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.
In this post:
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
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
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.
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.
Sitting right behind the cockpit is such a treat, since you can see all the action.
But even if you don’t have a view of the cockpit, the perspective out the cabin windows are equally beautiful…
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).
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?