Most Caribbean travelers head to a single island, blissfully unaware that other fascinatingly different destinations are often within hailing distance or just over the horizon. The short distances make island-hopping seem like a great idea, but until fairly recently, inter-island travel in the Caribbean was either a case of non-existent routes or reliance on carriers that charge as much for a 40-minute hop as you paid for your flight to the Caribbean in the first place.
Luckily for would-be island-hoppers, all that has begun to change with the appearance of some carriers determined to fill in the route gaps and even compete on others that were served by a single carrier. One such enterprising airline is Tradewind Aviation, a small but dynamic carrier that brings along considerable background with its history of operating regional air service in New England. Nowadays, while still flying between the metropolitan New York area and Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Tradewind has launched scheduled service from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Caribbean islands eastward – Anguilla, Nevis, St. Barths and Antigua, along with a St. Thomas to St. Barths route. Airfares are comparable with other regional airlines, but the experience is miles more pleasurable.
Scheduled Service Experience
Our own first-hand passenger experience with Tradewind took us first from San Juan over to St.
Barths on a one-hour flight. Taking off from San Juan's busy airport on an early weekday morning, we were still marveling about the effortless breeze through check-in after arriving at Terminal A of Luis Muñoz Marin International -- normally one of the most busy and crowded airports in the Caribbean -- and the equally easy procedure for boarding.
Tradewind's staff take you up to their own waiting lounge, where refreshments are offered and you can work in comfort or make last-minute calls in a quiet space. A small shuttle bus then takes you out on the tarmac to board your flight.
On each of our flights, we flew on a Pilatus PC-12, a sleek turboprop aircraft that has to be one of the most elegant smaller passenger aircraft you can enjoy being aboard and above the Caribbean clouds on a fall morning. Despite the compact interior there is plenty of comfort, with eight deep leather-cushioned passenger seats. The co-pilot explains the safety procedures, and you are on your way. We don't claim to know a lot about small passenger aircraft, but the Pilatus PC-12 is Swiss built and engineered, and climbs very swiftly above any low-lying clouds to a cruising altitude of around 17,000 feet within a few minutes. For refreshments, help yourself to anything by way of sodas or water or light snacks in one of the chests at the rear of the aisle.
The same easy arrival procedure greets you upon landing in St. Barths and Antigua, where a shuttle van picks you up as you disembark and the carrier's representative speeds you through immigration.
After a brief visit on St. Barths, and a short wait in a comfortable lounge with arriving light aircraft parking just a few yards from where you're sitting, we continued on another PC-12 aircraft from the small airport (one immigration person stamps your passport) to Antigua. Tradewind made our entire inter-Caribbean commuting consistently hassle-free and even one of the pleasures itself along our journey.
The Tradewind Fleet and Other Services
Tradewind Aviation operates a fleet of 15 aircraft, some of which are available for private charter from the Northeast United States and flying within the eastern Caribbean. Aside from the Pilatus PC-12, they also fly prop Cessnas and for their extensive charter services have Cessna jets on hand -- so no reason to be late for your favorite Caribbean yachting regatta or music or food festival!
Tradewind Aviation: www.tradewindaviation.com
Toll-Free: 1-800-376-7922; Phone: 1-203-267-3305