People wait outside José Martí International Airport in Havana in 2009 for friends and relatives arriving from the United States. Fees levied on flights from the United States are many times higher than for any others. ASSOCAITED PRESS FILE
Fees for Americans a Sore Spot in Cuba Travel
By Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
TAMPA — The battle for the Cuban charter flight business out of Tampa International Airport has landed in federal court, exposing what U.S. citizens must pay the secretive Cuban government for use of Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
The annual total is somewhere between $31 million and $62 million — more than any other nation pays, said one Cuba analyst — enough to make critics question whether the fee is covering actual costs or going to support Cuba’s ruling Castro regime.
Tampa International Airport, by comparison, received $14.6 million in landing fees during 2014 for flights from airlines based in every nation that lands here.
On a per-flight basis, the same U.S. plane that pays $275 for landing fees at Tampa International pays up to $24,000 in Havana.
The cost estimates on U.S.-Cuba flights is based on two factors: the revelation in court documents that landing fees range as high as $148 for each U.S. passenger, coupled with the projection that two-thirds of the 635,000 Americans traveling to the island nation in 2014 are destined for the capital city of Havana.
“It is a way to get more money off the U.S. since the U.S. government blocks it from making money in other ways,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a policy analyst for the Cuban government from 1992-94 who now is an academic in Denver and an advocate for better relations between Cuba and the U.S.
Lopez-Levy said the U.S. is the only nation in the world that pays such high fees to land in Havana.
The $148 figure is included in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami pitting one company that offered flights between Tampa and Cuba against another.
Miami-based Island Travel & Tours alleges in the suit that Cypress, California-based Cuba Travel Services sets ticket prices artificially low to drive out competition, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Island Travel Tours began offering charter flights to Cuba from Tampa in October 2011. Cuba Travel Services entered the market in December.
In May, Island Travel Tours ceased flights out of Tampa. It continues to fly to Havana out of Miami.
At that time, in an interview with the Tribune, company President Bill Hauf blamed saturation of the charter flight industry from Tampa International Airport to Cuba coupled with predatory pricing by his competitor.
Now the court will take up the allegations.
In its lawsuit, Island Travel Tours lays out all fees charged to U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba in an attempt to demonstrate that Cuba Charter Services undercut prices:
♦$58.90 per passenger in United States passenger fees;
♦$148 per passenger for a José Martí International Airport landing fee;
♦$46 per passenger for a Cuba required medical insurance fee.
Story continues here: US Tourists Fund Regime