Arriving in Cuba, Be Prepared to Wait

Fernando Ravsberg

Chaos at Havana's main airport.
Chaos at Havana’s main airport.

HAVANA TIMES – The tourist arriving in Cuba these days receives a warm welcome; the waiting area for luggage is without air conditioning. In any other airport you could say it is not such a big deal but Havana is a different story as we spent 90 minutes until the first bag appeared.

The chaos on Monday was much greater than in the past. It took 2 hours for the health inspectors to appear. People who brought food had to wait patiently because customs would not let them leave without their corresponding dried fruits passing inspection.

When we go through immigration, the only thing that seems to work at a normal speed, there was no information posted as which carousel our bags were to appear on.  After a while our flight number was put on above one of the bands and after waiting there 45 minutes we were changed to another carousel without notice.

Waiting for their baggage.
Waiting for their baggage.

In fact there weren’t that many passengers, just about 4 flights. Seeing the chaos I was wondering what will happen in the future when US tourism is no longer prohibited and booms? What will happen when they receive 10 aircraft at the same time? How long with the tourists have to wait?

Is the energy crisis so serious that they leave the airport without air conditioning when it is crowded with tourists? This is the face of Cuba, the first a tourist sees. Leaving them in a fish bowl, dripping with sweat and waiting three hours for their luggage does not seem the best incentive to return.


10 thoughts on “Arriving in Cuba, Be Prepared to Wait

  • August 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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    Sorry Richard, I was combining the two posts.

    That said my point stands. The situation was not by any means “traumatic” and there was zero reason for Balbina to be “freaked out.”

    If they want to be a drama queen, fine. But their reaction has no basis in reality.

  • August 1, 2016 at 10:08 am
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    I think you combining what Balbina wrote and what I wrote. My response was only to you, and it was simply to suggest that your question points only to what an individual knows subjectively. Objectively, especially for my African-American friends and colleagues, personal knowledge of one’s innocence does not guarantee one’s safety. One is still categorized by some others as potentially dangerous.

  • July 31, 2016 at 1:22 pm
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    Sorry, I don’t understand your reply, but my only point was that your experience as described was not “traumatic” and there was zero reason for you to be “freaked out.”

    Cuba is approaching 4,000,000 foreign visitors to an island with barely 11,000,000 local residents. It’s not some crazy hellhole destination where Customs/Immigration or the police run wild, shaking down foreigners.

    It’s an extremely popular destination that strongly protects its reputation as a safe, predictable destination for tourists.

  • July 31, 2016 at 6:56 am
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    Some law enforcement officers are on edge and act as if they have had little training in seeing and understanding how their authority works. I have not been freaked out in these situations but that may be because I don’t watch TV or internet streams of police shooting people in what appear in descriptive accounts have been non-dangerous encounters.

    Fear is not determined just by one’s accounting of whether or not one’s internal moral house is in order. God also gave us eyes to see the world around us. Many of us do that, and make judgments on the basis of what we see.

  • July 21, 2016 at 12:59 pm
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    Why were you freaking out when you did nothing wrong and thus had nothing to fear? Why all the drama?

  • July 20, 2016 at 4:26 pm
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    No, it’s not the black market, it’s simply people bringing in stuff that’s not easily available in Cuba.

    They declare it, pay the duty and legally walk out with the goods. Same as anywhere in the world.

  • July 20, 2016 at 2:18 am
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    Well my friend, if you want the comforts of home, with all due respect, then stay home. You are traveling to a very tropical third world country, the hot humid air is part of the allure as are the inexplicable delays and “procedures.” 🙂 Whenever I go through, my only concern is trying to get through the airport with paying minimal “taxes.”

  • July 20, 2016 at 1:39 am
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    Fernando, sorry Cuba was such a shock to you. Welcome to international travel to many developing countries all over the world.

    Maybe stick to Disneyland next time. They have air conditioning.

  • July 19, 2016 at 10:46 pm
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    In my travels to various Cuban airports over the past decade or so, I have yet to experience anything even close to that kinds of waiting that Fernando writes about here. My experience has almost universally been that the Cuban customs and security process is substantially more efficient than what I routinely see happening in Canada and (even worse) the US.

    Bringing food into another country is always going to be an issue though. You’re going to wait, and be inspected, and questioned, and probably get your food seized — pretty much anywhere you go.

    There’s a pretty sure fire system that I have for smooth as silk customs processing in most countries. Look at the list of things that you have to declare on the customs or entry visa forms. If it’s a “yes or no” question — don’t bring any of those things. If it’s a “how much” question — make sure you are below that threshold.

  • July 19, 2016 at 2:15 pm
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    The delays are caused by each and every piece of baggage being subjected to X-ray examination prior to being placed on the carousel. For tourists it is instructive because it provides an early introduction to the Cuban custom of giving a shrug of the shoulders and saying: “Es Cuba.”

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