An Update on the Airlines

airplane

Hello everyone and happy Monday! One of the biggest gripes we hear at News of St. John is about the airlines, and specifically, the lack of flights to St. Thomas. Well we’re just as frustrated as all of you when it comes to this topic. We did a little digging over the weekend, and we did learn that some airlines plan to expand their routes later this year. Here is what we know now:

Spirit: Beginning February 16th, Spirit will add flights to and from St. Thomas on Mondays and Fridays. This will be in additional to their current Wednesday and Saturday schedule. Flight number 212 goes to St. Thomas while flight number 201 leaves from St. Thomas. All flights connect through Ft. Lauderdale.
[bsa_pro_ad_space id=2]
Delta: Delta continues to only operate one flight daily. Flight number 307 travels to St. Thomas while flight number 571 leaves St. Thomas. Both flights connect through Atlanta. Delta appears to be placing a larger 757 aircraft in service beginning February 24 on Saturdays only. It is currently flying a smaller 737 to and from St. Thomas. It also appears that Delta will add a nonstop flight between New York (JFK) and St. Thomas on Saturdays only beginning April 7. According to Delta’s website, those flights will begin operating on a daily basis on May 24.

American: American continues to schedule two flights a day both to and from St. Thomas – flights numbers 943 and 1391. The flight numbers are the same both coming to and leaving from St. Thomas. These flights connect through Miami. It is uncertain when American plans to add additional flights to St. Thomas. American also only allows you to check two bags when traveling to St. Thomas. There are no restrictions on the number of bags when leaving St. Thomas.

JetBlue: JetBlue is operating daily, although you must connect through San Juan. Some of these connections occur on JetBlue aircraft. Others operate in partnership with Seaborne and Cape Air.

United: United is operating though San Juan in partnership with Cape Air and Seaborne airlines.

Cape Air: Cape Air offers several flights daily between St. Thomas and San Juan. You may want to buy a ticket on one airline to San Juan and then a separate ticket to St. Thomas on Cape Air.  Please note: If you airline hop, you do not want to check a bag. If you check a bag, you will have to leave the secure area to retrieve it before boarding your second flight. You will then have to go through security again. 

Seaborne: Seaborne offers several flights daily between St. Thomas and San Juan. You may want to buy a ticket on one airline to San Juan and then a separate ticket to St. Thomas on Seaborne.  Please note: If you airline hop, you do not want to check a bag. If you check a bag, you will have to leave the secure area to retrieve it before boarding your second flight. You will then have to go through security again. 

Southwest: Southwest offers flights to and from San Juan. It is an option to buy a ticket on Southwest to San Juan and then buy a separate ticket to St. Thomas on either JetBlue, Cape Air or Seaborne. Please note: If you airline hop, you do not want to check a bag. If you check a bag, you will have to leave the secure area to retrieve it before boarding your second flight. You will then have to go through security again. 

If you have information on any other flight options, we’d love to know. Please leave it in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.

Something “Amazing” Just Happened…

Image credit: Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters
Boats waiting to transport the racers – Image credit: Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters

Anyone see an abnormally high number of seaplanes flying near Lovango and Congo cays yesterday? Perhaps you saw a helicopter flying back and forth in the area? Want to know why???

CBS chose our happy little slice of heaven as a location in its latest season of The Amazing Race! How cool is that??!!

We got the call yesterday morning from Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters.  He mentioned how someone inquired a while back about booking a charter for yesterday. Seeing how Captain John typically takes weekends off, Island Sue [Captain John’s better half :)] turned down the request. Captain John did do a bit of snooping, however, and soon learned what was up.

It turns out that another boat captain friend of ours was tapped to help out. (Now we’re not sure if any confidentiality releases were signed, so we’re keeping his name out of today’s post.)  What we do know is that this second captain was out near Carval Rock for a good part of the day. It seems that they did some filming in a variety of places around St. Thomas and St. John.

Image credit: Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters
Set up for The Amazing Race – Image credit: Captain John Brandi of Palm Tree Charters

Check out this mobile movie of the seaplane coming in courtesy of Captain John Brandi:

And here is a helicopter moving in, again courtesy of Captain John Brandi:

Once we heard that CBS was using helicopters, we knew Caribbean Buzz had to be involved. Here’s their super official statement (my guess is they signed something):

“We provided aerial support for filming of a CBS reality TV show. It included (Carval) rock, Hans Lollick, Magen’s Bay and downtown at Fort Christian.”

So cool!

Amazing Race Map

Laurie and Craig Crandall just happened to be passing through St. Thomas yesterday afternoon when they caught a glimpse of filming.

“We just came home from a week in Alaska and were coming to the waterfront. And there were all of these filming crews and teams,” Laurie said. “We asked what was happening and we were told it was The Amazing Race. The seaplane was at the waterfront, so I think it was whoever arrived first got on the plane … There were probably about six teams. I wish I was able to get out and talk to them because it looked really cool.”


Sis Frank Concert Series announced

The St. John School of the Arts is preparing to kick off its first Sis Frank Concert Series to honor and remember the co-founder of the school.  In past years, Ms. Frank would invite musicians to perform in concert.  The school, and its director, Kim Wild, have committed to continue the tradition.

The first concert will be January 4, featuring Garry Dial, a jazz pianist from New York City, performing with Luba Dolgopolsky, a School of the Arts voice instructor.  Later in the month, the Ahn Trio will be featured. The sisters are well known for their classical and chamber music concerts.  The Ahns were a favorite of Sis Frank.

A concert in late March will feature faculty members of the School of the Arts in concert, and in April the New York Empire Trio will offer a program of classical and contemporary music.

Tickets to each concert cost $30. The entire series is $100.

JetBlue plans Washington-St. Thomas service

The US Department of Transportation has given JetBlue Airways permission to expand its service in the Caribbean, including the US Virgin Islands. Untitled

The airline said it will begin flying this fall from Washington National Airport to San Juan, Puerto Rico with connecting service to St. Thomas.  

A start date is uncertain. An effort to book such a flight, on the JetBlue Web site, was unsuccessful.

"Award-winning Jet Blue intends to offer one daily nonstop round trip flight to San Juan's Luiz Munoz Marin International Airport, with connecting service to St. Thomas," the airline said in a news release. "JetBlue has long had a simple formula for deciding which markets to serve: we look for routes that are underserved, overpriced, or both."

JetBlue says it is Puerto Rico's largest airline, offering service nonstop to 11 destinations on the US mainland and in the Caribbean. 

Airline cutting service to Virgin Islands

Logo_eagle-250x51The bankruptcy of American Airlines will mean less air service for the Virgin Islands.  

The airline's subsidiary, American Eagle, plans to suspend operations at the San Juan airport  potentially halting round trips daily to St. Thomas and St. Croix, according to the Associated Press.

Confirmation of the cutback came via the St. John Source.  Allegra-Kean Moorehead, spokeswoman for the Tourism Department, said, "It's definitely concerning," she said.

An American Airlines spokeswoman told the Source, the airline is weighing "several replacement solutions to continue to provide service to the region."  That could mean AA would partner with another airline.

The reduction would likely occur as American returns leased aircraft used on the route, part of the strategy to reduce financial obligations and reorganize in bankruptcy.

Three other airlines provide service between Puerto Rico and the VI's:  Jet Blue, Cape Air and Seaborne Airlines. The Source quoted Richard Doumeng, a resort executive active in the hotel association, worrying airfares could go up if American Eagle departs.

At the moment, Expedia shows American is selling round trips on the route, for November, for $91.

Stop the madness at the airport

Here's a brainstorm:  there should be a taxi service that takes people from the St. Thomas airport to the Red Hook ferry dock … and nowhere else.  

No group riding. No stops at Bluebeard's Castle, or Bolongo Bay or Secret Harbor.  Nope, just a simple Point-A-to-Point-B trip, which would go a long way to reducing the frustration and 'taxi rage' from which some people suffer when they reach Red Hook.

This simple, genius-level, oh-so-obvious idea was offered this week at a Tourism Department workshop. The session had a moderateor who was characterized as a "change engine consultant."  He heads up a New Jersey firm working on a $100,000 contract from Tourism to advise the VI's.

People involved in the Territory's tourism industry participated in the first meeting, Monday.  Video conferencing let folks from all three islands participate.

Other ideas from St. Johnians on the call, as reported by the Virgin islands Daily News, included improving the traffic flow in Cruz Bay (i.e. eliminate the chaos at the ferry dock) and developing the prime waterfront, particularly across from Nature's Nook.

JetBlue begins flights to VIs

America's (almost) favorite airline is beginning service to the Virgin Islands.

JetBlue outlined plans to open three new routes to the Territory just in time for winter season, an addition of more than 88,000 seats.   The airline will launch flights between Boston Logan International Airport and St. Thomas International Airport. The flights from Logan International Airport will operate for the winter season with five weekly departures beginning December 15, 2011.

Jetblue
Assistant Commissioner of Tourism, Brad Nugent, discusses new service with the airline's CEO, Dave Barger, at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

The Inquiring Iguana has been wishing for Jet Blue service to the islands for almost six years! Here's a post from 2005.

You can book the new flights at jetblue.com now.  And if you can tolerate one or two stops, and go far out of your way, you can book from Washington or other airports and connect to the Boston flight.  Probably only makes sense if you're a big fan of Jet Blue's frequent flier program.

Read moreJetBlue begins flights to VIs

Calm down! Hotel tax rate hike is only from 8% to 10%

The Governor is proposing to increase the hotel tax 25 percent, the first increase since 1993.

The current rate is 8 percent. It is levied on all villa, condo, and hotel accomodations and generally passed along directly to visitors. The new rate would be 10 percent and extended to also include timeshare rentals.

All funds will be applied to the territory’s Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund which is used by the Department of Tourism to implement marketing and advertising campaigns to attract visitors.

“It is essential that we take the necessary steps to level the playing field for attracting visitors to our islands,” said Commissioner Nicholson-Doty.  “By leaving our room tax rate unchanged over the last 17 years, we have placed ourselves at a competitive disadvantage for marketing the destination while other destinations have adjusted to meet market conditions and have outspent the U.S. Virgin Islands."

By comparison, some nightly room tax rates in other destinations are markedly higher. Puerto Rico's is 24%, the Dominican Republic is 15%, and the Bahamas is 10%.

Blue Tang: #2 and proud of it!

Bt_tripadvisor
Longtime readers know that News of St. John began as a not-so-subtle effort to encourage rentals of our home on the island.  There's a lot of competition for rentals and I thought the site would help.  It has. It is the oldest and largest Web site with news about St. John.

Ext_day_pool So it was with surprise and gratitude that, while mousing around TripAdvisor.com the other day, I found that Blue Tang was ranked as the #2 most popular rental on the island, with a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars ranking, too.  Shocked … thankful … happy.

Blue Tang ranked so well because of the reviews people who have stayed at the house were kind enough to post.  A few of their comments:

  • "A peaceful, relaxing, romantic honeymoon at Blue Tang."
  • "Blue Tang rocks."
  • "Best vacation we've ever taken."
  • "Awesome views and location."

I have to admit that each time we visit Blue Tang and read through the Guest Books, we are often moved to tears at the kind things people say about the house as they recount the wonderful time they had on the island and at our place.

If you're headed for St. John, I hope you'll consider our home, too.

Frank Barnako, aka The Inquiring Iguana

New tax on airfare to the Virgin Islands?

3024477974_e420cc8996_m
The company responsible for providing cargo, baggage and technical services at the St. Thomas airport is not happy. 

Faced with the continuing poor baggage belts and an "unreliable infrastructure", a spokeswoman for Worldwide Flight Services raises an interesting issue on behalf of her co-workers. (Photo via William Hartz' Flickr account.)

"Many in the airlines and airport community would like to see an accounting of what the Passenger Facilities Charge (PFC) has been used for," Joanne Bohr said to the St. John Source.  She reacted to word the Port Authority wants to increase the PFC from $3 to $4.50 per passenger.

Those funds, she said, are supposed to be used for projects approved by the airlines to improve the experience of using the airport. "The PFCs are not intended for overhead or salary," she said, implying the Authority may have been tapping the fund for operations rather than repairs and improvements.

"As difficult as it may be for the passenger," she continued, "it is a much bigger hardship for those that work in the airport … without … bag belts, (and) without any air conditioning."

Before the Authority can increase the fee, which would apply to both inbound and outbound tickets the Federal Aviation Administration must give its approval.  And presumably the FAA won't do that unless the airlines agree, and believe, the money will be used to pay for improving the St. Thomas and St. Croix airport.

Some people have a good, good time waiting at STT.