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.

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!

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?

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.

Spirit strike barely a speed bump for villa rentals

A sample of three villa management companies on St. John indicates the pilots strike against Spirit Airlines has had little impact.  Only one company, Catered To, said one of its guests was unable to leave the island Saturday.

"Fortunately the villa that they rented did not have guests coming in for the next few days," said Tyler Anderson, the Catered To general manager. "The owner generously offered them the opportunity to stay at the house free of charge." Neither Vacation Vistas nor Seaview Homes said they had guests affected by the strike.

The Inquiring Iguana's analysis is that Spirit customers are not likely to be villa renters.  Spirit's made its reputation on cheap air fares.  There are cheaper ways to stay on the island than renting a home.

One family's vacation has, however, been wrecked, or at least delayed.  JJ Shaw posted at Virgin-Islands-On-Line that she's making new plans to after the strike canceled her flight.

"I hate we will not be able to make this trip…but at least I get to plan all over again..:)", she wrote. "I hate the disappointment on the kids faces not to mention my Mom is already here (She drove four hrs to come and go with us.). At least we are eventually gonna get there…I think."

News reports say the pilots and Spirit plan to resume negotiations Tuesday, but the airline has canceled flights through Wednesday.  The airline has only one daily flight to St. Thomas.

One place you don’t want to be: Virgin Islands airport

CanceledNotice on Spirit's Web site 

Pilots at Spirit Airlines went on strike Saturday morning.  The airline canceled all its flights for the day, potentially stranding hundreds of people at the St. Thomas airport. News reports indicated the airline told customers they were on their own to find alternate flights.

When the Inquiring Iguana tried to book a flight for Sunday, Spirit's Web site said there were no seats available, perhaps indicating more flights will not operate this weekend.

Spirit is a low-cost airline, offering occasional specials of $9 a ticket.  Pilots  say they are paid well below market salaries.  The airline reportedly offered the pilots raises of 30% which, Spirit said would allow it "to continue offering you the ultra low fares you have come to know and love."

The Iguana can only imagine the holy heck that the STT airport is today.

How to get the best airfare to the Virgin Islands

Lots pf people visit St. John year after year.  The Inquiring Iguana's probably done it 25 years in a row.  And getting the best airfare is always our goal.

on the TripAdvisor forums has the same focus, asking "What's the best trick for cheap flights? Lately, all of my tricks are proving to be a bust."

Augiegator from Melbourne, Fla. chimed in saying everybody knows the usual steps … check airline sites on Tuesday evening for deals, clear your browser to make sure you get fresh search results, and so on.

Unfortunately, AG says, "The best "trick" is just plain old persistence. Know your range of possible dates, and stay vigilant in checking."  And, when you see something even close to your budget, don't wait, thinking a better deal will come alone. "Jump on it."

Mrscherry2000 suggests you sign up for fare alerts on the travel sites including Priceline, Expedia, and Orbitz.   Travelocity and Kayak are also faves for Susanf31 of Parker, Colo. "I go between them several times a day. You have to flexible on your dates."

RickG goes deeper with Kayak. "I hit the individual airlines for the best fares, but use Kayak's =/- 3-day feature to find the absolute cheapest fares – usually Wednesday to Wednesday out of DC."

Got a tip to pass along?  Do it here.

Chunk of St. Thomas airport runway blown away

The project to repair the 20-year-old runways at the St. Thomas airport has again resulted in a shutdown of a runway and prevented large planes from landing for several hours. 

The latest incident was Tuesday afternoon, reported the St. John Source  and the Virgin Islands Daily News.

Newly laid runway, although given time to cure and then tested, proved no match for the jet blast from a departing plane.  A chunk of the pavement crumbled in the exhaust.  The runway was closed for about three hours.

This is at least the second time  the repair effort has run into a problem.  The first resulted in eight-hour delays for some flights.

The repair project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

St. Thomas airport repair snafu

A few days after starting runway repairs at the Cyril E. King airport, airline operations were halted because of the project, according to the Virgin Islands daily news.

Last Sunday, March 21, two American Airlines flights were delayed more than eight hours, due to the repairs, the newspaper reported. (Read the full story here.)

Remember, when Public Works announced the project, it was promised all work would be done at night and no disruptions would occur.


The problem is that the repairs have taken some of the old runway out of service.  An AA pilot was reluctant to make a landing on the shortened asphalt.  Two other flights also had to make adjustments before takeoff; lightening their loads by reducing fuel or bumping passengers.

You can check out STT operations at this link at FlightStats.com, a site that tells you arrivals and departures for all the flights at an airport.