Checking in from the main cabin extra seats on a Boeing 757-200 airplane en route from Charlotte, NC to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The sea is sparkling blue below, and a smattering of clouds hang like powdered sugar in the otherwise clear sky below, stretched out far as the eye can take in. It's a beautiful site seen from the confines of a venerable airplane.
American Airlines flies this particular route, competing with jetBlue for market dominance between the East Coast and Caribbean (much as they compete for primacy up and down the coast). Face value of our round-trip flights was $424 apiece, and we've safely seen these in the $300 - $600 range depending on departure city and time of year. Of course, we recommend using points and miles to avoid ever having to spend actual money on airfare!
jetBlue flies the Airbus A321 aircraft on these routes. As the only major US carrier with a hub in the Caribbean, most jetBlue travelers will fly first to San Juan before getting to their final destination, which we think is an efficient alternative from what competitors will do, flying you through a mainland hub so you can jump off direct to the islands. jetBlue's alternative is a direct from their hub in Boston, bar none the best way to escape the cold New England winter. Oddly, they don't offer a direct JFK to STT, seemingly having decided that the directs offered by American and Delta are enough competition, though jetBlue @ JFK will do you direct to many other Caribbean destinations. The A321 planes are on the newer side, so will feel more modern than the 757 I'm currently camped out on (and feeling warm and fuzzy nostalgic about).
Once you get to the islands, you may be surprised to find that Cape Air can get you around them quite nicely. Cape Air is a tiny airline that shows up in the darndest places, operating twin-propeller Cessnas in the Northeast / Cape Cod and Islands vicinity, (oddly) St. Louis, Micronesia (yes), and of course the Caribbean as well. As a "last mile" airline, they won't get you far, but they'll get you where you need to go after the big guys have taken you as far as they can. I'm currently debating hopping a Cape Air from St. Thomas to St. Croix one afternoon; would love to visit the birthplace of founding father Alexander Hamilton!
Our trip this go-round is on American, where I am finding myself quite pleased with the service right out of the gate (literally). I arrived at the (actual) gate 40 minutes before flight time only to find that they were already boarding zone 3 passengers. Efficient. Flying through the lunch hour, I decided to drop $8.99 on the "spicy quinoa wrap" (say what?) newly available on the menu. The portion size was a bit small, but the wrap itself was one of the more delicious airplane lunches I've had. Specifically: "Tortilla filled with sweet chili quinoa salad, carrots, tomatoes, feta cheese and edamame hummus spread. Served with grapes." (The distressing lack of Oxford comma in above sentence is AA's doing, not mine.) Though AA maintains a hub at JFK, the main departure points for the Caribbean seem to be Miami and Charlotte. Meghan and I are splitting the difference: She flew through MIA yesterday, and I am flying through CLT today.
Finally there is Delta, who like American seems to favor their 757 (of which they have the world's largest fleet) somewhat out of JFK and particularly out of fortress Atlanta, from which they fly seemingly everywhere. I snapped a beautiful picture of one of their birds on the ground in STT, whose airport is distinguished by passengers disembarking from a stairway right into the tarmac, then walking outside through airplane theatre to the terminal. United also operates a direct out of Washington Dulles, with some seasonal additions from Houston, Newark, and Chicago, but one doesn't get the sense that they are the big game in town here on St. Thomas.