We decided to try an internal flight if operated by a russian airplane, options were Antonov 24, Ilyushin 62, the 96 again, and the Yakovlev 42. The Il62 flies only outisde the country, to Venezuela and the An24 we never understooed what were the destinations (Cayo Coco, maybe). The possibilities narrowed then to the Yak42 since we had manages to fly the IL96 without the 767 “danger”. Decision was taken ton Sunday 3rd of October to try Santiago de Cuba (SCU), 950km away from HAV, since the hotel asked us almost the triple of the rate of the first two days for extending our stay one night more. Booking online with Cubana is impossible, na internet only exist in some hotels, and some at 56k after passport registration. Cubana de Aviacion office does not open on Sundays so we went to the NH Hotel central Park travel agency in the morning. The lady there was surprised of someone wanting a tikcet for the same day as if such hurry was incompreensibe but was very helpful. We asked if we coulnd buy the tickect at the airport, and she ended up calling a lady called Miriam and we would purchase one for the 19h55 flight if we would be there at 16h. Weird schedule but she confirmed the offciail price of 115 CUC each way. We went a bit earlier, and Terminal 1 is a theing of the past, and just before arriving we saw na outdoor panel against the “Bad management of the Yankee Imperialistas and the European Union”, wich is not visible if you travel to the International terminal. The ticket selling office opened at 15h and Miriam was there and acknowlegded knowing he’d be there but told us to come back at 16h. There was a flight at 16h30, which did not seem to be an option and we were nevel told why even when asking, but as it was operarted with an ATR-42 we didn’t care. At 16h00 I went back and Miriam confirmed we would be able to tarvel on the CU974 but we would had to come back at 17h to finally buy the ticket. So I did and bought it for 115 CUC, but strangely she could not sell the returning ticket despite garanteeing we would have seats. I expressed my surprise and she said it took some phone calls to get that, and printed me a reservation confirmation, so no problem, as we understood each airport employees probably have to get the money from their “ territory”. Now we did not ever see a ticket of receipt for the outboud flight, which is not normal even in Cuba, and she took us to the check-in counter, handled over a small piece of paper which we could not see if handwritten or n e-tkt printout and we were simply cjhecked-in front of everyone waiting in a line. Noone complained and we saw the most abnormal check-in ever, a combination of manual-computer operation: it took ages because the counter had a computer witha reservation system, but the boarding passes were filled in by hand, without our names (the ticket was a scam robing Cubana surely) or tkt number, and they don’t ask where we’d like to sit. Now onece in a while the commis show ingenious approaches to some problems. He had a sheet of paper mapping the cabin, and each seat had a sticker that could be detached and put on the boarding pass, instead of writing down one by one, so we got 11A and 11B.
There is a tktt control so that we then go through normal secuirty and have a waiting lounge, with sub-subpar restaurants and souvenir shops. Toilets are something to go only on desperation.
The YAK was there at least 1h30 hours before STD, and was towed without pax to stand in front of the terminal. It was fully white with cuaban written across the fuselgae, and had the registration CU-T1709. Now that is funny because all internet pictures that can easily be found, have it painted in full Cubana colours, with the red-blue tail. Someone local told us they have accidents that “do not show up on the media”, but that was too much conspiracy theory for us. We then boarded, via bus, and had the chance to see this beauty from close range. It is massive for a 130 pax jet, three turbofan engines and 2 very strong looking 4 wheel bogeys in the main landing gear. When we got to the door, then again we undertand why no one woul by such a thing. The cocpit looked modern and there seem to be something like a head-up-display over the glare instrument panel, but the door was so small that no one above 1.70 (5’7’’) could enter without bending. They have a guy standing there just to tell people to watch out head clearence. Unlike with the IL96 Inside everything had a russian label, even exit signs. The cabin was reasonably spacious but looked very dark and greyish. Just before taxying out we saw a mid size dog wandering around unnoticed in the apron. Since the engines are up in the fuselag, we opted out to keep our mouths shut. It was very cold all the way, during a 1h20 trip, and as soon as we landed at Santiago de Cuba, strong fog was formed as it is a very humid city.

We managed to get out from the tail staircase, something I had only experienced in the 727. Moving along the cabin we saw the emergeny exit doors, and I’d day one should pray never to have to evacuate this plane. These are so low that one must crawl out.

We got back to HAV on the IL96 doing a stopover coming from Barajas. The airplane was 1h30 on ground, and international pax deplaned and reboarded from another part of the terminal. Domestic pax boarded last and then we saw something unbeliable as a method to control borders. We were told to sit out (2 portuguese and 3 venezuelans) in the middle row, at the back, so we would be easy to spot and to leave the HAV airport through the domestic terminal. 1h30 on ground and the airplace was not even cleaned, goes waht saying. So we did, and the other 130 pax, most likely Cubans when we arrived entered the international terminal just in front of the plane, and we took a bus that went all the way to other side of the airport and we left without any problems.

A few days later we left to airport to board again the IL96 to MAD. Despite being amongst the first 10 pax in the ehck-in line, we were “offered because the plane was full” to upgrade to biz class for 200 CUC,, or 170 USD per pax. We told them we had 40 CUC and told them to take that and either to switch us to Iberia/Air europa , or upgrade us. They said no/nogo so we proceed to pay the 25CUC exit visa, and went all the way to the boarding lounge. The duty free had the usual stuff, and many pax purchased “last cigars”. A few shops had less luck, trying to sell Fidel’s book memories and true histories about Cuba, and reserach book on terrorism attacks from the CIA. There was a webcafé that had internet for foreigners and ***intranet** for cuban nationals. A swatch shop did not sell a singlw wacth of the brand. In the plane, not much to say, only the Granma (named after Fidels boat) “newspaper”(normally 8 page long), in its international version (16 pages!!!) was available. Oh, wait, there was “business newspaper”, borderline a joke compared to Financial times. Not many takers for any of them….This time we were give a matress inside a plastic bag. It was not even washed and stank badly. This precious piece of fabric had to be returned to the flight crew two hourd before landing!!.


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