There’s No Place Like… Aruba

I apologize before I even start this post. Sometimes I wonder if traveling to the caribbean is worth the hassle.I guess that’s really true for any travel that requires a flight, especially if you live in Pittsburgh. I always wondered how we managed to build the most awesome international airport on the east coast, and it’s hub to no airlines and has very few flights. While heading to St. Lucia last week, Tom and I looked at a wall of flat screens to display departure and arrival information, only to have two of them lit up — the others black. Two!!! That’s like maybe 20 or 30 flights listed, if that. It’s so sad, really.

The way home was even worse. Coming back at midnight — there’s maybe 500 people in the whole place. There wasn’t anywhere to even get a Coke or a bottled water. Oh, but there’s a restroom at every turn. It’s truly the most well-designed airport with so many conveniences built right into the venue. Only to be wasted. I wonder who is responsible for the state of this airport, and the travel inconveniences that an entire city of people have to face every time they travel. What idiot played such hardball with USAirways that they moved their hub to Charlotte?

Oh and then there’s Charlotte. Yes, we circled the Charlotte airport for like 45 minutes on our trip to St. Lucia. When we finally landed, we made it to our connector as it was boarding the plane. Oh and you had to get in a separate line for someone to look at your passport. It was truly the most unorganized, ridiculous procedure I had ever been through. So now we’re rushed on the plane, no time to get a sandwich for lunch, only to sit for another 30 to 45 minutes on the runway. Yea, the pilot said something about a problem that they had to put into maintenance log. Thanks. I didn’t need to know that. Who trains these pilots in what they should and shouldn’t say to the passengers?

St. Lucia’s airport was almost identical to Antigua’s in size and procedure. Getting into the country was easy. Coming home was quite different. There were only eight flights leaving St. Lucia on Saturday. You think that would be a cake walk, right? They all left within the same time period — between 2 pm and 5 pm. Talk about utter chaos at this small airport. It’s like being herded like cattle from one station to the next — with no air conditioning at all. By the time we finally got to the USAirways counter, my hair was completely soaked like I had a shower. The guy before me had his arm on the counter and left a big pile of sweat for me to have to work around. That was lovely. Tom and Spencer gave Jess the nickname, “Girl Sweats A Lot.” Poor Jess had the thinnest t-shirt on that was just soaked. Me, I wore longer crop jeans, because the plane is always so cold. Plus, I wore my compression stocking — it was like wearing long underwear in unbearable heat.

We were then herded into another line for immigration. There were two immigration agents for all these people at one tiny counter. When we finally made it to that point, there was AC. Then through security — finally there was a restroom and somewhere to get something to drink. But the whole thing took so long, we only had about 15 minutes before our plane boarded. And yes, our USAirways jet was parked about a half a mile away from the gate on the runway. So after I finally made it to the plane, completely soaked again, I had to climb the stairs with my compression stocking!

I know — I have to admit, I whined the entire time. But it only got worse. We had the worst two year old girl sitting in the row behind us with her Dad and five year old brother. She screamed for the first 30 minutes for her mom (who was seated 20 rows in front of us). Somebody behind us said, “will someone please get that kid her mother?” The poor Dad didn’t know what to do with her. She finally fell asleep, and we had peace for about 30 minutes. The flight was four and half hours and during that time, the mom had to change the kid’s diaper. It was so stinky, that all the seats around us could smell it. And to make it worse, she put it under Tom’s seat, and we got to enjoy that aroma throughout the flight. She had a couple more temper tantrums, and I will never travel again without my headset.

In Charlotte, we had almost two hours between our flights — to get through customs, re-check our luggage for our next flight, go through TSA security for what seems the hundredth time and get to our gate. Tom and I both needed something to drink. If we had time, i wanted to get a sandwich too. We sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting for a gate. We’re an international flight and most of the people on the flight had connectors. I was getting worried now about missing ours. Our two hour window was now just over an hour. I’m not impressed with the Charlotte airport in the least.

Finally we’re at US customs — another huge line. At least there were 10 agents to help keep it moving. We were in that line so long that our luggage was actually on the belt when got to that area. Re-checking it was easy. And then there was the TSA security line. Hundreds of people going through four checkpoints. RIDICULOUS!!!!

Okay, here’s my thing. I know that they’re doing all this screening for our safety. I get it. But there has to be a better way! They need to expand these areas to accommodate the number of travelers coming through these checkpoints. It’s 9:45 pm, and we’re just exhausted beyond belief. I’m so tired, so thirsty, so hungry and panicked as our flight started boarding at 9:40 pm. And yes, we get to the gate — they’re boarding. Tom and I are never late for anything. We like to have plenty of time at the airport. RUSH, RUSH, RUSH. We get on the plane without getting something to drink. Tom is so annoyed by that point that he’s telling me we’re never traveling out of the country again.

So all I am looking forward to is getting a glass of Coke. Yes, I’m so thirsty. Would you believe that they had to discontinue their beverage service at our row on the plane due to turbulence? The 17 rows in front of us had beverages and everyone in rows 18 and back had none. Just my luck, huh?

So the morale of my story. Go to Aruba. Aruba handles US customs in Aruba. Yes, you go through the entire process there, and then when you get to Charlotte, you skip all the other crap. You have time to eat. You have time to pee. And maybe one day — some airline will come and put their direct flights back to Aruba in Pittsburgh. It’s a no brainer really.

I’m not saying we didn’t have a blast in St. Lucia, because we did. But, there’s no place like Aruba. Truly in my book, it’s the best island in the caribbean and the easiest to travel to.

Let me know your thoughts!