A few weeks ago, I had to travel from Jamaica to Dominica for the next part of my adventure. It turned out to be a crazy few days, and I learnt a few things that I thought I’d share with you all.
So, Dominica has a tiny airport so long haul flights don’t really go there, meaning my route was Jamaica -> Miami (11 hour overnight stopover in Miami) -> Puerto Rico (5 hour daytime stopover in Puerto Rico) -> Dominica, so I was supposed to arrive in Dominica on the Tuesday, having left Jamaica on the Monday.
Being vegan, I knew it would be hard for me to buy food on the planes and at the airports, so I packed a lot of supplies. Also I don’t really have money in my backpacker budget for airport takeaways. It was hard to choose them because it had to be things that wouldn’t go off or get squashed within 24 hours, and there couldn’t be liquids of over 100ml to get through security. Just in case anyone is trying to think of vegan plane snacks, maybe this can help you.
I ended up bringing: Bananas, pre-cut pre-packaged pineapple, cooked pasta in plastic takeaway containers (planned to steal sauce e.g. hot sauce from airport takeaways), can of sweetcorn, crackers, plantain chips, vegetable chips, dried fruit and an empty water bottle to re-fill from the water fountains in the airports. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without this food, because there really was practically nothing for me in the airports.
The flight to Miami was fine, and my plan was to go through security again as soon as I arrived, and find an empty departure gate to sleep in until the flight to Puerto Rico the next morning. That didn’t go to plan because they told me I couldn’t go through security until the next day, so I’d have to either find a hotel or wait land-side of the airport until the morning.
Of course I took the option to wait land-side, and within a few minutes I’d already learnt some valuable lessons for next time:
- Air conditioning can make airports VERY cold. Bring more than just one jacket! It’s best to have a blanket if you want to be warm enough to have any chance of sleeping. (I just brought a jacket).
- Airport seats are often hard and not comfortable, with nothing to lean on. If you’re hardcore, like one woman I saw, bring a sleeping bag or something and a pillow to lay on the ground in a corner, and just camp in the airport. If you’re not so hardcore, at least bring a pillow and try and find a seat in the corner and lean it against the wall. (I had absolutely nothing to help my sleeping attempts).
- This may seem obvious but don’t forget your phone charger! I’m admittedly addicted to my phone, so I remembered it.
Because I wasn’t thoughtful enough to bring anything bed-like, this was my first attempt at a sleeping position:
As you can see, I was trying to lean against a pillar, and it wasn’t the greatest day of my entire life, to say the least.
I spotted an identical bench in a corner, but someone had already taken it, so I kept my eye on it and pounced as soon as he got up. This was my upgraded position in the corner:
It felt a bit better to be more secluded and to have more to lean on, but I was literally shivering because of the air conditioning.
I’m evidently so skilled that I ended up upgrading myself AGAIN! This time my luxurious seat was located outside an airport takeaway that had just closed. They’d stacked up all their chairs except they’d left a padded bench just outside. I was quite proud so had to take another selfie:
I soon accepted that sleep wasn’t going to be calling my name any time soon, so I stole some hot sauce sachets to put on my pastsa from a takeaway called Wendys, and then decided to go on Tinder (there was wifi which you had to pay for… about $5 for an hour and $12 for 24 hours, so of course I couldn’t resist buying it).
For those of you who don’t know, Tinder is a Smartphone app used for dating or making friends. Basically, you log on and the photo of someone nearby who also has the app will pop up, with a short bio written by them. If you’d like to chat to them, you swipe right on the screen, and if you’re not interested you swipe left. After you swipe, another face comes up and you do the same thing again. If you ‘match’ with someone, aka you both swipe right, you can chat with them, a bit like you do on Whatsapp.
I ended up chatting to a few guys from Miami, just to cure my boredom, and one of them asked what I was doing there. After explaining, I jokingly said he should come and pick me up from the airport. Long story short, he actually did, and he gave me a driving tour of pretty much the whole city! I don’t have any decent photos but this is some proof:
So yeah, if you’re adventurous and sometimes have faith in random strangers, like I do, then my next tip is use Tinder during long stopovers and accept someone’s invitation to show you round their city! I honestly learnt a lot because he was quite knowledgeable, and I now feel like if I was to go and visit Miami, I would kind of know what was going on.
The Tinder guy dropped me back to the airport after about an hour’s driving, and I was then allowed to go through security and sit in a boarding gate where the chairs were a bit more comfortable. It was now about 3am and I still hadn’t slept, but I decided there was no longer any point so just used the WiFi to call my mum on Whatsapp and talk some nonsense for a few hours.
I guess another tip would be bring a reading book for entertainment purposes but also because they often make you tired so you’d be more able to nap. (You guessed it… I didn’t do this).
The flight to Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning was fine, but I was horrified to see that, again, the airport WiFi wasn’t free! Nightmare. God or whoever is up there must have been looking out for me because something told me to go straight to my boarding gate, even though I had 5 hours to wait. The airline (Seaborne) had its own free wifi in the boarding gate, so I was able to use that.
So, another tip: If you really don’t want to pay for WiFi, go around all the boarding gates and see if any airlines have it for free. The password was written on some small notices on the walls at the gate.
I was so tired that I managed to sleep in the gate for about 3 hours, using my backpack on the seat next to me as a pillow. Sleeping with your neck at a 90 degree angle isn’t the most pleasurable experience ever, but sleep is sleep I suppose.
This is where the craziness really started. I woke up from my nap, very proud that I’d managed to sleep (and dribble on my backapck) until it was pretty much time to board. I then heard a call to attention for the passengers on my flight. This always makes your ears prick up because it either means good news (you’re boarding), or bad news (your flight is delayed or cancelled).
When I was younger I always had an adventurous spirit, so every time I flew with my family, I prayed that the flight would be cancelled so that we’d get to stay in a hotel in a random city and experience some general unplanned chaos. Well, it finally happened…
They said the flight to Dominica was cancelled and that we’d be put up in the airport hotel and there’d be a replacement flight at 6am the next day (Wednesday). My first thought was that it was a bit inconvenient but could also be cool because this was at about 3pm so I thought I’d have time to explore the city and have a nice sleep in the comfy hotel bed.
In reality, everyone spent another 2 hours sitting in the boarding gate while the hotel reservations were being sorted, then we had to go down to the conveyor belt to get our luggage, and then of course the hotel check-in took a long time because everyone from the flight was queuing at the same time.
By this time, my food supplies were diminishing. We were all given a voucher worth about $10 for the hotel cafe, so I ate the only vegan things there within that price range – two starters – edamame beans and french fries. How nutritious! I also got some almonds from the vending machine. (Tip for vegans – don’t underestimate how many food supplies you might need. It’s better to bring too much than too little).
By this time it was dark so unfortunately it was too late to explore the town and I flopped onto my bed and fell asleep within seconds, having set my alarm for 4am to be able to get on the replacement flight at 6am on Wednesday.
Another tip – If possible, have one day’s worth of clean clothes and toiletries in an accessible place in your bag in case this happens to you, so you won’t have to unpack everything.
I guess Seaborne Airlines wanted to make my childhood fantasy come true in an even more extreme way, because when I woke up at 4am on the Wednesday, a piece of paper had appeared under my door. This is what it said:
If I had travel insurance, I might have called them, but with my “everything will be fine” attitude, of course I don’t have any, so instead I called my mum on Whatsapp (next tip – train your parents to use Whatsapp calls before going on any big adventure because it may come in handy some time).
Seaborne Airlines had pretty much said in that letter “it’s now down to you to get from here to Dominica, because we can no longer help you”, so I got my mum to find me a flight on another airline. There weren’t any reasonably priced ones for the Wednesday, so I booked one with LIAT for the Thursday and got my mum to find me a cheap hostel in San Juan for the Wednesday night.
I was pretty excited about the prospect of exploring this city which I knew nothing about, so now all I had to do was sort out the refund from the Seaborne Flight. I didn’t know how much the refund would be, because I’d booked all three flights for one price from Expedia, but I hoped it would be about £100 so that it would almost cover what I spent on the new LIAT flight.
I didn’t have much credit on my phone, so I couldn’t called the Seaborne admin with that, so I tried using the hotel phone, but it didn’t go through, so I thought to myself “if I go to the Seaborne check in desk, surely they have to help me”. Nope! And everyone else had that same idea, so their tiny check-in area was complete chaos, full of everyone from my flight shouting, swearing, trying to get a refund, complaining, trying to get Seaborne to book them on a few flight etc. etc. I was the only one still laughing about the situation at this point.
How I saw it was that it wasn’t the fault of the check-in desk staff about what happened with the flight, so I politely asked if I could borrow their phone to call for my refund, and they let me. After spsending half an hour trying to get through, Seaborne eventually told me on the phone that I need to contact Expedia for my refund.
Next tip – If you need to request a refund or any flight changes etc, call the company you booked it through, not the airline (unless you booked it directly through the airline).
I got through to Expedia eventually, and they said my refund would be processed in a few weeks, so I went back to the hotel to take advantage of the free breakfast and pack up my things. I knew I’d be taking public transport to the hostel (you’re kind of letting down the traveler community if you cave in to taking a taxi rather than public transport), so I left my suitcase in the hotel reception with the staff and just packed what I needed in my backpack.
When I spoke to some other people from my flight that morning, I found out that their complaints actually worked, so unfortunately, even though it’s awkward and I hate doing it and I hate creating bad vibes, my next tip is that in this kind of situation, it’s probably best to complain. Some of them managed to get Seaborne to put them on a flight that same day with other airlines, and some got them to do it for the next day. That’s definitely a better result than what happened with me, because I lost money in the end due to the difference in the refund and the price I paid with LIAT.
What happened between leaving the airport in San Juan and getting on the plane to Dominica the next day is a whole new story which will be told in a seperate blog post.