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A friend of mine is currently in Cuba and was due to return to the UK on 2 April travelling Holguin> Montreal with Air Canada, and onwards to London Gatwick with BA (single PNR, booking made direct via the Air Canada website).

Yesterday she received an email cancelling her flight but without giving any alternative. Long-distance communication from Cuba can be difficult, so far she has been unable to contact the airline to find out if they will re-book her on an earlier flight.

I have tried to help her from the UK, but the ‘manage my booking’ option just directs me to a toll free number that doesn’t connect. I tried calling their Customer Services number in Canada but, unsurprisingly I suppose, could not get through.

FWIW, she is a UK citizen married to a Cuban citizen/resident but will need to try to extend her 60 day visitor visa (usually the maximum allowed) if she is trapped in Cuba. She is a 15 hour bus journey away from Havana and if possible needs to depart from Holguin. Only a few airlines fly into Holguin, the only realistic alternative would be Condor via Frankfurt, then Lufthansa to UK.

To date I don’t recall seeing many questions about Air Canada and flight cancellations. I am aware that they are offering a flexible change policy right now.

My question is:

  • has anyone else been in this situation with Air Canada since the COVID-19 emergency erupted? Given that her cancelled flight was more than 48 hours away, can we expect Air Canada to email her again in the next couple of days with information about an alternative flight? Any advice (apart from the obvious around continuing efforts to contact the airline)?
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    She should also contact her country's embassy. If she is a UK citizen, see British Embassy Havana. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 15 at 6:56
  • Have you tried calling the other numbers on the Air Canada website? In particular, the number recommended for people in Cuba is a Mexican phone number: 52 55 9138 0280. Toll charges will apply, though. (The number recommended for the UK is 00 800 669 92222, which I assume was the phone number your mentioned that "didn't connect".) – Michael Seifert Mar 15 at 12:11
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    Finally: on more than one occasion, Air Canada has moved/cancelled my flight and re-booked me automatically, without informing me immediately. If you can access the itinerary on their website, you may find that the flight has already been rebooked. However, if it's telling you to call customer service when you do so, it may be that they don't have any obvious alternatives. – Michael Seifert Mar 15 at 12:19
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    British Airways is currently requesting that only people travelling in the next 72 hours attempt to contact them, so they can try to handle those most urgent cases first. There is absolutely no visibility on flights as far as April 2nd. For all we know, there could be a worldwide ban on all flights, or things could have returned to normal (very unlikely) or anything in between. I’m not quite sure anyone would be able to provide alternative plans for that date at this time. So unless she can rebook an a flight leaving like today, making any other plans is probably time wasted :-( – jcaron Mar 15 at 14:06
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    @FreeMan :-) She is on her way home, having managed to get a seat on the overnight Via Azul service to Havana and new flights via Paris and CDG with KLM/Air France. No further contact from Air Canada so far AFAIK, I will post an answer to my question when I’ve got further information. Her spouse is Cuban and needs a visa to enter the UK, so he cannot leave Cuba. – Traveller Mar 18 at 12:20
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Answering my own question:

  • No further contact from Air Canada following the cancellation email

  • It was impossible to contact them via any means

  • With assistance from friends back in the UK (eg looking up flight availability, checking on the status of travel restrictions relevant to potential routing options), my friend managed to get home to the UK by travelling overnight Monday to Havana to board an Iberia flight Havana>Madrid>London, arriving home after c48 hours travelling.

Her spouse does not have residency in the UK so remains behind in Cuba.

So, the answer to what to do in the unprecedented situation we’re all facing is be proactive, don’t wait for events to overtake you. Make your own arrangements to get home.

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Your situation seems to be well in hand... but for others, another option is to contact your own embassy.

As far as the embassy is concerned, this is called "repatriation": returning citizens to homeland. At extremes, they'll send government aircraft*. But far more likely they'll just use their contacts within the airline** to get the flight you already paid for straightened out.

In the event of a government-flown rescue like this, it is common for government X to give courtesy flights to government Y's citizens; so for instance the UK might have their citizens hitch a ride on a US State Dept. flight to Miami, rather than send a flight from the Cayman Islands and then on to (gosh, probably Miami).



* For instance, America's State Dept. has the pull to get a military C-5 sent; some China evacuation was done by a Kalitta Air 747, under contract to the US military. However the State Dept. also has its own internal aircraft fleet also, including turboprops as large as Bombardier Dash-8's.

** e.g. the immigration people the airline work cheek to jowl with, or 2 meters apart these days.

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