CubaNews / October 2002
By Larry Luxner
The Toronto-based Havana Flying Club, which has spent the past two months heavily promoting $99 charter flights between Florida and Cuba via Nassau, is running into serious problems even before getting off the ground. HFC, which was to have begun service Oct. 17 via Bahamasair, now says the flights won’t commence until mid-November — if at all.
Julio Erhart, president of South Wind Travel & Tours Ltd. of Toronto, which is handling reservations and paperwork for HFC, says he’s not sure why HFC postponed its operations.
“It’s incredible how many people are going to Cuba at this moment, especially Americans,” he told CubaNews. “I don’t understand why they postponed. Maybe it’s the Iraq situation, which is affecting the travel market in general. The other possibility is hurricanes. People aren’t happy about going to Cuba in October. I think it was a very bad choice to start flying in October.”
Erhart conceded there’s been some opposition within South Florida’s Cuban exile community to the four-times-a-week charter service, which would give travelers a seamless connection via Nassau to Havana from three Florida cities: Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
Sam Blythe, managing director of HFC, denied that grumbling within the Cuban-American community had anything to do with his decision.
“All we have here is a postponement, not a grounding,” he said. “This is subject to seeing what happens in Iraq. Launching an airline into Cuba when the U.S. may be going to war with Iraq is not timing that we favor.”
But Blythe has run into problems before. In October 2000, his plans to bring U.S. luxury cruise-ship passengers from Nassau to Havana fell apart following bomb threats and State Department concerns that the venture would run afoul of U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Jostein Grossas, CEO of Scand-America Tours, which signed the original contract with Bahamasair, couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Erhart told CubaNews that pressure from Miami wouldn’t be enough to ground the flights anyway, “because this service is outside the U.S. We’re in Canada, Scand-America Tours is in Norway, and Bahamasair is in the Bahamas.”
Even so, added Erhart, “Bahamasair doesn’t want to fly from Nassau to Havana under their own name officially. I don’t know why.”
A Bahamasair spokeswoman in Nassau said her airline wants to make it clear that it’s not operating any flights from the United States to Cuba. That’s why the name Bahamasair appears nowhere on the HFC website.
“This is not a scheduled service. They’re only using our aircraft,” said the spokeswoman, who declined to identify herself. “They’ve decided to postpone it. We signed the contract and we’ve fulfilled our part of the bargain.”
In lieu of the discontinued charter flights, South Wind is offering $245 round-trip flights on Cubana between Nassau and Havana.