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Posted July 21, 2008 by publisher in US Tourism to Cuba

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Nathan Hurst | The Detroit News

A new jet service taking off in December from Windsor Airport will bring the allure of a forbidden Cuban vacation within minutes of downtown Detroit.

Sunwing Airlines, a Canadian leisure carrier, will offer weekly flights to Varadero, Cuba, a popular beach resort about 50 miles east of the capital, Havana.

While U.S. citizens are mostly barred from spending money on travel to Cuba, officials with the airline and airport expect Americans to make up at least half the passengers on the route.

“On average, about 50 percent or more of passengers flying to Cuba from Canada are from the U.S.,” said Federica Nazzani, Windsor Airport’s manager. “Given our unique geographic position near Metro Detroit, we’re expecting at least that.”

Because of decades-old government restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba, there are no flights from the U.S. to the Communist Caribbean island nation south of Key West, Fla.—except to the Guantanamo Bay military base. Americans who do make the trip must get there through a third country, such as Canada or Mexico.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Americans travel illegally to Cuba each year, on trips that were not approved by the U.S. government. Many do so without any trouble, but those who are caught face penalties of up to $250,000, though $3,000 to $10,000 is more the norm. The fines loom for up to five years after the trip.

Jail time is possible, but no U.S. traveler appears to have been incarcerated for making the journey.

Still, most are reluctant to talk publicly about their trips.

The Supreme Court struck down outright bans on American travel to Cuba, but it upheld Treasury Department restrictions on Americans spending money on travel to the country, and fines are based on how much the traveler spends.

The U.S. government does permit some Americans—more than 100,000 annually, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a nonprofit organization in New York—to travel there on special licenses. Those on religious missions, journalistic assignments or academic study-abroad programs are among Americans who can obtain Treasury Department permits to travel to Cuba.

Cuban expatriates are also allowed to visit family every few years, and there’s an exception for American travelers who have their expenses paid by someone in another country.
Feds consider travel risky

The State Department, while not involved in the Treasury Department restrictions, warns vacationers against travel to Cuba because of safety concerns on the island, and particularly in Havana.

“It’s a risky trip,” said Josue Barrera, a State Department spokesman.

There are other hazards, as well. Should vacationers break the law or get sick while in Cuba, diplomatic help is limited. The United States hasn’t maintained an embassy in Havana for decades, so tourists in trouble have to work through the U.S. interests section of the Swiss embassy. American health insurance also is void in Cuba.

But for those willing to go, Cuba’s tourism ministry promises miles of white sand beaches, clean Caribbean waters and luxurious resorts with the distinctive flair of old-school opulence made popular in the 1940s and ‘50s by American travelers to Havana.

Canadian travel agencies say Americans are faithful buyers of Cuban vacation packages.

“We certainly get a lot of business from Americans,” said Martha Chapman, spokeswoman for Red Seal Tours of Toronto, a seller of sun destination packages and parent company of Sunwing. “Many of them book through agents on the Canadian side. There’s nothing stopping them here.”
Airport expands

The Sunwing flights from Windsor bring access to Cuba four hours closer to Detroit; the next closest direct flight leaves from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Sunwing also plans direct flights to Cuba from an airport in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, within minutes of Michigan’s border. The fast-growing airline also plans to add a flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Nazzani, Windsor Airport’s manager, said the addition of Sunwing is part of the airport’s $600,000 expansion that will bring a new 10,000-square-foot pre-flight lounge.

She said the airport is also in discussions with other carriers, Canadian and American, about expanding service to the facility, which launches flights to Toronto via Air Canada Jazz, a regional feeder carrier. In particular, Nazzani said she hopes the new vacation destination routes will prompt American travelers to consider Windsor Airport as a travel option.

“We’re not as big as Detroit (Metropolitan Airport), but we’ve certainly got some unique options,” she said.

You can reach Nathan Hurst at (313) 222-2293 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) 

  1. Follow up post #1 added on July 21, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I understand the flights from Ontario, plenty of Canadian travelers to Cuba and I suppose many US citizens from mid-US would make the trek north to catch a plane south but why in Detroit?

    Are there lots of car maker execs who want to start selling cars in Cuba and they have to go down and research the market?

    On a side note, shame on Josue Barrera for saying that it’s a risky trip. I think the reporter could have left out that stupid comment.

    By the way, Sunwing has been buying hundreds of Cuba related domain names recently. I count 857 so far.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on July 21, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    Havana dangerous ...lets see ...detroit or havana ...in which would i prefer to be alone at 2am ...probably both risky at 2am but if i had to choose one it’d be havana cause i’d probably only be robbed at 2am.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on July 21, 2008 by bernie with 199 total posts

    “Manfredz” you are so right, but you have to include the suburbs also.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on July 21, 2008 by HavanAndrew with 87 total posts

    Is there anyone that clearly knows the exact regulation when it comes to gifting an American friend’s travel to Cuba? If I pay and there is no commerce by my American friend then he is within the law to travel to Cuba? There could be an awful lot of gifting going on in the form of a Canadian business gifting the travel and the American customer gifting money for a theoretical birthday, catch my drift. It could be a gifting revolution.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on July 21, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Travel to Cuba is not illegal. Spending money in Cuba is illegal.

    There is a $25 get out of Cuba fee.

    There are hosted tours that offer what you suggest.

    Look into http://CubaFriends.com

    Cuba consulting services

  6. Follow up post #6 added on July 21, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    am sure treasury will be looking for such scams and be sure to hit those caught using them quite hard to discourage it.
    But from what I understand (and experts pls correct me if i’m right), if I had a well established friend in he USA, and i decided to treat her to a trip to Cuba, paying all expenses, that would be legal (but if she spent as much as 1 cent, she’d broken the law)

  7. Follow up post #7 added on July 22, 2008 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    “It’s a risky trip” said a State Department spokesman.

    This just shows the total ignorance of conditions in Cuba of the American government. Cuba is one of THE safest places to visit in the world.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on July 22, 2008 by HavanAndrew with 87 total posts

    From what I have been told by the leading attorney that defends U.S. citizens when prosecuted for breaking the travel embargo there is a loop hole that he has been successfully using. It is regarding the terminology of the cash transaction being referred to as dollars and not as currency. Prior to your travel the attorney will have a discussion with you explicitly telling you that he advises you against using “dollars” and then if prosecuted he will in court ask you if you used “dollars”. Of course your reply is that you didn’t and the judge then dismisses the case. This has occurred on many occasions and the judges know this particular attorney. He visits my B&B in Canada on a regular basis and I will be asking for further details regarding this matter in the fall when he is here next. As far as the gifting process, I have many regular American clients that desperately want me to take them on tours in Cuba, so we will be giving each other some nice gifts.

    On a post note about the medical insurance issue, SunWing offers an optional medical insurance policy with your flight and or package. I have used SunWing out of Toronto many times, they offer a good service and I can only say nice things about my experience using SunWing. A good travel trip to get great deals on SunWing is to go through RedTag.ca The very best deals are early November and early April.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on July 22, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Great insight.


    Cuba consulting services

  10. Follow up post #10 added on July 22, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    i’ve used sunwing for 3 of my 4 flights to cuba (used cubana on other - also good but for different reasons).
    you get a real hot airplane meal like you used to get everywhere.
    Also for very small fee ($25.- each way) get seats with normal pitch rather than charter pitch.
    And their insurance is cheaper than many others.
    Their major shortcoming is , like other charters, limiting you to 20kg of checked baggage (with Cubana out or Toronto it was 2x23kg).
    For some it might also make a dif - Sunwing flies to Varadero; Cubana to Havana

  11. Follow up post #11 added on July 25, 2008 by bernie with 199 total posts

    The Sun Wing flights from Windsor Ontario airport to Varadero, Cuba will operate from Dec. 18, 2008 until April 16, 2009.

    The flights will depart on Thursday only…....

  12. Follow up post #12 added on July 25, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    dont want to rain on anybody’s parade but you might want to keep this in mind.
    Since the above mentioned flights fly over us airspace, canadians will have to give us authorities passenger lists which incl nationality.
    If the american authorities feel these flights are primarily to bypass us laws they might give them “special attention”.
    Not meaning to scare anybody, and not saying it’ll happen, but something you might want to consider.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on July 26, 2008 by rob

    I think you are correct.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on September 07, 2008 by HavanAndrew with 87 total posts

    It would be interesting to find out about Cubana. I have learned that Cubana has a hands off approach when it comes to personal information being shared with governments and I am not sure how this applies to flights entering U.S. air space. If they do not share the information it would be wiser for Americans traveling to Cuba use Cubana and the package tour company called HolaSun (out of Toronto or Montreal).

  15. Follow up post #15 added on September 08, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    During one of my trips to Cuba last year, I flew Cubana out of Toronto to Havana.  I thought we’d be bypassing Cuban airspace and asked one of the flight crew who told me thats incorrect and that they do fly over US airspace, so assume they must providing this information to US authorities or am sure they wouldnt be allowed to fly over US airspace.

  16. Follow up post #16 added on April 24, 2009 by BillinMontreal

    I am quite a frequent traveller to Cuba, in addition to having some aviation industry background. In reponse to the comments before:

    1) All airlines overflying the US have to file an APIS list which includes passport No., nationality, etc….. That will let Homeland security be aware of who’s on board.

    2) Cubana flights are operated from Canada by Taca, a central american airline. They DO file APIS.

    Just to set the record straight, and to clear all doubt!

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