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Vertical line This is the story - and pictures - of a Caribbean fly-in I did in June 2002, with a couple of friends in N29218. Actually going somewhere rather than just flying around the pattern has always been high on my personal things-to-do-in-life-before-I-die list.

I started planning the trip in early 2002, with the intention to do the trip in June, just before the hurricane season starts. The busy season for the Caribbean ends in May, so traveling in June would give us better rates, better rooms and less crowded beaches.

You can argue that flying to the Caribbean in a small single-engine airplane from the early disco-days, not being IFR rated, and having plenty of hungry sharks in the water beneath us sounds like a fail-safe recipe for disaster. But compare it to risking your life on the everyday commute to downtown Atlanta, and the Caribbean fly-in suddenly seems like a low-risk project.

Knowing that the key to success is the three P's (Planning, planning and planning). I spent most of the time gathering information. (Tip #1: use AOPA's website and the pilots guide to the Caribbean). The only major surprise came less than one month before the departure. A couple of friends from Denmark had decided to join me, and it turned out that non-US residents must have a valid visa to enter the US in a private plane.

I flew N29218 to Miami to meet with my passengers June 2. The weather was good, the plane was ready and I was ready. What I didn't know was that British Airways had decided to alter our well-planned itinerary and my friends arrived in New York instead of Miami. Oh well, one day delay will not hurt us. Next morning I went to pick them up at the airport, and that's when I realized just how consistent BA is. My friends were there all right, but their luggage was... where??

The BA customer support 1-800 number has two pre-recorded messages. Each tape apparently run for 12 hours and then it's replaced by the second tape. I know that, because every time I called to ask about my missing friends, or later to inquiry about their missing luggage, I either got the "the office is closed" message or the "we are experiencing unusual high calling volume, please call again later" message.

It turned out that the only way to actually get to speak with BA was to drive to Miami airport, when the BA luggage office was open from about 6:12pm to about 6:28pm. At least they could tell us that the luggage was safe and sound in London Heathrow. After some pretty intense conversations, the helpful lady sent of a couple of telexes to London and indicated that the luggage most likely would show up the next day.

Full of hope we drove to Miami airport again the next evening, and lo and behold, the luggage did show up. Some of it anyway. We got one of two bags. Not bad, not bad at all, when you consider how confusing, demanding and utterly complex it is to match two bags marked "MIA" with a plane that likewise is marked "MIA". Apparently British Airways had decided to challenge their archrival Air France's world record in delayed and lost luggage and they did a bloody good job.

Fortunately we got a good and very clear answer on the whereabouts of the second bag "We don't know where it is, or when or where it will show up". As you can imagine, it didn't take long for us to decide that we would deal with BA's luggage "service" later on and start our Caribbean trip early the next morning.

So here we go, time to bore some holes in the blue Caribbean sky... Next..

Caribbean map