Last week, I took a quick jaunt to the Northern Coast of the Dominican Republic and couldn’t wait to get back to the United States. On Wednesday, I dropped off my rental car at Puerto Plata International Airport (POP) and arrived early at 1pm for my 4:58pm departure flight to Miami. I had a few hours to kill at the Salon Ambar VIP Lounge while waiting for my flight to board at 4:13pm. I went to the departure gate and saw that the inbound flight American Airlines 935 had not arrived yet from Miami, so I headed back to the Salon Ambar lounge to get some updates. I fired up Flightaware and saw that the plane left Miami right on time, but due to the bad weather in Puerto Plata, the plane was unable to land.
Apparently, flight 935 (co-incidentally the same flight number from Puerto Plata to Miami as well) was circling around the airport waiting for the weather to clear up. As I was in the lounge, I could see from the window that the inbound AA flight tried to land but had to abort which caused quite a scare to other guests in the lounge.
American flight 935 from Miami to Puerto Plata (MIA-POP) finally landed at 5:00pm where it took them 45 minutes to turn around the plane. The new departure time was 6:22pm, arriving in Miami at 7:40pm.
I had a connection flight from Miami to Los Angeles that was scheduled at 8pm, arriving in LA the same day at 11pm which I was definitely not going to make with the tight 20 minute international connection time. I quickly pulled up the AA app and saw that my flight was re-booked for the next day at 7:00am, arriving in Los Angeles at 9:45am.
I saw that there was a 9pm flight out of Miami to Los Angeles (MIA-LAX), but there was no way I was going to be confirmed on that because it would violate the minimum international connection time. Theoretically, I could get on the standby flight but I could only same day standby for an earlier or later flight which I couldn’t because I was confirmed on a flight for the following day.
With quick thinking, I saw that I could depart from Miami to Dallas at 9:30pm with an overnight in Dallas and I could catch the first flight out of Dallas to Los Angeles. I’d rather overnight in Dallas than in Miami and didn’t mind forking over money for a hotel in the Dallas Fort Worth area. I quickly tweeted the American Airlines Twitter team that I didn’t like the 7am flight out of Miami and to please change it to the 9:30pm MIA-DFW flight and the morning DFW-LAX flight.
I left the Ambar lounge and boarding began at 5:45pm. Boarding was completed pretty quickly and we started taxiing out of the gate at around 6:15pm. The weather started to play a huge factor in our departure delay because other planes were trying to land. In fact, a Thomas Cook flight had to be diverted to nearby Punta Cana airport. While waiting on the tarmac, we saw an Air Berlin flight land (there was only one active runway for landing and departures).
At 6:53pm, the captain announced that the crew had just exceeded their time limit for the day and it was just by 3 minutes. He said that there was a delay in getting the weights and balance paperwork and waiting for the Air Berlin flight to land which all played a factor. He announced that the plane would be taxiing back to the departure gate and everyone on the flight was quite dismayed.
The pilot ordered everyone off the plane and we were shuttled into the customs area. Some of us wondered if we had to pay another $10 USD for the arrivals tourist landing card again at Puerto Plata International Airport, but thankfully we didn’t have to.
Here’s a video I took in the customs and security area:
At 7pm, people were lining up trying to get answers on the current sitution.
Puerto Plata International Airport is a small airport in the Dominican Republic and American only flies once daily to Miami, so there aren’t any extra planes or crew members available to get us out of there. I talked to some of the passengers and they were all shocked about the situation. One young woman had to get to Miami at 8am the next day for an important job interview that she had secured for months.
By 9:30pm, none of the airport staff knew what was going on and they kept us silent for the past few hours. The American Airlines employees weren’t employees of American at all; they are all contracted by Swissport. They definitely didn’t see this situation coming and were not equipped to handle this at all. Some elderly passengers were dying of thirst since all the stores were already shut down.
A few empty buses rolled in and we thought they were going to shuttle us to the hotel. Some people mentioned that they were going to send us to the Barcelo Hotel in Puerto Plata and that the next flight was going to be 7am the next morning.
The crew members were tired and they were shortly escorted to an awaiting shuttle van to take them to the hotel for rest because they had already exceeded their flying time for the day.
By 10pm, there was an announcement that they were working on the situation and they might be able to fly a crew from Puerto Rico’s San Juan International Airport (SJU) to Puerto Plata’s Gregorio Luperon International Airport. There was a sense of relief as many people did not want to overnight.
Here’s a video I took when the contracted AA employees announced there would be a charter San Juan flight to shuttle a crew to Puerto Plata International Airport.
The flight eventually departed at 1:21am (8 hours and 19 minutes later) and arrived at Miami International Airport at 2:08am.
I was pretty much at the airport at 1pm and left at 1am which was my 12 hour travel nightmare in the Dominican Republic.
I had a similar situation last year which I blogged about My First Cancelled Flight Experience and 24 Hour Nightmare in Rio de Janeiro.
Have you ever had a travel nightmare in a foreign country?