Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by teething problems
The Telegraph 17 February 2017
Cuba remains a hot-ticket destination for British travellers as airlines
launch new routes and cruise tourism surges. But as the boom continues,
confusion has taken hold over whether Britons are able to board the new
direct US-Cuba flights.
Passengers flying to the Caribbean island from the UK with Virgin
Atlantic (VA) have also experienced difficulties as the airline gets to
grips with the ticketing system alongside its new partner, Delta.
Customers have been unable to book flights online by card, or use Air
Miles plus money, and they must, instead, call a Cuba phoneline at
Virgin Holidays. Miles then need to be converted into vouchers to be
discounted against a normal fare.
VA said the issue was temporary, but Rob Miller, director of the
UK-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, accused the airline of discriminating
against the communist nation. "Virgin Atlantic must end this
discriminatory policy impacting on travellers wanting to use their Air
Miles to travel to Cuba," he said. "The US blockade is at the heart of
this latest travel dispute.
"We have written to the British Government, and Virgin Atlantic, calling
on them to take immediate action to ensure that all passengers are
treated fairly whether they are travelling to Cuba or elsewhere."
US and Cuba: a timeline
A VA spokesperson apologised for any inconvenience: "This is just a
different way to pay for this route, on a temporary basis. We certainly
aren't discriminating against Cuba. However, our technology is currently
restricted, meaning we can't take bookings."
The airline launches its second UK route direct to Cuba on April 2, to
Juan G Gomez airport. Thomson, too, is adding a route to Cayo Santa
Maria from May; Thomas Cook's inclusion of the small set of islands off
the coast from 2018, takes its total of Cuban destinations to four.
Last year, 10 US airlines made the first direct flights to the island in
more than 50 years, following a thaw in US-Cuba relations. Meanwhile,
cruise firms cannot organise itineraries fast enough and the demand for
hotel rooms has soared. In December Telegraph Travel reported how tour
operators were halting bookings to the island as its infrastructure
struggled to cope with demand.
14 sights to catch before Cuba changes forever
In the summer Swiss chain Kempinski will open Cuba's first truly
glamorous five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana.
Further luxury hotels will follow.
Less positive has been the ambiguity facing British travellers flying to
Cuba from the US. Travel for tourism purposes remains illegal for US
citizens under a trade embargo. They may only fly direct to Cuba for one
of 12 reasons listed by the US Treasury's Cuba sanctions office
(OFAC). The same applies to Britons. Since self-certification (an honour
system) for travel was permitted last year by the Obama administration,
UK travellers, like US citizens, are ticking one of the
officially-approved categories (educational) for travel on airline sites.
Comparison website cheapair.com advises: "Keep receipts for cultural
activities to demonstrate your visit was filled with 'authorised' travel
activities… keep records of museums visited, local tours you took,
cultural activities attended, etc… most of the time, no one will ask."
The Foreign Office advises that travel between the US and Cuba is
permitted as long as visitors comply with US law. The OFAC's press
office has not yet responded to our inquiries.
Source: Flight confusion reigns as Cuba's tourism boom is beset by
teething problems -