Jul 15, 2013, 12:31pm CDT UPDATED: Jul 15, 2013, 2:10 pm CDT
Sun Country now flying to Cuba
John Vomhof Jr.
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal
Sun Country Airlines has begun making regular flights to and from Cuba.
On July 1, the Mendota Heights-based carrier began making two to three
charter flights per day between Miami and Havana on behalf of an
organization called Cuban Travel Services. (Commercial flights are
banned to Cuba, so you won’t see Havana pop up on Sun Country’s website
and the airline won’t be making departures from Minneapolis/St. Paul.)
The organization, which the U.S. Treasury Department has authorized as a
licensed Cuban Service Provider, pays Sun Country by the hour for the
use of its planes. Cuban Travel Services also works with American Airlines.
Sun Country is using its normal 737-800 airplanes, which carry 162
passengers, two pilots and four flight attendants. Most of the
passengers are Cuban-Americans who are making the one-hour flight home
to visit family, or vice versa — and most flights have been full.
Cuban Travel Services and similar groups have been recruiting Sun
Country for years, because of the airline’s experience with flying other
charters around the world, CEO John Fredericksen said.
“We decided now was the time to give it a try and see how it works,” he
Sun Country didn’t have to jump through many hoops to register with the
Treasury Department to provide the flights. Most of the issues were
handled by Cuban Travel Services, though there are still some unique
challenges to flying to Cuba due to the strict U.S. sanctions.
First, Sun Country sends one of its own mechanics on every flight, just
in case there are any issues.
“We’re just not allowed to have anyone do maintenance on our airplanes
besides our own mechanic, because we can’t pay Cubans to do anything,”
Fredericksen said. “We have provisions for the delivery of the parts we
might need, but [if there were any larger issues], we would probably
have to send the parts and more of our mechanics on a separate flight.”
Also, while on the ground in Cuba, a company called Havana Tours handles
all of the fueling, baggage handling and weight-and-balance issues.
“It has to be Cubans doing that,” Fredericksen said. “So those are the
things you’re concerned with from an operational standpoint — just
making sure they know what they’re doing and have the training they
need. … But they’ve been doing that for years, and in our experience so
far, they’re very good at it. And our pilots tell us that flying down
there is a piece of cake, just like flying anyplace else.”
Fredericksen and other Sun Country executives haven’t even made the trip
yet to get a first-hand look at the operations.
“I’m not allowed to go yet,” he said. “We have an application in with
the Treasury Department for some of our personnel to go down there to
monitor the operation and meet with the Havana Tours people, but it’s
going to be a couple more weeks before we get permission.
Sun Country isn’t totally new to flying to Cuba. It also flies charted
flights for the U.S. government to transport people and supplies between
Washington, D.C., and the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.
Source: “Sun Country now flying to Cuba – Minneapolis / St. Paul
Business Journal” –