Honduras has two carriers that fly among San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and the Bay Islands. Those are Islena Regional (a division of TACA) and Aerolineas Sosa, “Su linea Aerea Amiga” (Your Airline Friend!)
Among other aircraft, TACA operates a few ATR-42s on these routes, a 42 seat propeller plane manufactured in France. Islena Regional, on the other hand, uses a fleet of sad, dumpier versions of that aircraft known as the Czech made Let-L410 Turbolet.
Gadling had the pleasure of flying on both airlines last month, but the most exciting, scary, beautiful and terrible experience was on Sosa. Follow along as we take you on a virtual voyage on Aerolineas Sosa, Central America’s thriftiest carrier.
Planning and booking tickets is one of the key components to arranging any holiday travel. Most airlines use a website to help convey timetables and book tickets, but Sosa doesn’t believe in that, nor do they believe in any contact phone number to help garner information. Instead, travelers are suggested to purchase tickets at the airport, although the ticket counter at La Cieba isn’t open all of the time – just a couple of hours before the flights. That aren’t published.
Fortunately, timetables are posted at some hotels and hostels across the Bay Islands, and using this information, we were able to snag a couple of seats on an early morning flight between Roatan and La Cieba.
Checking in at the counter, we were given two laminated boarding passes with numbers on them that could have been made by drunk grade schoolers, then ushered towards a security checkpoint into a small waiting room that seated only 100 people or so. Luckily, it was only a few minutes before an airline agent in a yellow vest wandered up to the sliding glass doors at the end of the room, opened them up and waved everyone out towards the plane, taking our boarding passes in the process.
Walking out onto the hot, Central American tarmac, the gaggle of 40 passengers wound out to the Turbolet, where the captain was standing outside, reading a newspaper on the wheel well. He waved. Everyone boarded through the rear door behind the passenger cabin, and those of us with bags tossed them into a pile on the back two seats.
Picking through the narrow aisle, I found a seat at the front of the aircraft, right behind the captain, in fact. Someone had used a label maker to stick 1A to the ceiling above my head, so I guess I was in the bulkhead. The best part, however, was that I could stretch my legs out — right into the cockpit. I could have kicked the pilot in the stomach if I wanted to.
Shortly after boarding, the pilot folded up his newspaper and ambled up to the front left seat. Cracking the window open for air, he fired up both engines, we taxied over to the only runway and lifted off into the humid, Honduran airspace, gently banking over the hills of Roatan and making our way over the Caribbean Sea towards La Cieba. Departure accomplished, he opened his newspaper back up and let the co-pilot take control.
Looking closer at the cockpit, one could put together the history of the aircraft. Half of the controls were labeled in Russian and some weren’t labeled at all. Many of the gauges didn’t work. The same was true for most of the overhead vents, many of which were broken off and not streaming air, and the rest of which were just permanently off.
In the twenty minute flight between Roatan and La Cieba, however, this didn’t make a big difference. Without a pressurized cabin, the aircraft flew close to the sea level, letting passengers gaze out of the window into the crystal clear Caribbean waters. Were this a flight between Toledo and Detroit in the middle of winter, the passengers would have been less happy. But with a cool sea breeze blowing in our faces, blue sea below and a laid back attitude all around, the flight was bliss.