Long-time readers of the RightSide Guide know that Nicaragua’s beloved airline, La Costeña, does not rank very high on my list of reputable companies. People often ask me why. What has La Costeña done that a traveler should be wary? Why should they consider the more adventurous land route over a quick and easy flight?
Well my friends, let me tell you that it may very well be the flight that is more adventurous, less quick and more difficult in the end.
Quick and easy?
1. Recently a friend of mine arrived to check in an hour and a half before his flight and was told by La Costeña that his ticket had been sold. When people ask me if they really need to arrive the two hours early that the airline suggests, I tell them yes.
2. I personally had money stolen from my luggage by La Costeña. Don’t ever leave anything of value in your checked luggage!
3. The airline is notorious for putting checked luggage on later flights. That means that there is a good chance your suitcase won’t arrive when you do. And when I say notorious, I would estimate that 30% – 40% of arrivals I know have had their luggage on a different flight. And La Costeña won’t tell you until after you land and have waited for half an hour for your stuff. They just tell you to come back when the next flight arrives and there is no guarantee that your stuff will be on that flight either. I know a girl who waited 6 days for her luggage to arrive.
4. I was detained for 2 hours and nearly missed my flight from Corn Island to Bluefields because I had a photocopy of my passport instead of the original. It doesn’t matter that you are on a domestic flight and not crossing any borders. A photocopy of your passport doesn’t cut it ladies and gentlemen! I was fined and had to bring my passport to the Bluefields immigration office so they could verify that I was me. Make sure you have your passport even for domestic flights!
5. Booking your flight online? Remember that they charge an extra $15 for online bookings! You will see it on your ticket listed as “other charge”. Sound strange? I can’t think of a single airline that charges more money to save themselves time and effort by booking online.
6. Recently another friend of mine had her flight chartered out at the last minute by international businessmen who made a few phone calls to the right people. The passengers who were originally on that flight were told that a later plane would arrive that day but after 5 hours of waiting it never arrived and they went home. Some people missed their international connections when they flew out the next day (luckily she made hers).
1. The flight between Managua and Bluefields shouldn’t be more adventurous than the bus/panga route. H O W E V E R… In January I had some friends fly that route and when the plane approached the runway in Bluefields, the pilots came over the radio and said that they had a problem and would have to return to Managua. And with that they flew another hour back to where they came from. Hmmmm….
2. Last year I had a friend fly from Bluefields to Managua and the plane hit some serious turbulence flying through storm clouds. The little plane was rising and dropping, the wings were flapping and they could feel the plane twisting side to side laterally. He said they were all pretty scared…then a bright red light on the pilots’ dash started flashing on and off and an alarm sounded, <BEEEEP!> <BEEEEP!> <BEEEEP!>. The pilot smacked the alarm button to turn it off and they managed to bring the plane into Managua safely. My friend said that he had never before seen pilots praying during a flight and high-fiving each other afterward.
3. In 2011 a flight from Bluefields to Managua hit a buzzard. It shattered the pilot’s windshield, spraying glass, feathers and blood throughout the cabin causing injuries to three people. Kudos to the copilot who took control and successfully landed the plane.
4. Last year a flight from Waspam clipped an orange tree that was on the edge of the runway during takeoff. Then the brakes failed as they tried to stop. Thankfully nobody was hurt.
5. One of my favorite things to do in Big Corn Island:
Of course, many people fly with La Costeña every day and never have a problem. But it is my duty to my friends, readers, fellow travelers and potential fliers to inform them of what they could be getting themselves into.
But hey, it’s Nicaragua! You have to have a sense of adventure to even consider visiting, so bring it on! Right? :-/