Even as LIAT tries to sort through its finances, the Caribbean-based airline still serves as an essential service to many mainly English-speaking countries within the West Indies.
Besides being in constant financial difficulty, LIAT’s PR team has always had the hard task of trying to set the airline’s name right as they are generally accused of being late, flying to wrong destinations, and losing passengers’ luggage. The reality of those accusations vary significantly depending on who you ask, but I decided to find out for myself if any of those things were true.
For starters, I still eliminated the risk of baggage woes and traveled with a single carry-on. The only reason I did this was because I was traveling with not one, but three LIAT flights over the course of a few days (along with other airlines) as part of an extended island hopping trip between St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Curacao, Aruba and New York. I simply could not afford to miss further connecting flights because of baggage problems, so it was not a risk worth taking.
As a disclaimer, this report features some photos from a previous LIAT flight (Trinidad to St. Lucia) as I was told to put away my camera mid-flight as it was apparently against policy, my guess being as a result of archaic civil aviation laws. More on that later. I still went ahead to use the combination of photos as the service and aircraft type was essentially the same (hence me also not doing two LIAT trip reports).
I booked a flight from St. Lucia to St. Maarten but had to make a stop in Antigua to change planes as it’s LIAT’s main hub. I would have preferred a direct flight, but as the next option meant being in transit for over 20 hours with 3 stops throughout the French Caribbean, this was the obvious choice. As I was staying on the northern sides of the island, I chose to fly from the smaller of the two airports in St. Lucia. As a result, I only had access to prop service.
As LIAT was allegedly on the brink of going bankrupt, I had alternatives in mind to get to St. Maarten. However it would mean having to drive over an hour to the southern side of the island to get to Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) to catch an American Airlines flight to Miami and back to St. Maarten.
The booking was made via Orbitz as I was saving over $30 versus LIAT’s website. On the flip side, when I booked my trip from Trinidad to St. Lucia, LIAT was actually cheaper by $15 versus 3rd party booking sites. It’s always good to shop around.
The one-way ticket came up to $203, and sadly the base price itself was only $100. Caribbean travel has always been plagued with extremely high taxes within the region.
After dropping off my rental at the airport, I headed over to the check in counter which was outside at the entrance. As I had no bags to check at the airport, I checked in online the night before to confirm my seat. I still went to the counter to get a boarding pass as I could not use my phone as proof of ticket. Hopefully these smaller airlines can move towards getting proper mobile boarding passes in the future.
Here’s where the trouble started. There are signs around the airport warning passengers not to take photos, but as a travel writer, I still decided to take a chance. Sadly my A6500 was not exactly GoPro sized and I was quickly caught out and told by one of the security officers that taking photos is not allowed.
Once cleared through security into a very small waiting area, passengers were invited to line up and we were escorted to the aircraft shortly after. Even on the air side, there were many signs warning passengers against photography, and once again I was told to put away the camera, this time by a ground handling agent.
Other than that, boarding was on time down to the second, with disabled passengers getting preferences, and then rows 1-10 and the remaining rows boarding after in two groups. As with other ATR aircraft, boarding is done through the rear as cargo is loaded into a hold between the cabin and cockpit at the front.
LIAT’s ATR 72-600s have 68 seats spread out in a 2-2 all economy layout.
Each seat offers 31 inches of pitch with decent enough storage room in the foot well, but at the sacrifice of losing leg room if both passengers decide to use foot well space. However, this is not a huge concern as LIAT’s flight times generally don’t cross 1 1/2 hours long.
The lack of a proper seat storage was somewhat bothersome though as I had no where to store my water and other small items. There is a very small pouch on the seat in front of you, however there really isn’t any space to talk about. Some of their ATRs do have a net alternative which offers much more space.
Seat sizes are comparable to bigger jets, at around 16 inches in width. As flight times are generally short, there really isn’t much to complain about in terms of comfort.
The view is not so bad as once you’re airborne but I would recommend sitting in rows 1 through 5 if you prefer not to see the engine.
As there was no in flight entertainment, I actually read an airline magazine for the first time in some years.
For the 50 minute ride, we were offered a small selection of beverages, including coffee, tea, water, and orange juice. I chose the coffee option, assuming it would come from a big jug of brewed coffee. However, it turned out to be a cup of hot water and a packet of Nescafe Taster’s Choice instead. It was a pretty decent cup of instant coffee might I add.
Does an in flight magazine count?
LIAT staff both on the ground and in the air were quite friendly. Even though there generally was not much to assess given the short flight time, one example I noted was how quickly the flight attendant calmed down a very distressed passenger being told she could not carry some bottles of liquids. As the passenger only had carry on bags, the bottled would have been seized as they exceeded the maximum size of 3.4 ounces each.
The one run in I did have though was that I was told that I could not film or take photos as it was against airline policy. As a result, my photos for this trip were not the best.
While I am not one to argue about a no-photo policy when on the ground, I found it a bit ridiculous that I couldn’t take pictures or video when we were at cruise altitude. It’s not like I photographed the flight crew, so I didn’t see the big deal about it.
Given the number of stops I had to make after this trip, I didn’t bother putting up a fight as I was not aware of the policy and didn’t want to go down a losing road.
Regardless, the incident has not stained my impression about the airline otherwise.
Besides my camera debacle, I can’t say I had any real problems with LIAT’s overall service. In total, I took three flights between Port of Spain, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Maarten and they all departed on time without anything to really speak about. My only fear was that my flights would have been canceled given the troubling times their airline is experiencing at the moment, however things played out in my favor.
Would I book with LIAT again? If they sorted out some of their financial difficulties, then yes I would. I’d hate to have to end up being told that my flight was canceled due to the airline going belly up days before a big trip.