TRAVEL TO CUBA

Cuba cancels 2 charter firms’ flights

 

Two of the largest operators of charter flights to Cuba had their permits suspended by the Cuban government. No reason was given.

jcchavez@ElNuevoHerald.com

Cuba has decided to suspend, beginning Nov. 27, charter-flight operating permits to fly to the island for Airline Brokers and C&T Charters, two of the most important and recognized agencies of this type in South Florida.

Havanatur Celimar, the Cuban state agency that administers and regulates the operations, announced the decision Wednesday.

Reasons for the sudden decision remained unclear. However, sources linked to the industry said that the order could be related to delays in payments and other obligations.

In a statement published on the Airline Brokers website, its owner, Vivian Mannerud, said that the suspension was the result of a “re-evaluation of flights in the market as well as other topics.”

“At this time, Airline Brokers is trying to ascertain whether other providers of charter flights to Cuba can accommodate all the passengers affected by this cancellation,” the statement said. “Airline Brokers will contact you or the travel agency where you bought your ticket. If you cannot be accommodated on another flight, your ticket will be refunded at the same agency where you paid for it. Airline Brokers is making all possible arrangements in the quickest possible way to help accommodate all the passengers. Contact your travel agency as soon as possible.”

Airline Brokers has a long history of chartered flights to the island. Just a few days ago, it coordinated the shipping of humanitarian aid sent to people affected by Hurricane Sandy in eastern Cuba. It also worked with the Archdiocese of Miami and the Cuban Catholic Church in the transportation of hundreds of parishioners during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI on March 26-28, which included the celebration of Masses in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

Airline Brokers operates seven flights a week from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to the cities of Havana and Cienfuegos. It is one of eight companies that organize charter flights to Cuba.

In April, its office was destroyed by a fire that was later ruled to have been set intentionally. The fire forced Mannerud’s company to open a new office in Coral Gables, whose inauguration was officiated by the archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski.

The fire started at dawn on April 27 in a portion of an office complex primarily occupied by attorneys and other professionals.. The investigation is continuing.

The other agency, C&T Charters, operates charter flights to Havana and Camaguey from air terminals in Miami, Chicago and New York. Its owner is John H. Cabañas, who for a long time has had close contact with the Cuban government. The agency has provided its services uninterruptedly since June 1991. It has offices in Miami, the Keys and New York.

El Nuevo Herald tried to reach both Mannerud and Cabañas by phone to comment on the sudden suspension, but the calls were not returned.

Airline Brokers and C&T Charters are the only U.S. companies that organize travel for special pilgrimages.

The news of the cancellation comes at a delicate time due to the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.

Recently, Cuba’s Office of National Statistics reported that 400,000 citizens living in foreign countries visited the island in 2011, among them 300,000 living in the United States.

Cuba expanded its airports in Havana and Cienfuegos (in the south-central area), Camagüey, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba (in the east), besides Santa Clara (in the center) and Manzanillo (also in the east).

It is calculated that in the short term, doors will be opened on both sides of the Florida Straits, as well as in other destinations, due to a greater and more intense flow of passengers after Cuba’s announcement of new immigration regulations for its citizens..

In October, Cuba announced immigration reform that will become effective on Jan. 14.

The reform eliminates the need of the exit permit and the invitation letter currently required of citizens to be allowed to travel abroad.

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