Domestic Flying in Cuba: The Aerogaviota Return Adventure


Post-flight, back in Havana. Bus gate meant a great tour of the airport grounds.
Post-flight, back in Havana. Bus gate meant a great tour of the airport grounds.

I was slightly distracted when I arrived at the airport for my return flight from Cayo Coco to Havana. I wanted to wander about and take photos rather than stand in a line for check-in that was not yet open. Plus, with only 50 seats on the plane how long could the line really be? As such I was second to last when I finally got to the counter, presenting my passport, ticket voucher and bag to the agent. Just another normal check-in experience at an eerily quiet terminal, right up until the machine spit out a bag tag going to the wrong airport.

UPB, the code for Playa Baracoa airport outside of Havana was quite clearly printed on that tag, not the HAV of Jose Marti international airport, my expected destination. And I was just at Playa Baracoa the day prior; I knew that there isn’t a taxi stand or other useful facilities available there. With minimal Spanish and a whole lot of panic I started to question the agent. She was having none of it, insisting that the bag (and my flight) would go to the correct airport, despite the tag saying otherwise. The gentleman behind me in line agreed, suggesting by way of explanation that Aerogaviota hasn’t bothered to update its computers to reflect that there are two Havana airports, but the plane would be going to the correct one. Not especially comforting, but with nothing else to do I collected my boarding pass and bag check and headed in through security to await our flight departure.

My boarding pass for Cayo Coco to (the wrong) Havana on Aerogaviota
My boarding pass for Cayo Coco to (the wrong) Havana on Aerogaviota
Waiting for check-in to open at Cayo Coco
Waiting for check-in to open at Cayo Coco

Unlike the day prior at Playa Baracoa the departures area was somewhat comfortably appointed, with big, plush chairs and even a snack bar. Not much in the way of snacks available, but they had the space configured for it.

Snack bar at the Cayo Coco terminal
Snack bar at the Cayo Coco terminal

Much like the day prior this trip involved bonus flying, with a stop again at Cayo Las Brujas to pick up a few extra passengers en route. That also meant an extra takeoff and landing, adding to the fun of the trip. Hard candies and sodas were the refreshments on board and, once again, no noticeable safety briefing on the flight.

Posing with the Aerogaviota ATR-42 during our unexpected stop at Cayo Las Brujas
Posing with the Aerogaviota ATR-42 during our unexpected stop at Cayo Las Brujas

My new friend, the guy who convinced me the bags would be okay, sat next to me on board thanks to no seat assignments and we chatted for the hour or so en route to Havana. He had a cell phone and two heavy bags checked, as well as business cards from a travel agent friend in Canada. I can only assume that the contents of the bags were imports he was taking home to help supplement his salary. I know that, in a small way, I contributed to that when I accepted a ride from him and his friend into town that morning when we landed. A most nerve-wracking and arguably foolish decision on my part, except that it all worked out just fine in the end.

Snack service on the Aerogaviota flight
Snack service on the Aerogaviota flight

As we pulled in to the terminal at Jose Marti international airport – one of three operating – I got an up-close view of another of Aerogaviota’s ATR-42 aircraft with an engine stripped down. I’m guessing that was to make sure the one I was flying on had sufficient spare parts to operate but I do not know for certain. Either way, even with the newer props (versus the Antonov-26s the company used to fly), things aren’t stellar.

Post-flight, back in Havana. Bus gate meant a great tour of the airport grounds.
Post-flight, back in Havana. Bus gate meant a great tour of the airport grounds.

 

 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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