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Jun 22, 2002

A promising summer

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The weakest link in St. Barth’s travel industry is its local airport, notably, its inability to accommodate major air carriers. Because of the airport’s unusual disposition, its lack of lighting, and its limited size, inbound travelers are confined to a forced dependency on the international airport in Dutchside St. Martin, which is where the majority of them are routed in order to reach St. Barth. This arrangement is necessary, but laced with glitches that keep the system from operating as smoothly as theory would dictate. When outbound flights from Paris are delayed, inbound passengers are often forced to spend an unplanned night in St. Martin, considering that all incoming flights are prohibited after the sun goes down. The other option, is of course, the ferry boat, but this easily extends travel time an additional couple of hours. Another setback of the current system is that there is lag time-often considerable-between the arrival time of the passenger and the arrival time of the passenger’s luggage. There are other inconveniences, though, such as the attitude of the ground personnel in St. Martin airport, at the local airline counters. Rather than alleviate the travel fatigue and anguish of passengers trying desperately to make get to St. Barth on the same day, many counter personnel can be faulty when it comes to customer service. After a long day of travel, running into an unfeeling clod can be maddening, nightmarish, and not at all what the traveler in search of paradise had in mind.
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Naturally, whatever can improve inbound passenger service to the island is always welcome. In this sense, the agreement signed between US Airways and Winair, one of the companies that provides flight service from Saint Martin to St. Barth, must be applauded. The main outcome of the agreement, presented to the mayor’s office fifteen days ago by representatives of both airlines, is that US Airways passengers will now be able to register their baggage directly through to St. Barth, a big, time-saving deal, especially if you’ve ever had to go through customs, pick up your bags, register at the local counter, before going through screening procedures to get to the gate and catch your connecting flight.
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The other novelty is that passengers will now be able to receive boarding passes for the St-Martin/St. Barth portion of the trip, which again, will save time and hassle. To facilitate the St- Barth connection for transiting American passengers, the management of Winair has agreed to meet deplaning passengers and escort them to their connecting gates. A cargo plane should ensure that baggage arrives to its owners in a more timely fashion. The icing on the cake is that St. Barth will now be a featured destination on both the Yahoo and US Airways online travel sites. If hoteliers and villa renters have reason to celebrate, it would behoove all of us to wait before popping open the champagne to see if the agreement, in practice, actually adheres to the terms outlined in theory. In the past, the local airline companies have not always had the manpower or the financial means to live up to their promises, even if the intentions were honorable.
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Promises are what St. Barth residents are waiting for France’s political leaders to follow through with. The most recent round of national elections have completely shifted things to a more comfortable position for the island. It would be safe to say that the majority of St. Barth voters were happy to see the right regain power on both the executive and the legislative level of government. Now that President Jacques Chirac has the majority and can move his program through more easily, it is the general hope among locals that the particular fiscal status St. Barth has been requesting for several decades will finally be officially recognized. An important meeting with the ministers of the French overseas department has been scheduled for July 15 in Paris. One of the major agenda subjects is the fiscal status of the island, specifically, to determine whether the lawsuits initiated against certain St. Barth residents on the basis of tax evasion, will be dropped. For these reasons, the summer mood is optimistic, albeit guarded. After all, promises are one thing. Delivery is quite another.

Yves Bourel

Yves Bourel


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