Throughout my 20s, I suffered through many gloomy New York City winters with only the excitement of a Snowpocalypse here or a Snowmageddon there to punctuate endless gray days. When I realized just how easy it was to fly nonstop to destinations in the Caribbean, my attitude toward winter improved immensely.
With a tropical escape hatch just a few hours and a couple hundred dollars away, I managed to fly to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico over the years, giving me enough vitamin D to survive through spring. But smaller islands like Dominica and St. Barts remained out of reach for weekend getaways, since getting there typically requires a layover in Miami or San Juan or even a ferry connection through an island like St. Maarten.
For a few years, the European low-cost carrier Norwegian opened up the once hard-to-get-to French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique to New Yorkers with nonstop flights from JFK with one-way fares often under $100. But in early 2019, Norwegian cancelled its French Caribbean operations, citing financial strains from having to relocate aircraft, pilots, and cabin crew from Europe to the Caribbean each winter. Its last flight to Guadeloupe from New York took place on March 31, 2019, leaving Saturday-only flights from Miami on Air France and American Airlines as the only nonstop option from the United States to the French overseas department located just north of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the U.S.-based JetBlue stepped in to fill the gap on the New York–Guadeloupe route (the airline says it does not have any plans to fly to Martinique at this time). After announcing in June 2019 that it was growing “its already expansive footprint in the Caribbean” by reviving the route, JetBlue flew its first direct flight between JFK and Pointe-à-Pitre (PTP), Guadeloupe’s largest city, on February 1, 2020.
JetBlue’s departures—operating on Mondays, Wednesday, and Saturdays through April 29, 2020, and resuming in November 2020—are scheduled to leave JFK at 8 a.m. and arrive in Guadeloupe at 1:28 p.m., giving travelers plenty of time to hit the beach after settling into their hotels. This direct flight only takes about 4.5 hours (Guadeloupe is an hour ahead of New York), making it a much faster alternative to the 8-plus hours it takes if you have to add in a layover in Miami.
What it was like on the inaugural direct flight
When I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 5 at sunrise for the inaugural flight on February 1, I didn’t even have to bother looking at the departure boards to find my gate. Instead, I just followed the troupe of dancers and drummers dressed in traditional Carnival regalia—grass skirts, headdresses, and face paint included—through the terminal to Gate 14 where JetBlue executives greeted passengers with cake and a small gift bag to celebrate before boarding.
After giving passengers time to settle into their seats on board one of JetBlue’s recently restyled A320 planes (which had power outlets in every row and free Wi-Fi that worked from gate to gate), it was time for a game of JetBlue Bingo. Together with the tourism board of Guadeloupe, JetBlue picked seats at random and rewarded passengers who chose to fly on the inaugural flight (JetBlue employees and journalists, like myself, were excluded). Regular passengers had the chance to win around a dozen different prizes, including two sets of round-trip tickets to anywhere JetBlue flies, tickets to the Deshaies Botanical Garden on the island of Basse Terre, and round-trip ferry tickets to several of the outer islands in the Guadeloupe archipelago like Les Saintes.
Even though JetBlue Bingo was a special event just for the inaugural flight, it’s worth paying the 22€ (US$24) round-trip to take the ferry from Trois Rivieres to Les Saintes, located off the southern coast of Basse Terre. I spent a full day there during my trip. Before a leisurely lunch at the beach at Ti Bo Doudou, be sure to hike up to the hilltop Fort Napoleon to take in the panoramic views of the scenic bay below.
Unlike new long-haul routes between San Francisco to Lisbon and Newark to Cape Town, JetBlue didn’t serve any local specialties on board and stuck to its regular snack rotation of Popchips and Cheez-Its. But considering that even JetBlue Basic fares include free snacks, Wi-Fi, and seatback entertainment, it’s a vast improvement over the low-frills options Norwegian offered previously on the same route. Plus, the flight landed a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so it wasn’t long before I was enjoying the first of many Planteurs, a rum and fruit juice cocktail, with a view of the Caribbean Sea on the beach at the recently renovated Club Med Caravelle. (If all-inclusives aren’t your style, consider staying at La Toubana, a five-star hotel also located in the town of Sainte-Anne on the southern coast of Grand Terre.)
After four days of seeking out waterfalls in Guadeloupe National Park, watching the sunset at Grand Anse Beach, and eating what felt like my weight in cod fritters at beachside restaurants across the island chain, it was time to leave behind the 80 degree weather for New York once again. Since JetBlue’s return flights from Guadeloupe aren’t scheduled until after 1 p.m., I had plenty of time to visit the beach one last time before heading to the airport. Less than five hours later, I was waiting for my Lyft in the chilly February air outside of JFK’s Terminal 5 already dreaming about my return trip.
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Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.