What it’s like flying British Airways for a 20-minute flight between Caribbean islands
When you think of British Airways, you think of a worldwide long-haul network. The last thing that comes to mind is island-hopper flights between islands in the Caribbean as part of so-called milk runs or fifth-freedom flights.
British Airways (BA) has an extensive route network from London, so it’s no surprise that they fly directly from its leisure hub, London-Gatwick, to a bunch of Caribbean islands. Not all these flights are round-trips. Instead, many will continue on after their first point of arrival to another island, before turning back and flying to London.
On a recent trip to the Caribbean, I flew one of these fifth-freedom routes from Antigua (ANU) to St. Kitts (SKB). And, after flying this route, I can definitively say that there’s truly something special about flying a 777 for a 62-mile flight between two islands.
Booking this flight was simple. Google Flights displayed the flight schedule and price along with all the other airlines operating this route. I knew to look for this flight, but you may stumble upon some of BA’s other Caribbean flights during your searches.
One important note is that most of these fifth-freedom flights don’t operate daily.
I knew better than to pay for a cash ticket and went immediately to BA’s website to search for Avios availability. Unsurprisingly, there were tons of seats available -- which is typically the case with almost all of these short island-hopper flights. I was happy to burn just 7,750 Avios + $40 in exchange for a $517 business-class ticket.
Since I was connecting in Antigua from Puerto Rico, I decided to build in a three-hour layover in case something went wrong with my first flight. Karma bit me, though, as it was the BA flight that was delayed an hour and a half for aircraft maintenance in London.
Once at the Antigua airport, I made my way to BA’s check-in counters. I arrived well over three hours before the flight and the check-in counters were still closed. There were two counters dedicated to Club World passengers and the rest to World Traveller and World Traveller Plus. I had an hour to kill before the check-in counters opened at 2:55 p.m., so I connected to Wi-Fi and did some work.
It took only a few minutes to get my boarding pass printed. I then went upstairs for a document check, immigration and security, all of which took no more than 15 minutes.
Antigua’s airport is definitely more modern than many of its Caribbean counterparts. In addition to proper jet bridges, there's plenty of seating, there were power outlets for waiting passengers and the air conditioning was excellent.
Since I was flying in biz, I made my way to the airport Executive Lounge and presented my boarding pass. Much to my surprise, the lounge agent informed me that intra-Caribbean Club World tickets don’t include lounge access. All hope wasn’t lost though because the lounge accepted Priority Pass. I presented my digital Priority Pass membership and was admitted to the lounge for a maximum three-hour stay (afterward, you need to pay $15 an hour).
The lounge was basically one large rectangular room with a bunch of recliner chairs. There were a few outlets scattered around the walls.
Given how few daily flights the Antigua airport handles, it’s not surprising that the lounge was empty. The lounge had a minimal buffet and none of the food options looked particularly appetizing.
There was also a bar, which offered an assortment of soft drinks and alcohol. Admission to the lounge included three drink coupons for house wine and beer. Anything more than that (as well as top-shelf liquor) was chargeable.
The lounge has private restrooms, as well as a single computer and printer.
The highlight of the lounge was the massive outdoor deck that runs the length of the lounge and provides a variety of comfortable seating options, including a few cabanas, some tables and chairs and even two lounge chairs.
You can see the ocean in the distance, as well as most of the airport’s airside operations. The outdoor deck afforded such great views of Gate 1 and the surrounding apron area that I didn’t once leave this spot until it was time for my flight to board.
It definitely took a lot to get this AvGeek to leave the lounge’s outdoor deck, but at least I was headed toward another equally exciting AvGeek experience.
Once at the gate, I was shocked at how empty it was. The gate agent said that there were only six passengers boarding at Antigua. The remaining 130 or so passengers for the flight to St. Kitts were already on the plane that just landed from London. The rest of the passengers had already disembarked in Antigua.
There were more members of the flight crew waiting to board than there were passengers. I approached the pilot and asked about some of the logistics of this unique route. Turns out that the crew that flew the plane in from London was overnighting in Antigua before heading back to London. This new crew was only responsible for flying the plane from Antigua to St. Kitts and back. There’d be another fresh crew waiting in Antigua for the return journey to London.
The 20-year-old Gatwick-based Boeing 777, G-YMMD, refueled in Antigua, and baggage and cargo was loaded before the flight to St. Kitts.
Although we were delayed an hour and a half, I was still super-excited about the opportunity to fly a 777 for a 20-minute flight. We boarded through door 1L and found a bunch of restless passengers already sitting on the plane that had just flown in from London.
The Club World cabin on the Gatwick-based 777 is cozy. There are only 32 seats, spread across four rows. I took Christian Kramer’s advice and pre-assigned myself Seat 4K, only to realize that there was a window missing. Since my inflight entertainment on this flight was going to consist of me looking out the window, this wasn’t going to fly. Fortunately, there were a bunch of empty seats, so I moved to 3K.
Upon taking my seat, two members of the Gatwick-based crew came by and introduced themselves. They were cheerful and friendly and offered me a pre-departure beverage along with some mixed nuts. This was my first glimpse at BA’s new tableware, and I loved it. It's beautifully designed and added a nice flair to the otherwise outdated cabin.
Because this is a short flight, they explained that there wouldn’t be service other than the pre-departure beverage. In fact, the captain announced that he wasn’t even going to turn off the seatbelt sign during the flight. Nonetheless, the crew went above and beyond and brought Club World passengers an additional bottle of water.
There were no amenity kits or hot towels on offer. This 777 had recently been reconfigured with BA’s latest inflight entertainment (IFE) system, but sadly the flight map wouldn’t load. I asked the flight attendant to reset my TV, but that was futile. Either way, there certainly wasn’t enough time to watch anything on the IFE. This bird also featured Wi-Fi, though it didn’t work during my flight.
The biggest surprise was that the plane evidently didn’t get cleaned in Antigua, and it showed. There was trash all over the place. In fact, the pillow, blanket and headphones on my seat had just been used by a previous passenger, so I immediately asked the flight attendant to remove them. He apologized profusely, and even brought me a fresh sleeper kit and headphones.
The bathrooms on this flight hadn’t been cleaned since the plane departed London more than 10 hours earlier.
Although I promised not to sit in a rear-facing seat again, it was worth it in this case. Since the flight was so short and scenic, I kept my eyes focused out the window most of the time.
I scratched some items off my AvGeek bucket list, like a back taxi on the active runway and amazing sunset views on the airplane’s wing.
Before I knew it, we were descending toward St. Kitts. We never made it above 6,000 feet, so the final approach didn’t take long.
And just 22 minutes after takeoff, we were back on the ground — in an entirely different country. British Airways may not be based in Antigua or St. Kitts, but the airline sure offers the most comfortable way to fly between these two beautiful places.