My package includes complimentary airport transfers to/from my resort. Air Transat's airport bus was late arriving at my hotel, but punctuality is not a popular thing in Cuban time anyway. I was not at all worried thanks to a huge margin of error in timing before my flight and as it was the airline's shuttle, they would be responsible if we couldn't catch our flight.
Tensions aside, the bus was accompanied by a guide who made a few jokes during the 50-minute journey to the airport, with a final reminder on the processing at the airport (check monitor for the counter numbers, get in the correct check-in line, shops, and immigration), and not to go through security too early as it would get a bit boring in the gate lounge.
There aren't too many flights during the afternoon, and note so many of these go to Canada. Relations with the US are still frosty.
The check-in areas were not too big but there weren't many departures on the monitors. 2 long lines snaked out of Air Transat's plebian economy counters. Having checked in online earlier in the morning, I was surprised that the web check-in line was empty. So instead of waiting at least half an hour to drop my bag, I was done in 10 minutes.
There are a couple of shops land-side selling typical souvenirs such as rum and cigars. The unmanned post office sold only 1 type of postcard, some maps, but no stamps in the glass cabinets. The busiest shop was the cafe.
I looked up the monitors and noticed a revised departure time of 1630. I slowly made my way to the immigration counter, which wasn't crowded anyway. You can see the frosted windows behind the shop in the photo. A cheerful officer processed me and stamped me out albeit slowly. A few more hours to kill from now on.
Air-side, there were plenty of seats, shops selling pretty much the same fare as outside, and a couple of restaurants. Prices were over the roof. International prices would feed quite a lot of families in Cuba.
Wifi is not free in the terminal. Instead, you need to buy certificates with a scratch cold to get on the net. Unlike the ones I buy at the hotel, which are from the same operator, the airport ones only last half as long at 30 minutes.
I wasn't interested in buying American-branded items in the duty-free here, but would you trust buying medicine here? Stethoscope, anyone?
The tarmac seemed fairly quiet after the American jet departed.
I was a bit hungry and eventually caved in to buy a toasted sandwich, paying a crazy amount of money but what else could I do?
Soon, I saw my plane arrive. On my itinerary, it had a "operated by Smartwings" note, which was a bit worrying as the forums have not been kind to this airline. I was relieved to see Air Transat's colours, albeit with an orange addition?
Delayed, everyone frantically boarded and the line backed up. Everyone is in the last zone on this leisure airline.
We ended up departing 2 hours late.
The 737 is a comfortable plane with decent legroom. Smartwings is from the Czech Republic, which is why there is an Eastern European language on the safety card.
As we taxied for take-off, I noticed an Icelandair jet parked on the tarmac. Charter?
We turned north shortly after take-off, but I was able to make out Varadero's long peninsula that makes this place so popular with foreign tourists.
Refugees fleeing the communist government once took to the seas to reach Florida. On the plane, it was a short ride before America came into view.
With a delayed departure, the short 3-hour flight would cross the dinner hour. I ended up buying a sandwich as well.
The menu looked quite nice, a good marketing effort to encourage spending.
Transat is a hybrid type of airline. It isn't really a low-cost airline, as free checked bags were included in my package. They even had a traditional duty free magazine like a full service carrier.
Instead, they refer themselves as a leisure airline. Look at all the sun destinations they fly to from various Canadian cities. Varadero has a respective amount of connectivity.
The skies darkened and we were back in the Canadian winter. We flew over Toronto before looping back for touchdown.
Welcome back to winter.
Air Transat offers an affordable escape from the Canadian winter. Actually, there are several reputable operators that provide these packages, such as Sunwing, and even the traditional carriers Westjet and Air Canada. Buyer beware! Research around for prices and check what is included.
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