Winter Comes (October 2006)
Should You Insure Your Trip? (September 2006)
Stormy Weather (August 2006)
Charter a Passage (July 2006)
Less is More (June 2006)
Summer in the Islands (May 2006)
Caribbean Notes (April 2006)
Where to Go Now (March 2006)
Wedding Bells (February 2006)
Charter Cats (January 2006)