Saturday, April 11, 2009

Airport Departure Tips

You may also want to review Resort Departure Tips.

Please check out photos of Punta Cana Airport courtesy of puntacana-vacation.com. These are some of the best centralized airport photos that I've found, and they and really depict what you will see, particularly on arrival. However, departure is also "open air" - you will walk to your plane on the tarmac and board your flight by walking up stairs, not through a gate connector (as is common in cold climates and at many airports).

1) Plan to arrive at the airport a full two hours prior to your flight. Even though you want to spend more time at the beach, leave ample time for the airport process. If you should have lots of extra time at the airport, once you are through security, the waiting area features some fast food, other snacks such as decent pastries and ice cream, souvenir shops (a bit cheesy, but there if you need something), and an outdoor children's play area. You can also stop to review the "arrival" photo taken of your group when you first arrived at the Punta Cana airport (no obligation to buy, but they're kind of funny).

2) If you take private transport (taxi), expect that an airport porter will immediately descend upon you to take your bags. The porter will take you to a counter to have your baggage inspected (you get "stickers" on your bags) and will then get you to the right ticket line. (It's probably easier to allow the porter to take your bags -- follow closely, they move fast -- and to give him a small tip than to try to prevent the process from taking place.)

3) Expect a long and crowded wait to get to the ticket counter, as large groups traveling together create instant long lines

4) Ticket counter lines can be fluid. Depending on the size of the crowd, the line may move to another counter or converge with lines from other airlines, so be alert.

5) Security screening lines may be long as at home. They are attempting to replicate the TSA screening process (already the security screening infrastructure has evolved since our first visit in 2008) and they have "3-1-1" signs displayed.
Special Note to Parents with Strollers and Little Kids in Tow: The conveyor belt set-up to place your carry-on items, shoes, etc. in bins for security screening is very short (much shorter than in US airports, for example) -- there is basically a conveyor belt and very little preceding table space, which means that when you approach, you need to be ready to throw everything into a bin almost directly on the belt, and move through the metal detector/security checkpoint quickly. (In contrast, in most US airports there's a lot of counter space preceding the belt where, as they approach, travelers set bins, deposit their bags and other items, and then push their belongings forward *toward* the conveyor belt.) Ditto when you emerge from the human checkpoint -- the conveyor belt ends quickly, and the bags, bins, and strollers have little space to move, and pile up fast. Fast parent teamwork will help to collect belongings and get everyone and everything resituated quickly. (We encountered a number of friendly/sympathetic travelers who asked to help, which was very heartening.)

6) Gate information and flight departure status posted on waiting area screens may conflict actual gate activity. Be aware of your departure time, and don't stray too far from the gate. For example, once you are through security and in the waiting area, the screen may say your flight is boarding/go-to-gate, but the gate may not have any representatives from your airline. Or, your ticket may say that your flight should be boarding (departing in 20 minutes), while the screen may still list the flight status as "Checking in" -- but suddenly, airline personnel are at your gate, and it's boarding! (We saw both situations, and encountered a fair number of befuddled travelers staring at screens and checking actual gate activity.)

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