The following article was written in the early 90s’, when the only way to reach Bonaire was via ALM, Antilliean Airlines. It was succeeded a few years later by DCA, and now DCE. There are now at least 3 airlines serving Bonaire from the US. Continental, Delta, and local airline Insel. Some things have changed. And some things never will.
Secrets For Successful Travel With DCA
(or any Caribbean airline !)
1. MENTALLY prepare yourself to be FLEXIBLE and RESPONSIBLE. You have at least as much, perhaps more, impact on the success of (and your satisfaction with) your trip than anyone else will.
2. RECONFIRM. This is not a suggestion. It is a necessity. Do this for BOTH the outbound (from the US) and return portions of your flight. The fact is that when they start bumping people, they first bump those who did not reconfirm. I tell friends to reconfirm their outbound travel weekly in the 6 weeks leading up to the trip. Many have found that their itinerary has been changed, perhaps by a few minutes, perhaps by 12 hours. It is up to you to be sure you are on top of things ! While standing in line at the Miami airport, I watched our 4:50 departure get rescheduled to 3pm, then 2, then 1:15pm. It seems if everybody is checked in, they WILL leave early ! And they will not make announcements. Check back at the counter (the counter is preferable, as the gate changes at a whim) or gate frequently.
3. Allow plenty of connecting TIME in Miami or Atlanta. DCA is probably the only airline in the world that frequently leaves EARLY ! This happens nearly as often as they leave late ! Again, here is where you must take responsibility for your trip. If you do not inform the travel agent, they may give you the 45 minute connection the computer says is legal. The computer has no idea about DCA. If you are flying in from the west coast, this may require an overnight in Miami. The extra time is certainly better than the ulcers from the late arrival dash. Remember, you need the time to claim your luggage and get it to the check in counter, check in, then clear security again. Give yourself 3 hours in either airport. If you are really bored, go up to the rooftop bar at the Hotel MIA, have a margarita, and watch the planes come and go.
4. DO NOT check your bags from home right through to Bonaire ! Claim them on arrival in Miami and recheck them at the DCA counter. Many of the people who have bags rifled, lost or delayed, have checked them right through. If you hand them to ALMs counter staff, at least you know they got this far. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received from a travel agent the first time I visited Bonaire. With 10 trips, and no lost bags, so far so good.
5. CARRY ON your swim suit, mask, reg, C-card, and any other "essentials". If your bag is delayed a day, what will you actually need to enjoy your vacation ? Chances are they will allow only one carry on, so pack it sensibly. The Dash 8 flights from Curacao have limited luggage space, so sometimes a bag or two must wait for the next flight. If it is a jet from Miami (or Atlanta) the Bonaire luggage may be buried under the Curacao bags. They can't always get to the bottom of the pile during the brief stop in Bonaire enroute to Curacao, so they will be sent back to Bonaire on the next available flight.
6. CHANGE into shorts in the Miami airport. The plane may or may not have its A/C on freeze. They sometimes have no A/C on the ground, making those jeans feel like wet burlap, sticking to your legs after just 10 minutes in that cramped seat. If the snow making equipment is on, you can always cover up with a blanket.
7. ENSURE you have plenty of water for the flight. I take a one litre bottle of water from home and top it up in Miami, to help prevent becoming dehydrated and cranky. It makes a big difference. Remember, this is a vacation !
8. If you are CONNECTING in Curacao, enter the terminal through the doors marked TRANSITO and show the security guard your boarding pass for the next segment of your flight. Go through another security screening and you are in the departure area. Check your gate signs to find out which one has your flight. The announcements are difficult to understand; and often in both Papiamentu and English simultaneously. Here again, you are going to have to take responsibility for your trip, and ensure you make the connecting flight. They often board 4 or 5 outgoing flights at once, so it pays to ASK the gate attendant and have them check your boarding pass. ASK again at the door of the plane, the last thing you want is to get on the flight to Caracas by accident. Luggage checked through to Bonaire tends to make the connection with ease, even if you only have 30 minutes between flights.
9. When you finally ARRIVE on Bonaire, after clearing customs and collecting your bags, take your tickets to the DCA counter and reconfirm, before you leave the airport ! This way you won't forget. About 3 days before departure, telephone DCA and make sure you are still reconfirmed. Sometimes they "forget" that you have already reconfirmed. This is also to check that your flight home has not been moved up as well. It would be no fun to arrive at the airport at noon for the 2pm flight, only to find out that it left at 9:15am.
10. On the way home, arrive at the airport 2 HOURS before your flight. This seems excessive, until you realize that one agent has to check in all 120 people on the flight. Buy your departure tax coupon from the kiosk before you line up, to save yourself having to run back. They will not check you in without it. Make sure you save some cash for this, as credit cards are not accepted.
11. CHECK your bags only to Miami or Atlanta again. Once again, since you will have to claim the bags to clear customs anyway, you might as well recheck them with your connecting airline yourself to ensure they arrive home with you.
12. Finally, keep a sense of HUMOR about you. Remember that you are not on a North American airline, and the rules here are much more flexible than you might be used to. The staff are constantly working to accommodate changing equipment situations, schedules, and other factors beyond their control. While yelling at an agent or stewardess might make you feel better, it will only make the employee much less eager to help those in line behind you. And it will do nothing to help your cause.
13. See number one.
And when you have fallen in love with the island, please remember that the hassle of getting to Bonaire is one of the reasons it has avoided the Americanization that overtakes so many other beautiful places. I have always believed that DCA keeps out the TOURISTS, but looks after the VISITORS.
Copyright 1999, Doug Hook. All rights reserved.