In October I flew to the United States for some much-needed vacation time. There were some reservations as we are still in the middle of a pandemic but I felt comfortable enough with my precautions and backup plans. The hardest part I would say is getting all the pre-departure documents and getting tested. Read on to see what it was like for me.
THE DAY BEFORE TRAVEL
As I was on a direct flight to the US, I took the cheaper rapid antigen test at St Clair Medical for $350 the day before my flight. You can only take that test if you are flying directly to the US with CAL. Flights that require a stopover in Guyana require a PCR test. The wait time was about 20 minutes for results and I got a letter with my results (they only provide results via email for PCR tests).
AT THE AIRPORT
Even though my flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45 am, I was at the airport at 3:15 am as Caribbean Airlines advised a 4-hr check-in time to enable travellers to clear COVID protocols. In retrospect, arriving 3 hours before would have probably sufficed as the airport was practically empty. From the moment you get to Piarco, there is a temperature check and hand sanitisation station.
Before checking in for flights to the US with Caribbean Airlines, you have to fill out a CDC Mandatory travel attestation form providing information on your COVID test results. That form has now changed since the November 8th requirement for all international passengers heading to the US to be vaccinated. You can print out the form beforehand and fill it out if you wish. Passengers flying with American Airlines can use the VeriFLY app. It’s one of several mobile apps that allow for the verification of COVID documents.
At the check-in desk, I showed my passport, ticket, International Vaccination Card, attestation form, and negative COVID test result. Bags were checked in and I was instructed to head to the gate. The entire process was done in less than five minutes.
Thankfully I was warned beforehand by a fellow traveller because no food establishments were open at that hour. I suspect it’s because of the curfew in place. If you’re on a red-eye or early morning flight like myself, don’t risk it for the biscuit… walk with food of some sort.
Once I cleared the initial security check, I found two duty-free stores open. To enter each store, there are temperature checks and hand sanitiser is available. After a quick stop to buy some CAL merch, I headed up to the gates. Thankfully, the security line was empty because it had been so long since I flew that I had forgotten the basics and had to keep going back to remove items from my hand luggage. A little again and they would have rung the bell of shame.
Social distancing was enforced throughout the terminal with seats blocked off to ensure that passengers remained compliant. Someone also came around and checked our documents pre-departure.
Caribbean Airlines uses Boeing 737-800 on their US routes and the aircraft is configured with 12 Business Class recliner seats, 42 Caribbean Plus, and 96 Economy Class seats. I flew in Economy Class aka pleb class and my seat was right to the back of the plane so I was first to board as CAL’s boarding procedure is to load from the back come forward.
I’m not super tall so legroom wasn’t an issue for me. Caribbean Airlines economy seats have a 32-33 pitch so my knees also weren’t knocking the back of the seat. With no bag beside my snack bag (more on that later) to place under the seat, I could comfortably stretch out my legs.
Once everyone was on board, the doors were closed and soon we were winging our way to Miami International with some spectacular views of the Northern Range. Flight time was just under 4 hours.
Approximately an hour in, the flight attendants announced that they would be coming around with a snack and beverage service which surprised me. When booking my ticket, I was told that the meal service had been suspended and because mama didn’t raise no fool, I had packed my snack bag and bought a soft drink for $8 (yes, I know… robbery!) in the terminal. My snack bag came in clutch though because, despite announcing that the sandwiches available were turkey and cheese and cheese only, by the time the attendants got to my row… all the cheese sandwiches were finished! I’m not quite sure HOW that happened because I was the 4th person to be served from that cart, but it is what it is. As a vegetarian, I’ve gotten used to situations like these so I’m usually prepared. A bottle of water and several snacks came in a brown paper handle bag and the hot sandwiches were handed out from the cart.
Meal service now complete, we were left to our own devices (see what I did there?). Caribbean Airlines has onboard entertainment available via onboard WiFi. No more showing of movies via the overhead screens. You can either use the Caribbean View app (which you must download before departure), or access content via the webpage. The movies available weren’t exactly new but you can never go wrong with watching a classic like The Devil Wears Prada… that’s all. There is nothing to prop your phone up or secure it in any way, so when a little bit of turbulence hit, my phone went sailing into the abyss. There is also no seatback power so charge your device beforehand or do like me and walk with a power bank to charge it inflight.
Upon arrival at Miami International, we were told to keep our COVID test results handy as there could be spot health checks. At Immigration, however, I was never asked to present it. We deplaned by row numbers so the front rows disembarked first.
Clearance was simple, temperature checks were done at the Immigration Hall and within 15 mins I was out the door and heading to the American Airlines counter to check-in for my connecting flight.