Let's continue this journey to an exotic overseas French island. It is not in the Caribbean nor in the Indian Ocean, but in the North Atlantic: we are going to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon islands! Located between Canadian Nova-Scotia and Newfoundland, these two tiny islands are part of France, and count as low as 5000 inhabitants on Saint-Pierre and 500 on Miquelon.
The easy option to reach this destination from Europe would be waiting for the summer, during which ASL Airlines operates a 737 once a week from Paris-CDG. But we won't do that. We'll go there right in the middle of winter, when wind blows and snow falls heavily. The first objective is then to reach Montreal, Halifax or St. John's which are the only airports with flights to Saint-Pierre between October and May (1, 4 and 3 flights a week, respectively). All these are operated with a single ATR42-500 by Air Saint-Pierre, the local airline which also flies daily between Saint-Pierre and Miquelon with a small Cessna F406, an 10 minutes flight that we'll try to catch as well.
All Montreal - Saint-Pierre flights were already fully booked a few months in advance, so we are going to stop in Toronto and Halifax while going there, while using the "direct" Montreal route for the return. The routing is supposed to look like this:
It is finally time to let you discover what the small Air Saint-Pierre airline (aka PJ) offers, as part of a journey that already began more than 24 hours ago.
The airline has two planes:
- a Cessna F406 (F-OSPJ) carrying 8 passengers and 1 pilot,
- and an ATR 42-500 (F-OFSP), that replaced a 42-320 in 2009, and will be itself replaced by a brand new -600 in 2020. Since it is able to land with crosswinds up to 45 knots, it is the ideal plane considering the local winds, as strong as changing.
The crew for this fleet is made of 2 captains for the Cessna, and 3 captains, 3 FOs and 3 stewards for the ATR.
Three types of flights are operated:
- "Short-haul" between Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, operated daily with the Cessna: two return trips in the morning, two in the evening. A 10 minutes flight each way… weather permitting! With snow, icing, fog and strong winds, the flight programme needs to be very dynamically adjusted!
- "Medium-haul" to the near Canada: 3 times a week to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador and times to Halifax (both are a 1-hour flight with a snack served). Additional summer flights operate to the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. There used to be flights to Moncton and Sydney… the one in Nova-Scotia and not in Australia (a booking mistake could be terrible I guess)
- The Montréal, allowing a connection to/from the Air France flight servicing Paris. 2 to 3 hours of flight depending on the direction and jet stream, that may require a technical stop to add some fuel. On board an ATR, it begins to feel like a long-haul flight, with two meals served on board. But this is for a later report.
I left you a few hours earlier, during a winter storm, somewhere near the luggage belt in Halifax airport, and around 3 in the morning.
It is now a little more than 8 and time to wake up. With the jet lag, these 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep are good to take. Anyway we need to free the room at 11, which fits with the aircraft departure scheduled at 14.00.
Except that… a glimpse at the airport website let us see that the departure is now scheduled at 17.28. Sharp. Déjà vu… There is not much more information available, but Saint-Pierre and Miquelon weather office indicates that there is a very strong crosswind, and icing conditions. Anyway, the hotel is in the middle of a forest, so we head to the airport to know a little more about the delay.
11.30, departures hall. Check-in desks, a few shops and the way to the boarding area in the background.
Have you found Air Saint-Pierre desks?
Here it is. No crowd and three agents waiting for us. They confirm that the flight is delayed due to the weather in Saint-Pierre, where the plane has not departed yet.
The desk seems to be frequently used by Air Saint-Pierre according to the posters.
Check-in is done partly on the computer, and partly on paper. You can see a cabin map where seats are marked as they are allocated. I deduce that for now, only 5 or 6 people checked-in.
It takes a little time, especially as the computer refuses to release a seat that is free according to the paper seatmap. While waiting, let's see what we can find at the counter: tourist guides listing all the shops and activities, and collector luggage tags.
Le boarding pass finally accepts to be printed. I could get a window seat. The new departure time is indicated, and the boarding is expected 45 minutes before.
You then have to go behind the desk to drop your bags on a belt. Notice the airline logo on the screen.
The airport has a panoramic viewing platform before the controls, but it is currently closed due to construction works. We head towards the security checks, before which there cannabis box is located.
After this exhausting first flights, I forgot to empty a water bottle, and was very nicely invited to empty it in the fountain next to the cannabis box, and then to use the priority lane. A very nice touch, the security agent was almost sorry for me.
We are now in the boarding area, five hours early. Towards the East, gates 1 to 9 for regional departures. Then, a dozen of gates with jetbridges. At the West end, 4 gates for regional jets to the US. Seats face large windows.
There isn't much to be besides waiting, eating a bit and watching the planes. I fast-forward the wait, you'll notice that there is less and less light outside, as this United Embraer is painted in neon green…
…and this Korean Air 777 Freighter lands between Air Canada mowers.
But things are becoming more precise! The ATR took off from Saint-Pierre a little before 15.00 and is now approaching:
16.40, here is is, landing with all lights on.
It is time to get closer to the gate. There is somebody at the gate below PJ logo, but he is just passing by.
…and nothing happens. At 17.32, the counter is still empty. I am even wondering if I would not have missed the flight, but all the bags with orange "Bagage cabine Air Saint-Pierre" around are a good clue. Nobody seem to worry.
17.55, the ladies from the checkin arrive and wave some passengers on their way. The flight is no more on the screen…
…and comes back, announcing a 18.15 departure. It is 18.05, boarding is called. No priority, there is only an economy class and Air Saint-Pierre has no loyalty programme (nor partnership).
After the gate and down an escalator, we reach this long room with access to planes by foot all along. Our "gate" is number 3.
…and here it is. There isn't long to walk, but I'm happy that it is not snowing.
Here is the famous and long waited F-OFSP, shining and and lighted, red on the left wing, green on the other one.
The seats design reveal that the aircraft is a few years old, but the cabin is nevertheless clean and in good shape.
The ceiling looks even modern, which contrasts with the seats.
No suprise, it is an ATR, with limited space, but not excessively tight.
Anyway, there is no doubt possible, we are in the correct plane.
Outside, the boarding continues. The propeller is strapped, I wonder if it is common or only done in severe weather.
18.10, we are all on board, 30 passengers or so. The right engine is started in hotel mode (with the prop blocked), the cabin gets quickly very warm. The stewardess announces a 1h14 flight at 21000 ft.
18.25, pushback and taxi to the de-icing pad.
The operation end at 18.50. "Notre départ vers Saint-Pierre est maintenant imminent, veuillez réajuster votre ceinture". Announcements are only made in French, we are invited to fasten our seatbelt again in preparation for take-off.
A last blast of anti-icing fluid, and our plane takes-off towards the North. It is 19.00, and already 20.00 in Saint-Pierre.
There isn't much to see outside, so let's see what is in the seat pocket. The famous SPM guide, quite useful to get the phone numbers of the 4 restaurants, where it is advisable to book if you want to be sure to have a table.
You can also see the orange "bagage cabine" that I mentioned earlier. The allowance is a small 5kg bag, but it is not strictly enforced.
The service quickly begins. A full bar is available for free, with large strong alcohol bottles and the usual (wide) choice of soft drinks. All served with a muffin.
And… I apparently completely forgot to photograph it. You'll get photos for sure during the return trip.
So let's have a look at the cabin.
The crew area at the rear, and the small door used to load the rear hold (on the right).
The stairs-door on the other side.
And toilets, in good condition, except that there is no water in the sink, but an antibacterial gel instead. Maybe due to difficulties to keep water liquid in the freezing cold temperatures?
Back in the front, I take a free seat on the right side to get a better view of the arrival.
At 20.05, we hear the captain for the first time. He announces a landing in 15 minutes and a cloudy weather.
Watch adjustment, it is now 21.05 in UTC-3, the same time zone as Guyana, Greenland, Argentina and part of Brazil.
21.15, we dive below the clouds and a few lights appear: Saint-Pierre city.
21.20 at gate, 21h21 doors at opened. Everybody can't wait to be home.
21.26, passports controls is quick as most passengers have a French passport, and the luggage belt starts moving.
21.29 we are outside. The 4 flights to Miquelon have been cancelled, the weather was probably very bad earlier.
Air Saint-Pierre was also announcing our delayed arrival on its hi-tech flight information system.
And after a 40 hours door-to-door journey, we finally reach a comfortable bed at our hotel for two weeks. Here is a first glimpse at the city, and I'll go to bed.
I give you a rendez-vous for the next flights: we'll try to go to Miquelon, then to come back to Paris using Air Saint-Pierre longest flight. There will be more photos, and a surprise stopover ! ✈️
A long-waited for flight, both in the days and the hours before. The job is done, and the service appropriate considering the duration of the flight. More information on the delay would have been nice, but everybody seemed to be used to have to cope with the weather. I have no doubt that I would have had detailed information if I asked for in Halifax or on-board.
Halifax airport is very nice with a large choice to eat, and St-Pierre is as expected: no crowd (of course) and quite easy to reach since it is 2 km from the city center.