JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba / 14ymedio,
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Santa Clara, 31 August 2016 – Raul Caceres
was a bundle of nerves as he put the finishing touches on the JetBlue
Airlines office that opened this Wednesday in the airport in Santa
Clara, Cuba. A few hours before the arrival of the first commercial
flight between Cuba and the United States since 1961, the employee
answered questions from onlookers, as he fixed the company's blue logo,
while constantly looking to the sky.
The Airbus A-320 departed from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at 10:06 am and
touched down at Abel Santamaria Airport at 10:56 am. A crowd of
relatives, foreign correspondents and security personnel waited at the
doors to the terminal. There was no lack of tears, shouts of welcome and
children scampering from side to side.
The blackboard showing the arrival times for each flight was removed
from outside the airport this Tuesday, where it is now possible to read
only the departure times. A measure that no employee could explain,
although some of those waiting commented jokingly that it was "to avoid
As word spread that JetBlue's Flight 387 had departed from Fort
Lauderdale the journalists jockeyed for the best spots at the terminal
door and excitement gripped the crowd.
Arriving in the plane was Anthony Foxx, US Secretary of Transportation,
but the biggest hugs went not to the officials but to the passengers
whose family and friends were waiting outside. The plane leaves for US
soil this Wednesday at 1:15 in the afternoon, so those booked on the
return flight were already at the airport.
Everyone was trying to make out the blue of the JetBlue logo, because
the Santa Clara sky was one of dense grey clouds, associated with the
ninth tropical depression of the season that has struck Cuba for several
days, especially in the central and western parts of the island.
"Right now you can't book a passage here," Caceres told this newspaper,
but "you can do it on the internet." A piece of information supported by
Nestor Nuñez, JetBlue's manager, who added that the Santa Clara airport
office is the company's "only one right now," on the island.
With a capacity for 220 passengers, the JetBlue flight marked a
milestone with a 99 dollar one-way fare, a price that includes the
insurance payment the Cuban government requires from visitors to the island.
"This is going to help put an end to the abuse," commented Silvia, who
was waiting for another flight outside the Santa Clara terminal, but who
out of curiosity joined the welcome for the passengers coming from Fort
Lauderdale. "For decades the prices for such a short trip have been
abusive," she explained. "My son travels frequently to the Caiman
Islands and it costs more than three times as much," complained the
woman. With the recently inaugurated JetBlue service, "our family will
be over the moon," she said.
Pedro, a taxi driver waiting for a couple of Americans coming in on the
flight, sees other advantages to direct commercial flights. "It will be
easier to bring luggage now, because before firms like Havanatur [one of
the companies managing charter flights to the island] took advantage of
it to set very high fees for every last pound."
Economy class tickets on JetBlue to Cuba carry a fee of $25 for the
first suitcase, $35 for the second and $100 for the third. So for a
total of $160, passengers can bring in around 90 pounds of luggage, good
news for those who are bringing donations, gifts and other products
unavailable on the island.
"If this continues," Pedro begins to say with a certain suspicion,
"we're going to see all those Cubans with Spanish passports going to
Miami and buying things to bring back on these flights." The route of
the "mules" is now through the Bahamas, the Caiman Islands or through
charter flights. "It's going to result in lower prices on the black
market," the taxi driver speculates.
A customs employee told this newspaper that "after a process of
improvement, the airport has the capacity to serve 600 passengers an
hour." A figure still far below the number of travelers that could
result from 110 daily commercial flights from the United States to Cuba,
approved by the US Department of Transportation.
Source: JetBlue Ends Abusive Prices of Charter Flights to Cuba /
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar – Translating Cuba -