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jeph June 22nd, 2005 12:36 AM

San Juan Airport Insanity
Joan, an old friend of mine (with whom I had gone on a cruise, her first, on the late lamented Norway in Jan 2002) recently had a chance to return to the Carribbean. Her brother, an avid cruiser, had a late-March trip all booked on RCI's humongous Adventure of the Seas, rt from San Juan Puerto Rico, with his girlfriend. Then, at the last minute, his girlfriend had to bow out to start a new job. Everything already being paid for, he offered his sister Joan an invitation to share the cabin. (Having recently been unjustly fired from a job, she deserved a break!)

A year after our Norway trip, I too had taken a cruise rt out of San Juan, so Joan asked if I had any advice. I had LOVED Puerto Rico-- Old San Juan was magnificent, and the El Yunque rain forest, a veritable Garden of Eden, was less than an hour's drive out of town. Since her flight on the final day didn't leave until 5pm, I mentioned that on the last day of my cruise, I'd taken a great shore excursion up into the rain forest before being dropped off at the airport in plenty of time, where my luggage was waiting. It cost just 30 bucks-- only ten more than a straight pier-to-airport transfer! Or, failing that, I advised her to just go into beautiful Old San Juan and enjoy strolling the cobbled streets and admiring the well-preserved colorful colonial architecture.

Well, Joan had a wonderful time overall with her brother on that cruise, but that's not how she spent her final day after arriving back in San Juan. She was off the ship by 8am, at the airport by 9-- and essentially SPENT THE NEXT EIGHT HOURS STANDING ON LINES! Lines to check her bags, USDA inspection line, airport security line, and most of all, US Airways' check-in. The airline had ONE GUY behind the counter to deal with HUNDREDS of departing passengers! What a miserable way to end what should have been an ideal vacation-- and what an appalling impression Puerto Rico left on her as a result! She said she'd never have the slightest interest in coming back again.

The airport had been quite busy and crowded at the conclusion of my 2003 cruise-- not surprising, given that 6000-odd cruisers were making their way home at once-- but what Joan described to me was so insane, I could scarcely believe it. I advised her to write to both the airline and to Puerto Rico's tourism board or Chamber of Commerce, describe to them her experience, and that because of what she had to go through, she'd never be back. They need to know what happened, and what kind of effect that's liable to have on future tourism revenues they rely on.

So here's the question: was what she went through just some terrible one-day fluke? Or have other recent San-Juan-based cruise passengers experienced anything remotely this awful?

Lisa June 22nd, 2005 12:39 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
So, she went straight to the airport with thousands of other persons? Terrible decision, imho. Yes, I have heard that debarkation mornings and early afternoons are hell-like at the airport in San Juan. She should have listened to your advice and done a tour!

Post Edited (06-22-05 00:39)

venice June 22nd, 2005 05:19 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
she should have taken your sunday's are a nightmare in San Juan and in light of the recent problems with US Air does not surprise me about the short staffing.

On the 2 occasions I have cruised out of San Juan after my first experience, I took an extra day both ends of the cruise to avoid the massive crowds. The airport on a Monday is much different from a cruise Sunday

pcboston June 22nd, 2005 09:22 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
I agree with the other posters. I have cruised out of San Juan 3 times and it is my favorite port. The first time was pre-9/11, we had a 5pm flight so did a shore tour, spent the day in old San Juan and a hotel. The airport was busy when we arrived, but no big problem. The other 2 times were in 2004 and 2005, we opted to stay over one night and fly out on Monday. It is a big difference flying out on Monday, no huge crowds, there were lines but they were managable. The first time we took a shore tour to the rain forest from Royal Caribbean, were dropped off at the airport and collected our bags and took a taxi to the hotel. This year we just took a taxi to our hotel and spent a nice afternoon at the beach. We had an 11am flight on the both Mondays we stayed over and got home rested and early. She should have listened to you and taken a tour, think her experience would have been different. I think the airports at most cruiseports are a mess on Sundays when there are many ships unloading passengers. My worse nightmare was Ft. Lauderdale on a Sunday, now always try to stay over. I also flew American to Puerto Rico all 3 times, but I think its just that it was Sunday.

AR June 22nd, 2005 09:46 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
When my son first became an airline pilot he spent his rookie year based at SJU flying mostly Island hops (he doesn't--and didn't--work for USAir). Even so, he's always said that airport is a very "special" place, where things seldom work as planned or as scheduled.

She should have gone on a tour. If busloads of people arrive at the airport in reasonable time to make their various flights, the airlines pretty much have to make it happen for them, and they somehow always do. It's the old story about "work" expanding to fill the time available.

LisaK June 22nd, 2005 10:12 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
some things never change. San Juan Airport on a Sunday is a total zoo.

venice June 22nd, 2005 01:13 PM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
any airport where cruise ships depart are a zoo on the weekends..and it is only going to get worse..just imagine what Miami is going to look like with 2 or 3 ships the size of Freedom of the Seas leaving on a Sunday ?

However, there is always a silver lining..If you plan to spend an extra day in SJU, airlines are always looking for volunteers (and depending on how overbooked they are they might throw in a voucher for either a free or reduce rate at an airport motel) to go on the next day's flight (monday) and you can earn travel credits for your next cruise

jeph June 23rd, 2005 11:39 PM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
Thanks for your feedback. It was Joan's distinct impression-- and I have no reason to disagree-- that had she attempted to take a tour and show up at the airport 2 or 3 hours prior to scheduled flight time, as I had been able to do in Jan of 2003, (and yes, it was on a Sunday!) she would never have made it out on her flight-- or perhaps any time that night. (Which might not have been such a bad thing, especially if the airline had put her up for the night!)

If I remember what she told me correctly, she and her fellow passengers with late afternoon flights were discouraged from even trying a tour, despite the fact that this would cost RCI possible revenue, because the line's staff knew that awful things were afoot at San Juan International.

venice June 24th, 2005 03:53 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
with post 911 security, she was probably right about showing up 2-3 hours before...still think coming home on Monday is the better bet and far less stressful

DecBride June 26th, 2005 08:14 PM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
We are flying out of San Juan the Sunday of our cruise. Our flight departs at 1:50. Are we cutting it too close with the lines. I wish we could stay another day, but it is not possible.

CruiseAholic June 27th, 2005 04:43 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
You guys have me worried now. I had planned to take a 12:00 flight out of San Juan (on a Sunday) after my Carnival Destiny cruise in September. Should I change it?


LisaK June 27th, 2005 10:10 AM

Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
i would not book a flight out of San Juan on a Sunday before noon. The later the better.

buffetfan2004 June 30th, 2005 07:30 AM

Re: Re: San Juan Airport Insanity
We are sailing on the 10th, I can let you know how all the timing went on disembarking. We personally are traveling back on Monday, although my parents have a flight Sunday so I can post their experience. Their flight is 1:51pm leaving SanJuan.

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