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Flying charter to Cuba from ORD: trip report

Flying charter to Cuba from ORD: trip report

Old Dec 9, 11, 4:09 pm
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota,USA
Programs: UA, NW
Posts: 3,696
Flying charter to Cuba from ORD: trip report

We were the first flight from ORD to Havana on November 25, and as such, there were only about 30 passengers, 22 of whom, including me, were flying with a group from the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota.

As this was the inaugural flight, members of our group were interviewed by the local press, and the airline served us coffee and cake in the gate area. The few Cuban-Americans on board were all taking large amounts of medicines and other gifts in their carry-ons. We had to pay $50 for our first suitcase in cash. I was prepared because we had been told that we would need to pay a departure tax of $98 in cash. However, we did not, in fact, have to pay the departure tax.

I'm not up on my airplane model numbers, but this was an average sized aircraft with 3-3 seating, the kind that would fly between U.S. cities.

About halfway through the flight, we received a small ham and cheese sandwich, but only cold beverages were available, which was annoying, because the air conditioning was turned up way too high.

Arrival in Cuba was low key and not particularly bureaucratic. The only thing that surprised me about it was that we had to go through security screening before going through Immigration. (I've never had to walk through a metal detector or been wanded to enter a country.)

After Immigration, which was also pretty routine (we had to be photographed), we changed our money for CUCs ("tourist pesos"). We brought Canadian dollars, because Cuba places a large surcharge on U.S. dollars.

Coming back, I was sick, so I didn't pay much attention to what went on in the airport, but the pre-flight security screening was swift and professional. We also had the option of receiving U.S. dollars for our remaining CUCs after we had paid our 25 CUC (cash) departure tax.

I was too sick to eat what was served on the flight (it looked like a turkey sandwich), but again, only cold beverages were available. This was irritating, since the flight attendants were standing in the back eating food that they had heated up. I don't think it would have killed them to serve coffee and tea.

At least this time I knew enough to bring something warm to wear.

Upon arrival at ORD, we did the usual ORD U.S. Immigration routine. I was surprised at how easy it was, about the same as returning from Europe or Japan. The official asked where I'd been. I said, "Cuba, on a religious activities license," and that was that.

Customs was just as easy. When the Customs official asked where I'd been, I gave him the same answer, and he asked what I had bought. "Craft items made by the religious groups we visited and a couple of CDs." He waved me through.

I enjoyed my time in Cuba. The people were wonderful, and the culture was fascinating, with amazing music and art. Restoration of Habana Vieja and the Malecon is well underway, and the results should be stunning in a decade or so. The thing that made me sad was the dual economy, where people who have access to CUCs through the tourist industry or relatives or other benefactors overseas, are living better than ever, while the people who don't have access to CUCs are on rations that don't always last out the month.
ksandness is offline  
Old Dec 15, 11, 2:58 pm
Join Date: Dec 2004
Programs: BA Gold, LH Senator, SPG Gold
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Originally Posted by ksandness View Post
(I've never had to walk through a metal detector or been wanded to enter a country.)
Quite common actually, especially with countries with restrictions what plants, weeds or food you can bring to the country. Chile, Australia and Peru are few of the countries we've been screened at arrival.

After Immigration, which was also pretty routine (we had to be photographed), we changed our money for CUCs ("tourist pesos"). We brought Canadian dollars, because Cuba places a large surcharge on U.S. dollars.
The surcharge doesn't really mean anything;
if 1 USD has 10% surcharge and the exchange rate is 1.50, you get 1.35 CUC
if 1 USD has no surcharge and the exchange rate is 1.35, you get 1.35 CUC
.. now how do you know if the exchange rate is correct without any surcharges "built-in". You don't.

On our last trip I noticed that exchanging cash euros was as expensive (the cash withdrawal fees included) as using european Visa/MC to withdraw CUC's from the ATM. The exchange point at the Hotel Nacional had a worse exchange rate than the other places.

Nice to see a report from someone who has done the direct flights from the US to Cuba. I wish they were open to folks like us europeans where our home countries don't limit our travels.
ojala is offline  
Old Dec 16, 11, 4:02 pm
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: Havana, Cuba
Programs: AA EXP UA Gold QR Platinum Hilton Gold FB Sinbad
Posts: 112
Direct Flights to HAV

There are seven flights a day to HAV from MIA and more and more Americans are taking them, currently restricted to general and specific licensed people.
The Charter is barebones, and between MIA and HAV the flying time is only about 42 minutes!
I use the same company, ABC Charters and the service has been very good with the company.
Cuba has a 11 per cent built in charge for exchanging currency and you can add the 10 per cent extra for USD, so One USD will bring in only about 80 cents CUC. I euro worth 1.30 will bring in 1.19 cuc.
Hope more and more Americans will visit the island and thus see for themselves for themselves the truth about Cuba..
cochinjew is offline  
Old Dec 31, 11, 3:29 am
Moderator, Argentina; FlyerTalk Evangelist
Join Date: Aug 2000
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Wow... ABC Charters is still in this game...? I remember taking the ABC planes in the early 1990ies.... I wish they gave miles and elite status for those flights, I would have been a top tier customer....
Gaucho100K is offline  
Old Feb 15, 12, 2:44 pm
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: West Coast USA
Programs: UA GS/4 MM, AA Life P 3MM, Hilton D, Hyatt D, R C/Marriott P, SPG Life P
Posts: 7,530
Sounds like some people here have real experience. Can someone just put me onto a good agency so I can do the weekend in Havana bit? I've been looking at Insight but happy with any firm that is dependable. Thank you.

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