This is a post that was written by Susan Campbell and originally featured by Jeff Berger on the Facebook group “Everything St. Maarten”. Susan is a seasoned, highly accomplished travel writer who spends much of her time traveling the world and writing about it, though she spends a plurality of her time in the Caribbean. If you read travel reviews, it’s highly likely that you’ve read some of Susan Campbell’s writing without knowing it. Here are her impressions about the Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten:
As a long time visitor and senior writer for St. Maarten Nights magazine, I was closely following everything Irma on the island, and was slated to fly through there en route to Saba for quite some time. But as the devastation unfolded, and the airport was ravaged I wondered if I would have to find another route. But when the airport reopened so quickly, I was curious as to the kind of experience it would be, and I’m happy to report it was very pleasant indeed considering the circumstances.
Upon flying in, the water looks as enchantingly inviting as ever, but you do begin to notice tell-tale signs of the storm — the bright blue tarps pop against the checkerboard landscape from above, and the little planes still lying totally upside down along the runway are your first clues. And when I saw the state of Mary’s Boon, I almost cried. But upon disembarking I began to feel a different, actually positive, energy.
It began with an airport worker bounding up the stairs of my Delta plane to help me with my bags when he saw I was struggling with my carry-ons getting tangled in the rope. He simply grabbed them and smiled and ran down to wait for me. That NEVER happened before, and I was grateful.
Then we passed through customs in less than a minute. There is one desk and one window, they asked few questions and then, I was off. I had a fairly long layover so decided to leave the airport and look around before circling back to the entrance, wherever that was located now.
Taxi drivers where lined up eagerly waiting for customers and were most helpful in guiding me back to where I would check in for my next flight to Saba via Winair. Rolling my bags around the corner I began to see some aftermath — not so much of the island, construction crews were busy on the surrounding land — but of the airport itself, starting with the sign. Then suddenly, it began to pour.
I took shelter in a covered corner where one of the doors to the entrance used to be and peered inside, what a mess… and it was leaking like a sieve. I waited for the rain to subside along with workers who were stopped in their tracks because of the rain, but they were surprisingly upbeat. As I waited, it occurred to me though this was a short inconvenience for me, these folks probably had no power or maybe roofs, or even houses to return to, yet were bent on helping me out. It was a reality check.
Once the rain stopped and I rounded the corner, I spied a bunch of white tents, not looking as I had imagined as a refugee camp for travelers, but more a Kiwanis tent set up at a town fair. And again, those waiting for passengers to approach were surprising cheerful and helpful. Checking in was a breeze, there are a few pop-up counters under another large tent, and security was far faster than I had ever encountered when the airport was all snazzy. It was very well organized.
On the way to security there is a big market café set up and a pop-up store for sundries and duty-free smokes, but by now I was seeking a washroom. I imagined I would have to go outside to some kind of “porta-potty” installation, but no, inside there are four bathrooms with running water, well kept and well stocked.
Yes, it was hot without air–conditioning, but there are plenty of giant fans you can position yourself in front of while you wait to board at one of the two gates open. But don’t wait there; keep walking behind a makeshift wall to find a surprising little village of offerings. There is a bistro style take out, a Relay store, a small duty-free and even ice cream and Domino’s pizza set ups. But best of all, there is a bar!
Taloula’s Flight Bar (an offshoot of the famous anchor bars on the boardwalk — The Blue Bitch Bar and Taloula Mango’s) has a very comfortable pop-up set up with lots of tables around it and big fans pointed at customers. And though you cannot order complicated tropical cocktails like Pina Coladas, you can enjoy ice-cold beer and basics like rum and coke etc. And their bartender Trudy Witter is a delight- a true ray of tropical sunshine.
The bar was packed with travelers, all with their own St. Maarten stories and connections to share, and before I knew it was time to board. There and back, all went so very smoothly, it was not a challenge at all. So don’t be shy to travel to or through SXM Princess Juliana Airport right now. It might be badly bruised, but definitely not broken. #SXMStrong.
NOTE: Cash only at all airport kiosks, they cannot accept cards anywhere. There is no ATM either.
— Susan Campbell
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