Logo-BVIGuide.gif (2185 bytes)San Juan Airport
Gateway to the Caribbean

San Juan. A major interconnecting point to the Caribbean as well as a hub for airlines such as American, San Juan is also a beautiful and historic city. The Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) (current weather conditions) is about 9 miles from San Juan, reached by taxi, public bus or rental car. See Old San Juan.

Connections. San Juan Airport is served by large intercontinental jets by American Airlines, BWIA, Delta, Continental, Air Canada, British Airways, Iberia, Lufthansa, Northwest, TWA, United, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic. See another list here.

Within the Caribbean, travel is usually on turboprops and smaller planes. The major intra-Caribbean carriers are AA’s American Eagle Airlines and LIAT.

American Airlines Dominant Carrier. The dominant Caribbean carrier, American Airlines, uses San Juan as a major international hub and takes up most of the facility, focusing on Terminal D.

Within the Caribbean, smaller turboprop planes are used. American Eagle is the dominant intra-Caribbean carrier and for the most part uses San Juan as its hub, so most American Eagle flights do not go directly to its neighboring islands, but go through San Juan.

Terminal Layout. On the ocean end of the facility are the big jets whose passengers disembark directly to the upper terminal level. American Airlines has one large wing or terminal on the runway side (which is perpendicular to the ocean).

This side includes American Eagle gates on the lower level, where buses take passengers to the smaller turboprop planes sitting in line on the tarmac.

For American Airline and other connections from the big intercontinental jets to the small Caribbean turboprops, there is a notoriously long walk along the WHOLE LENGTH of the terminal facility. Coming and going.

On the other side of the ocean end of the terminal are facilities for other airlines. There may be a much shorter walk along the WIDTH of the terminal between gates of the large intercontinental jets. See overall map.

San Juan Airport Map-Terminal D

SanJuanAirportMap.gif (13378 bytes)
From American Airlines (go to Programs & Services>Hub Airport Profiles)

Boarding Passes. Be sure to check in and get your boarding pass for your connecting flight as soon as you arrive unless you are interconnecting between American and American Eagle (and it’s still a good idea).

AA boarding passes may be picked up at the Admirals Club located opposite gate 14, across from the first class ticket counter (also offers free local calls, copy and fax service, and FedEx drop-off).

Big Hubbub. The big hubbub occurs at the American Eagle gates with its convergence of local and international traffic.

The international travelers are generally coming to vacation, with the expectation of finding relaxation rather than the big hubbub, which, naturally is at its biggest at the height of the winter tourist season.

A Martinique native may be flying a couple hundred miles to another island and have to go to San Juan and sit there for hours to get to their destination. So the frustration levels get very high.

Add to that the "sorting" errors, mechanical problems and weather-related exigencies when storms are active. These turboprops fly at about 10,000 feet "around" the weather, not over it like the big jets.

The result at San Juan airport is a true Caribbean "callaloo" or complex mixture or "confusion" of peoples, personalities and cultures, with many varieties of interesting local Caribbean people, who themselves may speak English, Spanish, French or Dutch, perhaps with a distinctive island dialect, international travellers from many nations and languages, who may speak English or Spanish with a second-language accent, and Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans lending a special cultural flavor to what, after all, is their island nation’s main airport.

Problems. Many travelers have had problems connecting here. As with many airports, especially hubs, flight delays due to weather and mechanical problems impact the subsidiary flight schedules (as well as mistakes and miscommunications). If you have a problem, be polite but persistent.

Charters. Consider chartering out of San Juan with BVI Local Airlines. You can go straight to Virgin Gorda or Anegada, although this is usually more expensive.

Alternative Routes. Alternative routes to the British Virgin Islands include direct jet flights from the US or Europe to St. Thomas (STT) and a ferry over to Tortola, Jost Van Dyke or Virgin Gorda. A route growing in popularity includes a direct jet flight to St. Maarten and a intra-Caribbean flight on a local carrier, including American Eagle, to Tortola’s Beef Island airport (EIS). This alternative offer in intriguing possibility of a day trip or side excursion to the St.Maarten/St. Martin mulit-national archipelago that includes Anguilla, Saba and St. Barths–all within local flight/ferry distances.

Delays and Overnight Stays. Carry on an overnight bag as well as reading material and snacks if desired. Duty free shops are located at Gate 9 and between Gates 2 and 3. The San Juan Airport Hotel (787-791-1700) has rooms right at the airport for layovers.

Old San Juan. Filled with the historic sites capturing the essence of Puerto Rico, Old San Juan makes a great tour. A walking map of Old San Juan can be found inside Que Pasa magazine available from the tourist office just before the baggage area at the airport. Consider an overnight stay as a mini-vacation. Allow sufficient time (at least an hour) for traffic problems. The bus may be unreliable.

Accommodations. Old San Juan has a great variety of accommodations in all price ranges. The new Hotel Milano (787-729-9050) has nice $90 double occupancy rooms.

Back to Tortola’s Beef Island Airport
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