ISLAND HOPPING? NO THANKS!

Just before Christmas I found myself in Martinique en route for the eco-paradise of Dominica. My pals opted for the local ferry, but although the crossing is hardly longer than that to the Isle of Wight, I read that it could be horrendously rough. And I am the worst sailor in the world. Just thinking about boats sets my stomach churning.

So onto Google it was, to investigate flight possibilities. Private charter seemed an attractive option. Hop on, hop off. Until I saw the price! £300 for 45 minutes? I think not. However, further research revealed scheduled flights via St Lucia costing just a tad more than the dreaded ferry. Plus the local airport was very near our villa so I could arrive hours before the others and bag the best room!

Don’t be taken in folks. The grandly named Leeward Islands Air Transport may have new planes, a new logo, glossy on-board magazines and glamorous cabin crew, but can they actually run an airline? Methinks not.

I should have known the minute I checked in at Martinique. The departure board declared ‘Bon Voyage (Retarde)’. Even my schoolboy French, unused for over fifty years, could get that. ‘Have a great journey (not)’. The plane had broken down in Antigua, but never mind a smart lady with a clipboard assured about fifteen of us, another flight has been rerouted to pick you up.

And indeed that is what happened. So far, so good. ‘This flight is for Barbados, Grenada and further dimensions’. My heart sank.  Barbados is about as far north in the Caribbean as you can get from Dominica. And Grenada about as far south.  As for the ‘further dimensions’ these turned out to be St Vincent and Antigua.  At each main stop we were obliged to disembark and go through customs (the full thing, shoes off, scanners, shake-down) and then back to the same seat on the same plane with the same crew, different flight number.

Except in Grenada, where we had an interminable wait in the unbearably hot cabin (air con only works when airborne it seems). One lady obviously missed being frisked. Are we allowed to walk to the terminal, she asked?  Only if we declare an emergency situation. What constitutes an emergency situation, number ones or number twos, she enquired cheekily? We have a bathroom on board, madam, came the frosty reply.

And so it went on, with exotic island after exotic palm-fringed island passing by beneath us…Canouan, Bequia, The Grenadines…and hang on, if I’m not mistaken, that’s Dominica rapidly disappearing into the blue haze. A quick check on the map in the glossy mag proves me right. And then the captain came on the tannoy. Due to staff having to work extended hours, we will not be landing in Dominica but will continue directly to Antigua. Flight time approximately one and a half hours!

Assured  by said glamorous cabin crew that we would get to Dominica eventually, there was little that could be done but grit one’s teeth and sit back, thinking about the others somewhere down there bagging their rooms and leaping into the infinity pool at the villa.

To cut a long story short, after yet another frisking at Antigua, there was no sign of the promised connection. Our party of intrepid Dominica-bound passengers had somehow boiled down to just me and a lady in a wheelchair. The others seemed to have given up or evaporated mysteriously into the night.

I did eventually get on a flight.  I thought I heard the word Dominica, so I just marched through the gate and got on. By then I was stir crazy and thinking I’d rather spend the night on a plane going who knows where than on a bench in a deserted airport. Luckily, it did stop at my desired destination. But then there was the question of my baggage. Only I knew I was on that plane. I had no boarding pass and no luggage tags. And no sign of my suitcase. However, one more frisking and I was at last where I was supposed to be.

Was there another flight due from Antigua? Nobody seemed to know. All the taxi drivers buggered off and I was left with just the sound of the tree frogs. If tumbleweed grew in the Caribbean, it would have tumbled by in profusion at this point.

A static-filled call to the villa established that the others were there and had cracked open the rum. Come home and we’ll sort it out in the morning!  Thinking that to be the best plan, I popped back onto the customs hall for one more cursory search for my suitcase, only to be severely admonished by the last remaining inspector. Technically by stepping over a line on the floor I had left the country and could be subjected to yet another frisking. Visions of rubber gloves had me out of there sharpish.

There was another flight from Antigua and my kindly taxi driver , after delivering me to the villa and my well-deserved rum shot, drove all the way back to the airport to meet it and pick up my case, which miraculously turned up. How did you manage to retrieve it, those customs officers are a right officious bunch of jobsworths, I asked?  No problem, they’re all my family he replied, guffawing.

My 45 minute island hop had taken twelve hours and almost a thousand miles. Needless to say, I went back on the ferry, but that’s another story.

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