After several months of pause, direct flights from Russia to Cuba are about to resume, according to tourism authorities from both countries.
Since March of this year, when Europe closed its airspace to Russian aircraft due to the conflict in Ukraine, the vast majority of direct flights to America had to be suspended.
Until now, the routes to reach these destinations are long, complicated and expensive, and the variants are rather few. Turkey has been the main bridge for travel to and from Russia, but prices are very high and it is often necessary to make one or more stopovers of several hours.
Now, as of October 1, it is planned to restore direct flights to Varadero and Cayo Coco from Moscow. The operator Pegas Touristik has put trips to Cuba on sale by direct flight on the Nordwind airline, with a frequency of 4 times a week in a Boeing 777-300.
However, not everything is so easy and changes and adjustments to plans are not ruled out.
The operator’s website indicates that passengers will spend 13 hours and 10 minutes in flight, which is not much more than the standard duration of a non-stop flight on that route (about 12 and a half hours).
However, under current conditions, a flight through traditional air corridors is ruled out and it is necessary to avoid European airspace. According to some analysts, Nordwind could operate on the northern route, passing through Murmansk, and then skirting the Norwegian coast in a wide arc, crossing the Atlantic, passing between Iceland and Greenland, to descend into the tropics. This is not the first time it has been used, as Aeroflot’s departure flights from Cuba in March took this route. According to various media, in August Nordwind used this route to fly to Caracas (Venezuela); the Boeing 777-300 traveled 11,332 km with a maximum autonomy of 14,685, so flights are possible.
Camilo García, a Cuban aviation expert residing in Russia, agrees with that. “There are no possible alternative routes, that is the only one, since another would be above Africa but it becomes longer. In addition, the northern routes are more favorable for aviation, so they could only do that route. The specialist clarifies that it would be the Boeing 777-300ER, “I specify the model because the 777-300 does not have that flight range capacity,” he says.
But in practice there are complications. First of all, it is necessary to anticipate the fuel reserves that will be needed in the event of having to land at an alternative airport due to weather conditions or other circumstances.
As explained by a specialist to the TourDom.ru page, as travel time increases, airlines will most likely have to give up flying at full capacity and leave seats unoccupied, which will increase the cost for each passenger.
In addition, it would be necessary to determine what could be the possible reserve aerodromes. Difficult task considering that the route passes near the borders of the United States, Canada and also Iceland, where there is a NATO military base. Where to land in an emergency, if doing so in these places could lead to the detention of the aircraft due to sanctions? Not to mention that, in this case, the carrier would also incur large expenses to return hundreds of passengers to Russia.
For the interlocutors of the media, “all these factors explain why none of the Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, has yet resumed flights to Cuba.”
That is why they do not rule out that the plans to fly to the Island can be adjusted, and even include a stopover in Turkey, an option similar to the one announced by another agency, ANEX Tour, for flights to the Dominican Republic and Thailand.
At the moment, tourist packages of 4 to 21 nights are being marketed for both Varadero and Cayo Coco, where it is planned to fly 3 to 4 times a week. The minimum prices per person exceed 100,000 rubles (about $1,800).
Will we be able to fly directly?
At the moment, on the English page of the Nordwind airline, the Moscow-Varadero or Moscow-Cayo Coco route does not even appear. In the Russian version, it refers to the flight search engine aviasales.ru, where it is, at a price of 2032 euros in a single direction, but without any security. Before the purchase attempt, a sign pops up that warns “This ticket is not suitable for tourists. The ticket is already on sale, but there is no guarantee that it will work (…) The flight is scheduled, but it is likely to be canceled.”
In any case, even in the best of cases, in which flights and tourism are really restored, it is possible that many, Russians and Cubans, will be left wanting. Prices will push back more than one, for sure, and it is clear that it would be unrealistic to expect them to go down much.
For the majority of Cubans it is simply not feasible, both for those who want to travel for visits and for purchases, for which they would not “give the bill”, especially if there are severe weight restrictions, as is to be expected due to fuel costs. It will be difficult even for those who are already in Russia and would like to return to their country.
As for Russians, many will perhaps be interested in package tours, generally arguably more competitively priced than just flights, but not all will get to travel for sure due to current economic circumstances.
The daily economy in times of sanctions
More than 80% of Russians partially or totally lost their savings after February 2022, according to the results of a recent survey by the insurance company Alfa Strajovanie, cited by Forbes magazine.
One in five stated that they had lost almost all of their savings, while more than a third of those surveyed have noticed a 20-30% increase in everyday expenses. Only 19% of those surveyed said they had not lost anything. A total of 1,207 Russians between the ages of 18 and 60 participated in the survey. More than half (58%) admit that they have been able to save; however, for 39% it is much more difficult to do so since February. One in five respondents decided to give up the idea of saving after February.
With this scenario, the oven is not for cookies…nor is the pocket for expensive trips.
For this reason, and given other difficulties in traveling to the European Union (which is limiting entry to the Schengen area and to which there are also no direct flights), many Russians prefer to vacation in their own country or in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, for example. Or in Iran, where from January they will be able to travel without a visa.
In the case of Cuba, it can be complicated by “the cost and risk factors of those flights to Varadero or Cayo Coco, adding to this whether the MIR cards (of the payment system) will work or not and what will be the change from rubles to CUP ”, considers Camilo, who also lives and works among Russians.
October is approaching, and we will know if direct flights to Cuba are resumed then and under what conditions. But, in any case, it will continue to be complicated and expensive for ordinary Russians and Cubans, especially those of us who walk around these parts, who in this also pay the piper of conflicts and sanctions.