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On September 7, 2016, American Airlines completed its first commercial flight to Cuba since 1961, and TPG Contributor Michael Spelfogel was on board to experience the historical event. In the three weeks since, American has ramped up to eight daily flights from Miami to the formerly restricted island. However, the carrier learned the hard way that travel remains more restricted than expected.
Most of American Airlines’ Cuban flights fly out and back in the same day, meaning that the aircraft and crew don’t spend the night in Cuba. However, upon arrival of the first American Airlines flight to Varadero, Cuba, one Cuban-born flight attendant received a less than pleasant welcome to his birth country. As a Cuban-born American who doesn’t have a Cuban passport, he was barred entry into Cuba — even for just the necessary overnight rest period.
It seems American Airlines was blindsided by this refusal. After this incident, AA reached out to Cuban officials to find out what the requirements are for Cuban-born crew. Cuban authorities reportedly responded that all American Airlines crew members born in Cuba after 1970 are required to have a Cuban passport to gain entry into Cuba. Since most Cuban Americans don’t have a Cuban passport, any Cuban-born crew members under the age of 46 are effectively barred from flights requiring an overnight stay in Cuba.
To its credit, American Airlines isn’t penalizing the affected crew for the unexpected grounding. According to a memo received by the Miami Herald, the carrier will continue to pay affected crew members:
Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crew members.
Cuban-born crew can continue to work flights to Cuba that don’t require an overnight stay. Cuban officials have even said that they’ll allow exceptions to its rules for “extenuating circumstances” — such as a mechanical delay forcing a Cuban-born crew member to stay an unplanned overnight.
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