The main airline servicing this region, Liat is the airline everyone around here loves to hate. Although most of the major US airlines fly into St Kitts from Miami, New York and other locations, if you want to get anywhere else in this region, you are probably going to have to fly Liat. Caribbean Airlines is meant to be more modern, and services a number of places, but I’ve only so far had to book them for my upcoming jaunt to Jamaica. Besides, Caribbean Airlines expects you to front up for check-in a whole 3 hours before the flight arrives.
Liat is based in Antigua, so uses it as the hub. Antigua (“where the beaches are just the beginning”) is a quick 20 minute flight from St Kitts, so you can imagine how much fun it is to (supposedly) have to arrive at the airport 2 hours before departure time. Naturally, I’m so surrounded by locals that I’ve become a lot lazier about arriving a strict 2 hours ahead of departure time, and instead keep nudging my check-in ever closer to departure time.
The trick with Liat, though, is that they are just as famous for leaving early as they are for arriving late. If the plane arrives early, they are fairly likely to take off early too, making a late airport arrival timing a tadrisky. Hence the nickname “Leaves Island Any Time”.
Liat flights in and out of Antigua generally stop at 2 or 3 destinations – much like a bus. So, I can fly from St Kitts to Antigua, and then my next flight will go from Antigua to St Lucia and then onto Trinidad. As someone who is used to point-to-point airline services, I was fantastically amused by this at first, but of course now it’s just part of the routine.
Although most of the airports in the region are modern, one of the things they could really do with is a flight arrivals and departures board. Instead of information that is standardised and orderly, the best you can hope for is an announcement about the status of your flight beyond just a boarding call. Otherwise, the information system, in Antigua at least, is based around a (usually empty) whiteboard and (given how many flights run very late) potentially hours and hours of silence.
Once it’s boarding time in Antigua, you are meant to line up with the other passengers and, when the plane is ready, walk in an orderly fashion across the runway and climb up into the plane. So far, all of the Liat flights I’ve taken have been on Dash-8’s, which holds around 50 passengers, and there is no allocated seating.
When I arrived back in St Kitts from Trinidad (via Antigua of course) I waited and waited for my luggage to come through, to no avail. I wasn’t alone, though, and trudged off with a group of other passengers to report my lost luggage. I pleaded: “I need to fly to Antigua in less than two days”. It was noted on the form. Later that day, I emailed Huddy with my news. “Didn’t you know”, he asked, “Liat stands for “Luggage In Another Territory”.
Trusty David was waiting for me and, since he used to work for Liat, let me in on their dirty little secret: if the flight is full, they will often deliberately leave luggage behind to meet the flight’s weight requirements. The luggage then follows on one of the next couple of flights. In theory, they are meant to deliver the bags to your hotel when it turns up, but David just laughed at this suggestion. “No, mon, it’s going to be sitting in the Customs area. We’ll go back and see if it’s there later.”
The following morning, David whizzed me to the airport. Sure enough, there it was in the middle of the baggage are, proud and alone.
To top things off, on my way out after being reunited with my bag, I managed to encounter a surly Customs lady, who insisted on inspecting the bag before I went through. Sadly, I encountered her again on my return from Antigua a few days later. She recognised me, and snarled.