Tourism Boom Chokes Havana’s Airport
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 4 July 2017 — The passengers leave the
plane and make their way around the buckets catching the leaks from the
roof. They still have a long wait in at baggage claim and have to suffer
under the air conditioning that hardly alleviates the heat. The José
Martí International Airport in Havana is stumbling through
the tourist boom that has brought a volume of passengers its services
and infrastructure find difficult to serve.
The main air terminal in the country received 3.3 million passengers in
the first half of this year, a figure that increased by 27.4% compared
to the same period of the previous year. However, travelers’ experiences
are far from satisfactory.
There are few places to eat and the lack is supplies is a problem. “We
only have these two cafeterias up here,” says one of the
employees. “Today we did not get any beer and there is no water, we are
only selling coffee in addition to bread with ham and cheese,” she told
several customers on Monday.
There is an unfinished wing on the exterior that will be filled with
places to eat. “The financing of this infrastructure was linked to the
construction company Odebrecht and everything was paralyzed by the
corruption scandal in Brazil,” says a source from the Ministry of
Construction who preferred to remain anonymous.
“We hope it will be open before the end of the year as an alternative
for travelers and their friends,” the official said. “But the building
is one thing and the supply of food and beverages is another; the latter
is the responsibility Cuban Airports and Aeronautical Services Company
We can’t do magic. If there is no beer in the country, where are we
going to get it from?” an ECASA employee asks rhetorically, speaking to
this newspaper by phone from the central office. “We have tried to meet
the demand with imported products, but the tourists want to drink a
Cuban beer at the airport,” she says.
Hope arrived for the terminal employees when it was announced last
August that French companies Bouygues and Paris Airports had won a
concession to expand and manage the terminal.
“They haven’t pounded a single nail here,” protests the saleswoman at a
handicrafts stand on the middle floor. Industry sources say that no
feasibility studies have yet been done to start the works. “The French
planners have not even arrived to evaluate the terminal,” says a senior
Transport Ministry official adding that the project is waiting for
support from the new French president.
One floor down crowd those waiting for the travelers who arrive in the
country. “This shows a lack of respect,” says Manuel Delgado, 58, who
complains that “there is no place to sit, the heat is unbearable and the
cafeteria has no water” while waiting for the Air France flight
returning his daughter, who has been living in Paris.
The bathrooms earn the worst of the opinions of those who wait. “They
smell bad and although the service is free, the employees are asking for
money, in a somewhat disguised way, but they ask for it,” says Yesenia,
who came from Matanzas to meet a brother returning from Mexico.
In the women’s restroom a female worker holds the roll of paper for
drying hands. “It’s not mandatory, but they look askance at you if you
do not give them something,” says Yesenia. One of the female employees
asked the customers to exchange for 25 centavo coins in Cuban pesos
(CUP) “for a convertible peso.” Finally, a European-looking tourist agrees.
A few meters from the bathroom, located on the third floor, a young man
tries to catch the wifi signal to surf the internet, a service only
offered in the area after immigration and security controls. For every
hour of navigation one must pay 1.50 in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC)
but there is nowhere in the airport “today where they are selling
recharge cards for the Nauta service,” he says frustrated.
There are also no hotels nearby for passengers in transit to other
provinces. For two years the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) has planned to
build five-star accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the airport,
but the project has not yet materialized. The private sector, however,
has taken the lead from the state and more and more private houses are
renting to tourists in the vicinity of the area.
The problems of infrastructure and services do not end after approaching
the exit doors from the flights. “I was traveling in first class and
they gave me an invitation for the VIP area,” says José Mario, a Cuban
who each month takes the Copa Airlines route to Panama working as a “mule.”
Numerous trips allow you to accumulate points that you can take
advantage of, from time to time, to travel in more comfort. But the VIP
area has not met their expectations. “They told me I had to wait for
other customers to finish eating, because there were not enough dishes,”
he remembers with annoyance after his failed attempt serve himself some
nuts and cheese from the available buffet.
Jose Mario admits, at least, that the taxi service has improved. More
than a year ago a fixed rate was established from the airport to
different points of the city. “Before the driver decided the price, but
now I know that I must pay 25 CUC from here to my house, not a peso more.”
The experience on arrival, on the other hand, does not get much
praise. It varies according to the schedule, the flight and the amount
of luggage. “Sometimes I have spent less than an hour waiting for my
bags, but other times I have spent up to four in front of the luggage
belt,” complains the traveler.
Employees agree that the waiting time after the landing fluctuates. “At
night, when large flights arrive from Europe, such as Iberia, Air France
or Aeroflot everything slows down,” says one of the doctors waiting for
the national passengers to fill out an epidemiological form.
The pilots themselves have had to explain to the passengers about
departure delays because of not having “enough vehicles to bring the
luggage to the plane”.
Added to this is the strict customs control over luggage, whose
thoroughness is not only designed to prevent crime but to control the
bringing of technological devices into the country (such as DVDs,
NanoSations, hard disks or laptops) or large quantities of commonly used
products. The most “meticulously” checked flights are those from the US,
Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and other regular
routes for the “mules.”
In the area before passing through immigration, employees are wandering
around with posters bearing the names of some travelers. Some approach
families with children or newcomers who look like Cubans living
abroad. “For 40 dollars I can pass you without problems from customs,”
whispers a worker to a couple with two children.
For a certain fee employees can avoid passing through the search or
paying for excess imported luggage, a relief for many Cubans living
abroad and arriving loaded with gifts. For each kilo of luggage that
exceeds the limit of 50 kilos, there is a fee that must be paid in CUC,
and the fees also depend on the type of objects transported. For
residents on the island is also very advantageous, since they can only
pay in CUP for their first annual importing of goods.
Jose Mario often resorts to this illegal service. “What I am going to
do?” he justifies himself. “I pay to get myself out of this airport as
soon as possible, because it’s unbearable between the heat and the bad
Source: Tourism Boom Chokes Havana’s Airport – Translating Cuba –