[It has taken a bit of time to process our October vacation in Cuba. So here is the first of a short series of Cuba posts. Enjoy!]
Ignorance can be dangerous. When we returned to school and told people the story which you are about to read, many of them said incredulously, “What! you flew Conviasa? Well, no wonder. You know that the EU doesn’t even let Conviasa fly there anymore?”
Super. Why didn’t anyone tell us about Conviasa before we bought the tickets? Lesson learned: check safety record of airlines prior to buying tickets.
“El placer de volar” is the motto of Conviasa Airlines. It is dangerously far from the truth, for flying with them was certainly not a pleasure.
The flight to Cuba was on time and mostly normal. Sure the food was horrible and there were several missing tray tables and some seatbacks refused to remain upright since there was no locked position and our hands were numb because the A/C seemed to be broken in the on position, but hey, the engine ran smoothly. Unfortunately, the flight home from Cuba was not so smooth.
Please, allow me to regale you with the tale of our 50 hour delay with Conviasa flight 4101.
Friday evening, 6:30 pm. We arrive at the airport two and a half hours before the scheduled departure. Thirty minutes later we are through customs and waiting for the plane. We get some ham and cheese sandwiches at the one eatery in the terminal (because that is the one thing they had available; and having already spent a week in Cuba, this did not come as a surprise). We had toys for Graham, so two hours wouldn’t be so bad.
7:30 pm. We see four co-workers in the airport who happen to be on the same flight back. The one named Chris swaps stories with us about our respective weeks in Cuba and predicts that we’ll be a couple hours delayed since “Venezuelan airlines are always late.”
9:10 pm. Original departure time comes and goes.
11:00 pm. Our plane comes in. (Good prediction Chris). And we wait. And the Conviasa airlines representative/head maintenance guy/who-knows-what gathers all the passengers together to tell us that the plane is in no shape to fly. They would put us up in a hotel and give us breakfast and lunch and bring us back to the airport at 12:30pm for a 2pm flight. Bummer. But at least school doesn’t start until Monday.
Saturday morning, 1:00 am. We all arrive at the hotel (minus the Cuban nationals who, even thought they had a ticket, weren’t allowed to join us). We have to calm down a now-awake and confused Graham and finally get some sleep.
9:00 am. We wake up to see that we are in a very nice resort-style hotel on the beach with perhaps the best hotel pool I’ve seen. The breakfast buffet spread was enormous and surreal. It’s not unique to Cuba, but there are so many people struggling to eat there that buffets like this for tourists are morally challenging. So much wasted food, so many hungry people. We relax for a bit before coming downstairs for a four course lunch.
12:00 pm. Lunch begins. Bus driver is upset that the last people aren’t out there until 1:15, but no one really cares about inconveniencing him at this point.
1:40 pm. We arrive at the airport and officially leave Cuba for the second time. Even though it’s the same plane that sat on the tarmac all night, the flight is late. We all board and take off, but the plane isn’t going as high as it should. We clear the land and are flying over water. There are 3 maintenance guys sitting up front and one is called into the cockpit. Not a good sign. The engines whir with an unusually high sound and still we’re not gaining altitude. Graham happened to be really interested in the emergency procedure card so Kat reads it to him again and again trying to memorize what it says. Twenty minutes into the flight, the captain comes on the speaker (which barely works) and announces that there is an electrical problem and they have to turn the plane around. And so they do. At this point an African passenger across the isle (who, as we later learned, is named Prince John), starts yelling at the flight attendant. “How can you put our lives in danger…look at these kids…what is wrong with you people…why are you trying to kill us.” Prince makes more threats pushes past my arm and chases the attendant down the isle. Luckily for the flight attendant another passenger stands up to block Prince’s path. And while all this is happening the cockpit door is wide open. Prince finally settles down and we talk to Graham about how people act sometimes when they are scared and we look out the window to see that we’re flying so low, certainly we’ll be landing in a field. Thankfully that was not the case.
3:30 pm. We get off the broken plane and are taken to the immigration waiting room. The same guy that gave us the bad news the night before gathers us together to tell us that he will have to make some phone calls to see whether they will send a new plane from Caracas to take us home.
6:30 pm. He finally shows back up with some information. He starts by saying that no one will be taken out of Cuba on that particular airplane. Phew! That should have been a given. Instead, since there are no other flights out of Cuba that night, we’ll be taken to the nicest hotel they can find, given dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day, and then brought back to the airport at 5 pm for a 9 pm flight.
7:00 pm. We officially enter Cuba for the third time.
7:30 pm. We arrive at the Cuba National Hotel, a national treasure. It’s probably the best hotel in Cuba. Our $200/night room is on the sixth floor with a perfect view of the Malecón and the sea beyond.
Sunday morning, 7:00 am. Breakfast and some exploring of the hotel grounds. We considered swimming in the pool but Graham opted for a warmer, more private pool experience in our room’s bathtub. There was a lot of lounging about that day. No one really felt like venturing out into Havana so we wandered the hotel and watched a majority of Felix Baumgartners record-breaking skydive attempt. We shared an internet access code and one Galaxy Tablet with our co-workers as everyone wrote sub plans in case we didn’t make it back to school the next day. Kat checked her email to find an article sent by her mom that was all about how Venezuela has some of the worst regulated airlines in the world. Just what we needed to hear!
5:00 pm. We check out of the hotel and this time the bus driver is late. No worries though, the flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until nine and it’d probably be late anyhow.
6:30 pm. We officially leave Cuba for the third time. People are generally in a good mood since we’ve all had time to bond in that special way people do when forced to spend time together.
9:10 pm. The scheduled flight time comes and goes.
11:00 pm. We board an obviously newer plane and fly home to Caracas.
Monday morning, 3:00 am. We fall asleep at home.
6:30 am. We get up and go to work.
Fruits of the Fiasco: