Cuba: Air Chance and The Randomness of Air France
Airlines, in general, don’t have the best reputation and I’ve had a few debates with people as to which is the worst. Funny that we rarely debate which is the best. Most people in the US are divided on the subject but in Europe, it is pretty consistently Air France that people say is the worst. I’ve heard stories of lost luggage late flights and most often stories of bad customer service. So it was with trepidation that we booked our flight to Cuba through Air France. But when it comes to travel to an Island that still suffers from antiquated economic sanctions the choices were limited. Especially when flying from Ireland.
Checking in advance for entry requirements we could see that no shots would be needed, some sites mentioned proof of insurance, and of course, a travel visa would be needed. There are a few options for getting the visa such as getting it at the Cuban embassy in advance or through a tour agency. I checked the Havana airport website for customs information which states, “If you don’t have one you will need to purchase it from the immigration officials upon entry, cost 20 CUC.” I also found that it was possible to get the visa at some airports in advance or through some airlines. So, at reading that I planned to just spend the 20 and get it upon entry to Cuba. I’ve traveled to many countries throughout the world and never had a problem getting a travel visa on entry. Especially countries that are heavily dependant on tourist money.
My travel companion had the ability to leave work and worked closer to the embassy than me, so she had picked her entry visa up at the embassy a week prior. My office, however, was much farther away from the embassy and wasn’t able to get away during the day.
We had already printed our boarding passes but still wanted to check our luggage when arriving at the airport. My bag was small enough to be a carry-on and reading stores (like this one) about Air France delaying peoples luggage to Cuba by a day or two, I thought about carrying it on, but this was a relaxing vacation so I decided to check it. We went to the counter, handed our passports and began the process when the agent asked me for my tourist visa. I informed her that I was going to get one upon arrival. She then told me I couldn’t fly with them as I needed it. This seemed ridiculous to me, so I went to the supervisor who said the same thing.
“Okay, fine,” I said, “I will just get it at Charles de Gaulle.” Where we had plenty of time on the layover to go to the counter that sells them there.
“No, you need to have it now.” She told me.
“I need to have a Cuban travel visa to fly from Dublin to Paris?”
“Yes. It’s our policy.”
“Where does it say that?” I asked.
She didn’t know where it said that, but of course still refused to let us on the plane. We left the counter basically deciding that I would just go through security with my bag and that my travel companion would check her bag and wait and see what the gate agent said. But as my travel companion went to check her bag, she found out that the supervisor had canceled both our tickets. So back to the supervisor we went. After some back-and-forth, she agreed to let us on a flight the next evening from Charles de Gaulle so as to give us time to get the visa. Keep in mind we had plenty of time at the airport to get the visa before catching our second flight, but since she canceled that and rescheduled it for the next day, we were stuck.
I could go on about this conversation, and why it was so frustrating and pointless, but to summarize what happened we took the exact same flight from Dublin to Charles de Gaulle that we were supposed to be on. She was nice enough to charge us€ 500.00 euros each for the changed tickets by the way. Yes, you are reading that correctly, she charged us a €500 euro rescheduling fee for a new flight that she forced us to reschedule.
We had to spend the night at an airport hotel, went back to the airport the next day and bought the visa at the airport before the new flight left. The guy at the counter when we bought the visa, his first response was “Air France?” knowing the reason for our visit to him.
The best part!!!! Wait for it….. At Charles de Gaulle from checking our luggage to boarding the flight, not a single Air France employee asked to see my tourist visa. So for anyone reading, if you are traveling on Air Chance (which I wouldn’t recommend) from Ireland to Cuba, and you don’t have your travel visa with you don’t check your luggage in Ireland. Print the boarding pass and carry on your luggage. But if traveling through France don’t worry about it.
For us, we have never flown Air France since and have no intention of every flying that airline again, if possible.
FYI: Terminal 3 is where to go for the travel visa if you need one at Charles de Gaulle.