Left with one lone commercial airline for the rest of 2020
The Nicaraguan government maintains cumbersome requirements for both passengers and crew members, and Avianca continues to be the only airline making trips there. United, Copa and Aeromexico confirmed they would not be flying to Nicaragua in December. American is still on hold.
By Ivan Olivares (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Avianca has unintentionally become the only international airline to fly to and from Nicaragua. The rest of the airlines have now postponed until 2021 any return of their planes to the country’s skies. On Friday, November 14th, the website for Managua’s International Airport showed only three expected flights. All were from Avianca, connecting Managua with San Salvador and Miami. Nothing else appeared on the schedule.
In March, 2020, all the commercial airlines were forced to park their planes in the hangars. At that time, the shutdown was due to national decisions to close borders. Most of the countries on the continent had taken this measure to try and slow the spread of COVID-19. The decision was a hard blow to the tourist sector, but passengers also suffered.
Unable to visit relatives
Edgard Lopez, is a Nicaraguan who emigrated to the United States in the mid-eighties. He was in the habit of making 2-4 trips back each year, to spend time with his family. Now he says: “I’ve been trying to fly to Nicaragua since last May.” Six months later, he’s still unable to do so.
Thinking that the international quarantine would only last a few months, he bought a ticket in May from Aeromexico. The ticket was for a July 31st flight to Nicaragua. However, 15 days before his ticket date, the company sent him an e-mail saying that the flight had been cancelled. They told him his ticket would remain valid for use anytime in the next 365 days.
Anxious to return to Managua to see his wife again, Lopez bought another ticket, this time from Copa. This ticket was for August 31st, but that flight, too, was called off 15 days before the date. This time the company told him they expected to be able to honor his ticket in November or December. “I requested a ticket to fly on December 22nd, and they issued one to me,” Lopez recalls.
Cancelled flights and price gouging
This time, the cancellation notice arrived well before his expected travel date. In the first week of November, Lopez received another e-mail advising that his flight was cancelled. They didn’t give any reason, but they offered to reimburse him or issue him a ticket for a later date. He then requested a ticket to travel to Costa Rica, where there are frequent flights to a number of destinations.
While it’s now probable that he’ll be able to see his family shortly before Christmas, he paid a high price. Aeromexico wouldn’t refund the 470 dollars he paid for the suspended ticket. They merely issued him a voucher to buy another ticket whenever he chose.
Meanwhile, the US $450 he paid Copa for the flight initially scheduled for August, became a thousand. That’s the current cost of the Los Angeles – Panama – San Jose trip. Panama is the hub of that airline company, and an obligatory point of transfer. Edgard’s expenses didn’t stop there. He still has to pay for the trip overland from San Jose to Managua.
Tourism companies closed
Not only individual citizens have been affected by fallout from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The Nicaraguan tourist companies are also hurting from the lack of clients. There are no longer visitors needing food, lodging, transportation and all the other services associated with tourism.
Adan Gaitan is the owner and director of the travel agency and tourist services company Munditur Tours. Jose Solorzano, is the franchise owner of the Holiday Inn – Convention Center in Managua. Both these businessmen are struggling to stay afloat, while watching their clientele disappear. They hang on to hopes that things will – perhaps – improve in 2021.
Solorzano says he no longer has any hopes of seeing some recuperation, even slight, in what’s left of the year. “I don’t believe there’ll be any changes from now until January,” he reasons. “Europe has shut down again, Meanwhile, the US remains locked in its electoral process aftermath, while seeking a way to contain a second COVID wave.”
Not expecting American Airlines
“American Airlines already announced they’re not coming,” the hotel owner notes. In view of this, he concludes: “This year has already been lost. There aren’t any more hopes of seeing some recovery in November and December, the best months. After that come January, February, and March, the worst months for us. God help us.” American Airlines had previously announced a December 2nd return to Managua. However, this remains unconfirmed, nor are there any further signs of this from the company.
In contrast, Solorzano observes that Panama has already opened their air borders. Authorities decided to test people right at the airport, charging fifty dollars for the test. The passenger who is healthy can enter. Those who test positive must turn around. Or, they can pay the cost of quarantining in a special hotel that’s been outfitted with biosecurity measures. That measure not only helps maintain the country’s airline connectivity, but also supports the recovery of the hotel industry.
Such a scheme would have been useful for Gaitan of Munditur. Instead, he’s seen his reservations cancelled, one after the other. The cancellations have come from tourists who come regularly, year after year. There’s the Best Western franchise owner who comes with his friends to stay in Las Mercedes or Montelimar. But there’s also a group of mountaineers who come for several days to fish.
Trouble at the airport when trying to come to Nicaragua
One of them did decide to come to Nicaragua, Gaitan comments. However, there were “a ton of requirements to get on the airplane. We agree that safety measures should be practiced. But they need to find a way to make these more flexible, so that the passengers don’t feel uncomfortable.”
Avianca has reported that many passengers with tickets are rejected at the gate. They lose their flights for not having all the paperwork required by the Ortega government in Nicaragua.