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View Full Version : Comments/Thoughts from Recent Insel Flights



gman
10-23-2011, 09:44 AM
I haven't read too much on this, so thought I'd share my experiences. Oct 15 a group of 7 of us flew Insel from CLT to BON - and back on Oct 22.

After 2 in our group trying unsuccessfully to get details on the "extra 10 kilo" for dive gear, we gave up and just packed one bag heavier. One phone agent told me it had to be a 3rd bag up to 22lbs, while another agent told my friend the total weight of all bags could not exceed 50 kilo (for checked bags). At the airport, check-in was slow as they hand write all the baggage tags and hand write your boarding pass. They did not seem to really pay attention to baggage weights. The ticketing agents appeared to be contractors and not actual Insel Air employees. Despite check-in being slow, everything was correct and went okay. There were roughly 80 passengers on the plane.

The flight from BON to CUR left about 20 or 30 mins late and lasted 3:39. The plane, as you know, is an older MD80, but had been maintained quite well. We landed in CUR and made our way to pay the $2 airport tax then boarded our next flight to BON about 20 mins later. That was a tight connection, but the airport is very small. The flight to BON was on a Fokker 50 and took just under 14 mins.

On the return trip, no problems from BON to CUR. We did leave a few mins late, but was no big deal. Once in CUR, we found out our flight to CLT was delayed. No one really said why - the plane was there and folks were scurrying around loading luggage, etc. We were scheduled to leave at 9:10, but didn't leave until around 11:30 or so. The pilot did tell us the delay was due to his computer reporting incorrect flap information - and that apparently was addressed -but we had heard they were on the edge of canceling the whole flight. We made it back to CLT around 4ish, but by that time a lot of folks with connections had missed them and were stuck at the USAir special services counter trying to rebook. My group drove into CLT, so we just got a ride to the hotel and headed back to Greenvillle.

Sorry this was so long (I get long winded sometimes). A couple of key points or thoughts to consider are:


The luggage was no big deal. I was between 20-30 kilos with my dive gear and no one even asked if that was my dive gear (in CLT or BON). In BON I just put both bags on the belt/scale at the same time.
The flights themselves were very smooth and the ground crew and flight crew were very professional and pleasant to deal with.
Insel has very few planes in its fleet. If they had canceled our flight to CLT, I suspect I would not be home until sometime later Sunday (which would suck to put it nicely). They do have an interline agreement with USAir and I am not sure what other airlines - but getting rerouted from CUR to CLT on another carrier would most definitely involve a couple of more connections and probably lost luggage and long airport waits.
Their connection times were very short, which again could be problematic. They didn't have a lot of flight options to choose that offered a longer layover time (in case of dealys, etc)

Final thought: Would I fly with them again? Well, if the ticket prices say the same, I will strongly consider it. The drive to/from the airport was 4 hours each way to save about $500 per ticket. If the US carrier prices come down and Insel prices go up, I would likely switch back to Delta (my personal preference)

KenH
10-24-2011, 08:31 AM
Thank-you for the informative post gman. I will be taking the same Insel CLT<=>CUR<=>BON flight in a couple of weeks. I have a couple of questions about the return flight through CUR, so if you'd be so kind ...

1. At BON do you check your baggage through to CLT? No need to deal with checked baggage at the CUR plane change?

2. When you arrive at CUR from BON, do you need to go through airport security again? I remember reading something on the Insel web site about their staff taking you through a transfer area from flight to flight, but I'm not sure whether or not I understood that part properly.

3. Do you need to pay departure taxes at both BON and CUR, or are they included in the Insel airfare? If so, what is the cost, and do they accept US currency?

Thanks for any clarification you would provide on these points.

gman
10-24-2011, 09:22 AM
Hi KenH,
I should be able to answer all your questions. Let's go in order:



In Bonaire, bags are checked all the way to CLT. They transfer your bags to the connecting flight.
When you arrive in Curacao (from CLT or BON), you enter the airport at the customs/immigration area. Do not wait in those lines. There is an escalator and set of steps to the right with a sign that says "transfer". Go up those steps and pay the $2 airport tax. Then you proceed directly to a security checkpoint. They are pretty slack. You do not need to take off your shoes, remove your liquids or your laptop from the bag. Once through the checkpoint, you are in the main airport terminal.
Departure tax: Your Bonaire departure tax is now included in your airline ticket. There is no departure tax to pay in Bonaire, even though you will see signs pointing you to pay "departure tax" - no one did. You do have to pay the $2 airport tax in Curacao both coming and going. Yes, they accept US currency and have change in USD.

One last note: call Insel and confirm your flights a few days in advance. They had canceled our flight (7 of us) from CUR to BON but never re-booked us. We each had to call and get rebooked on an earlier flight. Also, if you check in online, it really saves you no time. They are using laptops and hand write all the baggage tags, etc at the CLT airport, so check-in can be kind of slow.

KenH
10-24-2011, 07:24 PM
Many thanks for the rapid and detailed response gman.

I will post of my hopfully positive Insel experience post trip.

KenH
11-22-2011, 10:32 AM
Many thanks for the rapid and detailed response gman.

I will post of my hopfully positive Insel experience post trip.

I flew Insel Air from Charlotte (CLT) to Bonaire (BON) via Curacao (CUR) on Saturday 05 November 2011 and the same trip in reverse on Saturday 19 November 2011.

The flying portion of the Insel Air trip was great. Insel Air uses an MD-83 aircraft (2 seats one side of the aisle, 3 seats the other side) for the CLT to CUR leg of the journey. I found the leg room to be quite generous (Iím 5í10Ē). The aircraft is old, but it is clean and appeared to be in good condition. There were three cabin crew members, they were courteous and efficient. Passengers were given sandwiches and drinks with refills; the food was palatable but nothing to rave about. If youíre a picky eater bring your own food. The aircraft was only about one third full on the outbound trip, and about half full on the return trip. I was travelling solo, and on both trips I was able to find three seats abreast that were empty and was able flip up the center arm rests and stretch out. Nice. Changed planes in CUR and had a short layover. At CUR you enter the airport and immediately go up a set of stairs to the transit area, you donít go though immigration and customs on CUR. Baggage checked through to BON in CLT was transferred between the aircraft. Insel Air used a Fokker 50 aircraft (2 seats either side of the aisle) for the short hop from CUR to BON. The seating was tighter than on the MD-83 aircraft, so if you have large carry-on luggage youíll either be cramped or need to check it as you board the Fokker 50 aircraft.

Alas, the administrative operations of Insel Air still have a few bugs that need to be worked out, at least for the CLT to BON flight. Two days prior to my departure I called Insel Airís US call center to confirm my flights. It wasnít easy to get through, often busy, and then dropped calls after waiting in the phone queue. When I finally did get through to an Insel Air representative I was told that my flights were confirmed in the booking system. This was true. Problem was, Insel Air apparently has separate booking and reservation systems, and they donít talk to one another. When I checked in at CLT the reservation system only showed me travelling to CUR, not BON. The Insel Air staff at CLT could see my reservation through to BON, but couldnít give me a boarding pass for the CUR to BON leg of the journey because I wasnít in the booking system. The Insel Air staff at CLT was very helpful in trying to straighten this out, but even they were stymied. The CLT operations manager had a heck of a time getting through to Insel Airís operations center in an attempt to straighten this out. When he finally did get through, he was told that the 9 PM (last flight of the day from CUR to BON) flight was full, and I would need to spend the night on CUR. I was not pleased. Another series of phone calls ensued, in an attempt to allow an over-booking of the CUR to BON flight, but the calls didnít result in a confirmed seat assignment on the flight. Since departure time was rapidly approaching, the Insel Air staff at CLT gave me a boarding pass for the CUR to BON flight, but I didnít have a seat assignment. A worry filled flight to CUR followed. At CUR I went to the gate agent and explained my plight, again I was told that the flight to BON was full. At this point I regretfully had to go into Ďugly American touristí mode. I was sent to the transfer desk, waited in a long line, and somehow finally got a seat assignment. The time was 9:12 PM. I ran back to the date and saw the word DEPARTED on the gateís display screen. I was crushed, and let out a gasp of defeat. Then I heard all of my fellow travelers from CLT laughing Ė most were aware of my plight. ďDonít worry, the plane hasnít departedĒ I was told. Phew! Boarding began a short while later. Now the real kicker Ė there were several empty seats on the flight! All of this made the Insel Air flight down to BON quite stressful, not the way I had hoped to start my vacation. Once I got on the CUR to BON flight the stress began to abate, and with the help of multiple Amstel Brights upon arrival all stress was gone and the enjoyment began.

It was very beneficial that I brought along a printout of my Insel Air reservation with the booking reference number and electronic ticket number. Without it I would likely have spent the first night of my vacation camped out in the CUR transit lounge. Thankfully the return trip was without issue.

Bonaire departure tax was included in the Insel Air airfare. You pay a $2 US transfer both ways at CUR.

Iíd expect that with time and experience Insel Airís CLT to BON flight booking and reservation process will go much more smoothly for future travelers. If it would be cost beneficial to do so Iíd consider using the Insel Air CLT to BON flight again.

gman
11-22-2011, 11:03 AM
Ken,
The level of stress Insel generates may not be worth the cost savings. There were 7 in my group, and 5 of us almost ended up spending the night in CUR as well - all becuase Insel was not acting in a responsible manner.

I do not like the short connection time in CUR and what appears to be the lack of conern by Insel.

KenH
11-22-2011, 05:01 PM
I can't argue against your points gman. The transfer in CUR was a PITA, even without the reservation snafu. If it is at all financially reasonable, next trip I'll take a direct flight to Bonaire, preferably the Delta flight from Atlanta.

I don't believe that the perceived lack of concern is specific to Insel Air, though. I believe that it is a Caribbean 'cultural' issue; people there are just not as timely and service-oriented as people from developed countries tend to be. Most of the time I try to be accepting of this, but when it jeopardizes my trip to dive paradise ...

Bridge
11-23-2011, 08:32 AM
We have not taken yet the Charlotte flight, but we use at least 2x a year the Bonaire-Cur-Miami flight.
The described problems incl. the handwritten boarding passes do not occur in Miami, so I guess it is a problem because this flight is very new.
But ! In Miami the weight of your luggage is always checked and overweight could be a problem. I think because these flights are always full, lots of people from Venezuela use this flight and they have masses of luggage !
What has never been a problem was the connection to Bonaire - neither when coming from St.Martin - as long as you have that boarding pass. They keep the Bonaire flight waiting.... as I heard from our guests even if that takes more than 1 hour !