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Don’t Fly Air France – Paris to Cuba

We have just returned from our trip to Cuba and encountered numerous problems with Air France. Recent reports we have heard are similar to our own experiences and in addition, the service on Air France flights leaves much to be desired. Plus, the planes are often dirty.

Our problems started with a flight from Paris to Havana. After arriving in Havana, we and approximately 50 other passengers didn’t receive our luggage. We were then informed that the Air France office in Havana already had a list of all the passengers whose luggage was not loaded on the aircraft. This list arrived at the Havana office even before the aircraft landed. Nevertheless, the local ground staff didn’t make any announcements and let us wait in vain for approximately two hours before switching off the baggage belts. Still on the belt were around 40 to 50 luggage items, not being collected by anyone. It turned out that this was the luggage of people who arrived the day before. As Air France operates only one flight a day to Havana, it appeared that they decided not to put our luggage on the plane because they needed the space to load the luggage of the passengers that missed out the day before.

After cueing outside the Cuban luggage claim office for more than two hours (and we were towards the start of the line), we were told our luggage would be in Havana the following night but not before 10 p.m. Approximately six hours after landing, we left the airport for our accommodation. Our hosts, who had been waiting patiently for hours, told us that this was a problem commonly encountered by their guests travelling with Air France, and they had assumed this was the reason for our delay.

When we called the luggage claim office the following evening, we were told that our luggage had arrived at the airport, but that it would be impossible to deliver until early the next morning between 8 and 9 a.m. The next morning we waited at our accommodation to receive and sign for our luggage. Most annoyingly, our luggage wasn’t delivered. When we followed up with phone calls later that day (often the person who answered the phone couldn’t speak English so we couldn’t communicate effectively with them, we were told that the driver had to deliver so much luggage that it would take time. We kept waiting and couldn’t go out that day because we needed to present our passports and sign a form upon receipt of the luggage. Consequently, this ruined a whole day of our precious holiday.

In our last telephone call late in the afternoon, we found out that our luggage wouldn’t be delivered to us after all, and that we should pick it up at the airport after 10 p.m. As we intended to leave Havana early the following morning, we had no other choice and took a taxi to the airport. Taxi fares to the airport are rather expensive (approximately $40 USD for a return trip). To our dismay, when we arrived at the airport’s luggage claim office, we were told that our luggage wasn’t there, as the delivery driver hadn’t returned to the airport that night. So we had wasted money for the taxi and still hadn’t received our luggage.

At around 2 a.m. on our third day in Havana, the owner of the casa particular (“hostel”) we were staying at, knocked on our door to tell us he had received a phone call to inform us that our luggage would be delivered to the hostel 20 minutes later. A taxi driver then arrived with our luggage. Although we finally received our luggage, in all our phone calls to Air France in Cuba, we never were offered compensation and only received a miserable $100 USD on the day of our departure two weeks later.

Unfortunately though, this was not the end of our problems encountered with Air France. When we flew out of Havana (back to Europe), our plane was delayed. As a consequence, we missed our connection from Paris to Munich. We arrived in Munich three hours later than planned. On top of that I discovered that my near new, expensive backpack had a number of holes in it, in spite of the fact that I had placed it in a protective bag for the flight.

After reporting the damage, Air France ground staff asked me follow up with their office in my home country (Australia) where we were returning a few days later. At this stage, we don’t know what Air France is going to do about compensation, but from reports we have heard, it is likely we will have a long and strategic battle.

We are frequent international travellers with many different airlines. In our experience, Air France is inferior to every other airline we have flown with. The ground staff at the Havana and Charles de Gaulle airports were extremely unfriendly and unhelpful. None of their staff members even apologised for the inconveniences.

We strongly recommend you DON’T fly with Air France. Boycott them and spread the word. Don’t expose yourself to French chaos and rudeness! In hindsight, we wished we had travelled to Cuba with Virgin Airlines. We haven’t heard any negative reports about them. The British in general are organised and efficient.

We hope we haven’t spoilt your intentions of visiting Cuba. Despite all our negative experiences with Air France, Cuba is a great place and worth the journey (but preferably without the hassles we encountered).