Business

I recently flew on Caribbean Airlines’ new plane to Trinidad, here’s what it was like

Brent Pinheiro

On January 14th Caribbean Airlines put its first Boeing 737-8 into service. The launch of the new aircraft marked part of a bigger brand refresh that the airline has been calling REset Expectations in line with the carrier’s 15th birthday. I’ve flown on several Boeing 737-8s before on different carriers (those airlines use the 737 MAX 8 designation) but I needed to get home after vacation so I took the opportunity to test out CAL’s offering.

I flew on the morning service from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Trinidad and this is what it was like before and during the flight.

Sunrise at John F. Kennedy Airport |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Sunrise at John F. Kennedy Airport | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Full disclosure, I’ve never flown out of JFK with Caribbean Airlines so I can’t comment on what may have changed. However, based on my experience, the check-in desks were easy to find on the 4th-floor departures level of Terminal 4. Apparently, there was a document check desk but I missed it when I entered the Web Check-in line. Once at the desk, the agent checked my documents to ensure that my tickets and passport were valid for travel as well as that I had a negative covid test.

My bags were weighed and, unlike the last time I flew with CAL, I was offered the option to check in my hand baggage. I declined but it was nice to see that that was an option.

Estimated wait time to clear security was 30 minutes, but in reality, it took about 20 minutes with everyone moving quite quickly through the checks. The airport was surprisingly busy at 5:30 am. Tip: Terminal 4’s website shows the current wait time at the terminal. It’s a handy tool when planning your trip.

Caribbean Airlines' 1st Boeing 737-8 parked on the tarmac|  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Caribbean Airlines’ 1st Boeing 737-8 parked on the tarmac| Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Once past security, I headed down to Gate 3 where 9Y-CAL, the airline’s first-ever Boeing 737-8 was waiting to operate as BW521 to POS with onward connections to Guyana.
Boarding was scheduled to begin at 6:30 am but started just a few minutes after that. Once boarding began, the agent reminded passengers that masks are still mandatory onboard CAL flights despite the US not requiring masks to be worn in the terminal. The aircraft was boarded from the back to the front – Business class passengers were boarded first and then economy passengers.

Economy Class seating |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Economy Class seating | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

As usual I sat in pleb class so it was seat 28A for me. The new seats are leather with pops of color injecting some personality into the trim of the adjustable headrests. I did find the seats lacking a bit in padding though. For a short haul flight, it’s fine but I would hate to do a 7-hour flight in this seat. Don’t expect to have the seat next to you empty though. Even though COVID-19 is still very much a thing, seats are not blocked onboard so, unless you purchase a Caribbean Your Space Seat in advance, you’ll have to hope that the flight is not full. Luckily for me, the middle seat remained empty so I could spread out a little.

Economy seats with 30” seat pitch |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Economy seats with 30” seat pitch | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Economy seats come with a 30” seat pitch. For reference, I’m about 5′ 8” and I found the legroom to be decent. Definitely didn’t hit my knees on the back of the seat. If you need a little more space, consider upgrading to a Caribbean Plus seat as those come with a 35” seat pitch. Caribbean Airlines has configured their 737-8s in a relatively low-density format with just 160 seats allowing for decent legroom throughout the 2 cabins. Some carriers configure their 737-8s with up to 197 seats!

Boeing Sky Interior with boarding colors set to a cool blue tone |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Boeing Sky Interior with boarding colors set to a cool blue tone | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

The Boeing Sky Interior really made the difference between the new and old aircraft obvious. Boarding lighting was set to a cool blue tone and that combined with the light pouring in from outside helped to make the cabin feel quite spacious and modern.

Awaiting pushback from Gate 3 |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Awaiting pushback from Gate 3 | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Once all preboarding checks were done and baggage loaded, we pushed back from the gate at 7:36 am. Just 6 minutes behind schedule but with minimal traffic we were airborne in no time and winging our way to Piarco International.

USB ports light up blue when they are turned on |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

USB ports light up blue when they are turned on | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

In-seat power was turned on when we reached cruising altitude. The port lights up blue when it’s on. Of course, charging cables aren’t provided but I came prepared… like a true Boy Scout! USB charging is available across all cabins, a definite upgrade from the older aircraft. Those in Caribbean Plus seating and Business class have access to both AC and USB charging.

Caribbean View is available either via a browser or via the app|  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Caribbean View is available either via a browser or via the app| Photo: Brent Pinheiro

You won’t find any overhead monitors onboard either. The back of the seats have device holders for both smaller devices like phones and bigger devices like iPads. Content is streamed via a local inflight Wi-Fi (no external Wi-Fi just yet). The movie selection on Caribbean View was okay with a couple movies to choose from. It’s no Emirates IFE but for a 4-hour long flight, it wasn’t too difficult to find something watchable. You can access content either via a browser or the Caribbean View app (download before boarding). Headphones aren’t provided either but I had my own headphones already so that was a non-issue. CAL also offers a learn on the go option with LinkedIn Learning – definitely not something so common in the aviation sector. I did miss the little ‘plane moving on the map’ graphic though.

Caribbean Airlines onboard meal|  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Caribbean Airlines onboard meal| Photo: Brent Pinheiro

The inflight meal service began about an hour into the flight. With only two flight attendants assigned to the cabin, service took a while as they worked their way through the cabin. Today’s meal service consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a packet of nuts, and drinks. Unfortunately, no vegetarian option was provided. I’m quite used to having to provide my own meals but it was still disappointing. The last time I flew with CAL there was at least a cheese only sandwich option, though that ran out very quickly. Preorder meals were also distributed in the same service.

Doubles are available as a preorder meal |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Doubles are available as a preorder meal | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

For the purpose of this review, I pre-ordered the doubles. If you didn’t know, CAL recently introduced pre-order meals on all routes except flights to/from Tobago. The double meal costs US$5 and you get two doubles. I really wanted to love it, but unfortunately my meal was just okay. The bara was warm but also stiff and crunchy in some spots. The channa had decent flavor but I got no sauces of any kind with my meal – no chutney, no pepper sauce, nada. The flight attendant later apologized and explained that there was an error when the meals were loaded and no sauces were provided for my meal. The novelty of having doubles at over 30,000 feet wasn’t worth it in my opinion.

737-8 rear bathrooms |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

737-8 rear bathrooms | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Economy class passengers use the two bathrooms at the rear. Boeing 737-8 aircraft are notorious for having small toilets and this CAL aircraft is no different. As someone with broad shoulders, I found it a tad bit difficult to maneuver in there.

737-8 rear bathrooms |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

737-8 rear bathrooms | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

The sink was also tiny and it took some angling to get my hands in a position where I could wash them without allowing water to go all over.

Caribbean Airlines jet inflight |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Caribbean Airlines jet inflight | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

I’m always amazed at how much quieter the 737-8 cabins are during flight thanks in large part to the CFM LEAP-1B engines. The roar of the engines is still there but significantly reduced.

737-8 overhead passenger control panel |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

737-8 overhead passenger control panel | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

The overhead panel on the 737-8 has been redesigned with just one blue button there to call flight attendants if you need something. On other aircraft passengers tend to mistakenly press the flight attendant call button when reaching for the reading light so this option definitely helps to avoid that. I noticed very few people pressing the call buttons. The cabin crew also did a great job of keeping the cabin clear and passengers happy – constantly moving through the aisle, collecting rubbish and providing drinks where necessary. They were also quick to stop and chat with passengers and truly living up to the embodiment of Caribbean warmth.

Caribbean Airlines jet inflight |  Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Caribbean Airlines jet inflight | Photo: Brent Pinheiro

Just over 4 hours later and we safely landed at the Piarco International Airport, albeit with a few bumps coming in on the last stretch due to weather. I arrived after the new entry rules had already been put in place so no TTravelpass was required. I simply showed my negative COVID-19 test result at the port health check and headed to Immigration and Customs.

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