Flying With Winair, A Pleasant Caribbean Airline

Flying With Winair, A Pleasant Caribbean Airline

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I recently wrote about my experience at St. Barts Airport (SBH), which has to be one of the coolest airports in the world for aviation geeks. To get to & from St. Barts I flew with Winair. I can’t really write a detailed review of this 10-minute flight, since there isn’t much to speak of.

However, I figured it would be useful to talk a bit about the airline in general, plus share my overall experience, as the airline operates some unique routes.

The basics of Winair’s fleet & routes

Winair, which is an abbreviation for Windward Islands Airways International NV, is an airline based at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) in Sint Maarten. The airline is owned by the Dutch government, and has been operating reliably since 1961, so it has quite some history.

Winair currently has a fleet of six aircraft, including:

  • Two ATR 42-500s, which can seat 49 passengers
  • Four DHC-6-300 Twin Otters, which can seat 19 passengers
Winair flies DHC-6-300 Twin Otters

The airline operates short haul flights from Sint Maarten to roughly a dozen destinations in the Caribbean. Just to call out a couple of especially cool flights for aviation geeks:

  • Winair’s most frequent route is the short 20-mile hop to St. Barts (SBH), which is considered one of the most challenging airports in the world to land at
  • Winair also operates the 28-mile route to Saba (SAB), and that airport has the world’s shortest commercial runway, at just 1,312 feet
Winair flies to St. Barts Airport

The airline also operates service to airports like Antigua, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Nevis, Tortola, and more.

Winair has a flawless safety record

Many people considering booking with Winair may have never heard of the airline before, and wonder if flying with the airline is safe. I’ve written in the past about my take on airline safety ratings, and why it’s not something I pay much attention to. Nonetheless, I know it’s something others consider.

Along those lines, I think it’s worth acknowledging that in its 60+ year history, Winair has never had a fatal accident. That’s impressive, especially when you consider some of the challenging airports that the airline flies to.

My experience flying with Winair

I flew to & from St. Barts on Winair, so let me share a few takeaways from the experience, including about the airport experience in Sint Maarten:

  • The airline leaves from the main part of the terminal, so you’ll see the Winair check-in counter next to all the other airline check-in counters; then all Winair flights depart from a single gate in the terminal, which can be quite chaotic, since there are sometimes multiple flights departing around the same time
  • If you’re just connecting at Sint Maarten Airport, you can make an airside transit in both directions (by just clearing security), as long as you have your boarding pass for the connecting flight; if you don’t have your boarding pass, you’ll have to clear immigration and go to the check-in counter
  • Definitely be aware of the baggage limits with Winair, since different fares have different baggage allowances; those limits are pretty strictly enforced, given how small these planes are
  • Winair seems to be pretty good about letting passengers stand by for a different flight; there are constant flights between Sint Maarten and St. Barts, and they’ll typically let you get onto an earlier flight, as long as seats are available
  • Winair has open seating onboard, so if you have a particular seat preference (like sitting in the front of the Twin Otters right behind the cockpit), you might want to be a bit pushy, or whatever
  • Don’t expect anything amazing when it comes to service on Winair, as I found the ground staff to be uniformly indifferent

The flights to & from St. Barts are all operated by DHC-6-300 Twin Otters, and you board through the rear of the aircraft.

Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter

The plane has 19 seats, with the cabin arranged in a 1-2 configuration. There’s no door between the cockpit and cabin, and even non-aviation geeks seem to take a lot of pictures and videos on these flights, given the views.

Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter cabin
Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter cabin

Sitting right behind the cockpit is such a treat, since you can see all the action.

Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter cabin
Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter cockpit
Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter cockpit

But even if you don’t have a view of the cockpit, the perspective out the cabin windows are equally beautiful…

Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter views
Winair DHC-6-300 Twin Otter views

Earning & redeeming miles on Winair

Winair is a fully independent airline, and doesn’t have its own frequent flyer program. The airline does have interline agreements with a variety of airlines, ranging from Air Caraïbes, to British Airways, to Delta, to United. An interline agreement simply means you can book a ticket that includes travel on both airlines, and it’s not necessarily indicative of a larger partnership.

Winair’s closest partnership is with Air France-KLM, which isn’t surprising, given the Dutch and French ties. The good news is that Winair participates in the Flying Blue program. You can earn and redeem Flying Blue miles for all Winair flights, which is great.

Unfortunately when it comes to redeeming miles, all awards seem to price out at 19,000 miles one-way, plus taxes and fees. Unfortunately that doesn’t represent a great deal, given that you won’t get more than one cent of value per mile for most Winair tickets (and sometimes significantly less than that).

Redeem Flying Blue miles on Winair

Bottom line

Winair is a nifty little airline that’s based at SXM, operating flights to nearby Caribbean islands. The airline serves some of the world’s coolest airports, from St. Barts to Saba. I had a good experience with the airline, and found it to be reliable. If you’re considering a flight with Winair, I’d have no qualms recommending the airline.

If you’ve flown with Winair, what was your experience like?

Conversations (11)
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  1. Vancouver - Char Diamond

    was this Winair flight your shortest flight?

    best wishes for the Yuletide season

  2. Sue Guest

    I've flown with Winair a lot over the years from St. Martin to St. Barths. Fine airline but I wish they would also fly from San Juan to St. Barths. The reason is this: I take my little 9 pound dog with me and in St. Martin I heard that even if you are transferring from Jet Blue to Winair to St. Barths with your dog, that the "officials" on the island want to quarantine...

    I've flown with Winair a lot over the years from St. Martin to St. Barths. Fine airline but I wish they would also fly from San Juan to St. Barths. The reason is this: I take my little 9 pound dog with me and in St. Martin I heard that even if you are transferring from Jet Blue to Winair to St. Barths with your dog, that the "officials" on the island want to quarantine your dog before you can get on the plane to St. Barths.

    This means that I only have one choice nowadays and that is to fly to St. Barths on the expensive luxury airline, Tradewind. That adds a whopping $1000 to the trip to St. Barths.

    1. Mark Guest

      Or, you could leave your dog at home.

  3. Petri Guest

    We once flew from SAB direct to SBH with Winair, what a great airport combination. We had SAX-SXM-SBH but they decided to optimise..

    In the recent years we've from with Tradewinds to SBH, in all cases the landing has been from the waterside (from ANU and SJU) with PC-12.

  4. beyounged Guest

    Ben, I would definitely not call a 20 minute flight for 180 dollars "not that expensive".

    1. Ben L. Diamond

      You just need to change your perspective. $180 is a fantastic deal for a transoceanic flight!

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ beyounged -- Sorry, I didn't write that the way I intended. My point was to say that with these redemptions you're typically getting less than one cent of value per Flying Blue mile. So I meant to say that tickets aren't expensive in relation to the mileage cost. Hope that makes more sense.

    3. 305 Guest

      Nothing like a redemption rate of over 1,000 miles per minute flown ;)

  5. Samo Guest

    Speaking of safety, who is the regulator for these airlines? Does EASA's scope reach there, or is it some local agency?

    1. Robert C. Powell Guest

      Why don't you Google it?

  6. Mrlasssen Guest

    Cool picture coming into SXM, been there on the beach many times, but never saw it from the air.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Sue Guest

I've flown with Winair a lot over the years from St. Martin to St. Barths. Fine airline but I wish they would also fly from San Juan to St. Barths. The reason is this: I take my little 9 pound dog with me and in St. Martin I heard that even if you are transferring from Jet Blue to Winair to St. Barths with your dog, that the "officials" on the island want to quarantine your dog before you can get on the plane to St. Barths. This means that I only have one choice nowadays and that is to fly to St. Barths on the expensive luxury airline, Tradewind. That adds a whopping $1000 to the trip to St. Barths.

1
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ beyounged -- Sorry, I didn't write that the way I intended. My point was to say that with these redemptions you're typically getting less than one cent of value per Flying Blue mile. So I meant to say that tickets aren't expensive in relation to the mileage cost. Hope that makes more sense.

1
Ben L. Diamond

You just need to change your perspective. $180 is a fantastic deal for a transoceanic flight!

1
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