What to Know About Flying to Cuba

Until regularly scheduled air service on established carriers begins, plan for an atypical experience when you fly to Cuba. Right now, the only way to get there by air from the United States is through a charter company. Some charters lease planes from American Airlines or JetBlue; others have their own. When you travel with insightCuba, we will do most of the paperwork that goes along with buying a ticket to Cuba. However, there are still some important aspects of air travel to Cuba that you need to prepare for.

First, online booking and paperless travel are not yet available. That means your travel agency or charter company will send you paper documents that you will need to keep with you as you travel to and from Cuba. Don’t lose them.

InsightCuba offers everyone who books a flight package one free checked bag, Cuban airport departure tax, a Cuban visa, and priority check-in at Miami International Airport. That last part is important. Because charter companies are required to submit detailed passenger manifests and extra paperwork to the United States Treasury Department, check-in occurs four hours before scheduled take off.  That means your 8 a.m. flight has a 4 a.m. check-in time! Be sure to get a good sleep the night before; as soon as you arrive in Havana, you will hit the ground running. 

During check-in, you will see many of your fellow passengers carrying numerous bags and even large flat-screen TVs. Don’t worry: you didn’t under pack. Consumer goods are costly and hard to find in Cuba, so many people carry them back in their luggage. 

Now, get ready to walk! The charter companies have no mercy on your feet, and often get the farthest gates from the security checkpoint. Grab a water or coffee and take your time. (Remember: Your flight probably doesn’t leave for another three hours.)

Cafe at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba  Photo credit: Robin Thom

The boarding process is much the same as for regular carriers, and everyone will have an assigned seat. If you want extra legroom, ask for a seat up front or in the emergency exit row. (Because you’re an English speaker, the flight attendants will probably ask that you sit there anyway.) Don’t get too comfortable: the flight is about 45 minutes (35 if there’s a good tailwind.)

You will arrive at Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. There is no jet way, so you will have to go down the stairs and walk across the tarmac. Your first stop will be immigration. Don’t be surprised if a state security officer pulls you aside and questions you about your visit and life in the United States. This is normal. The officer might ask to see your passport and travel itinerary, as well.

Once you go through passport control, you’ll have to get your bags. If you need to sit down, begin scoping out a seat as soon as you get to the baggage claim. There are few chairs and lots of people. A representative from the Cuban travel agency will likely round you all up and help you get your bags. Sometimes, bags end up on other flights and arrive as much as an hour later. Be patient. If, for some reason, your bags get delayed more than an hour, we will help you put in a claim form and you will return to the airport later to retrieve your luggage. This is not common, but it is possible. Of course, the best way to avoid the baggage-claim process is to travel with carry-ons only.

InsightCuba knows that traveling to Cuba comes with plenty of questions. We will be with you every step of the way to make sure your experience flying to and from the island goes as smoothly as possible. For more information on insightCuba’s tours, call 800-450-CUBA (2822). To stay connected with insightCuba, follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/insightcuba, Twitter @insightcuba or Instagram @insightCuba

Five things to remember about air travel to Cuba:

1)    Get a flight package with your trip through insightCuba

2)    Set your alarm clock and get a good night’s sleep if you have an early departure time

3)    Be ready for a walk to the gate at the airport in Miami

4)    Buy a water before boarding your flight so you have something to drink once you get to Cuba

5)    Be patient waiting for your luggage, or avoid the baggage claim and bring only carry-ons

Written by Graham Sowa