When we arrived at the Habana airport for check-in, on time at 5.00am, our que was practically out the door. We finally reached the counter and were offered an upgrade to 1st class. The guy with the offer disappeared for a good while and we started to really cotton-on that there was something wrong.
There are a few odd scenarios, that in retrospect, I wish I’d made a greater effort to document: for example, the SWAT team in full get-up with polished black boots and automatic weapons, probing that beach in Mexico for hippies to interrogate; this is another.
When the guy with the offer finally returned he explained that the flight had been over-sold. If the last two passengers for 1st class don’t show we can have their seats. It doesn’t work out. When I asked who to speak to regarding our expenses, he pointed to the Cubana de Aviación Representative, who was explaining the situation to the 70 (approx.) Mexican passengers who were behind us. They are slowly surrounding him, ready to pounce.
All my confusion about the calm and collected guests on Mexican talk-shows was put to rest when these passengers just exploded. The smallest Mexican lady of the group was the loudest and most exacting. It was evident that the Cubana Representative had no intention of offering the reasonable resolution you’d expect.
The situation fairly quickly escalates to a protest chant and we later learnt that the Cubana Rep. had threatened to take some of the ringleaders to jail. The replies from the Mexicans were “no problem, call my embassy” and “if he goes, I will go, we will all go!” The Cubana Rep. high-tails it to his office with protest in tow and so the most combatant squeeze into his tiny office.
The Cubana Rep. continues to quietly nod his head, pretending to listen and the one-sided negotiations go nowhere. It’s obvious to the entire airport that there’s a scene when another tiny Mexican woman, who in all likelihood has lost her job as a result, curses Fidel. She would later beat up her luggage, screaming in frustration. Airport operations are at a stand-still with the majority of passengers refusing to budge from the check-in counter.
A number of passengers had actually witnessed this occurrence before, because as it turns out, it’s standard practice for Cubana to over-sell the Havana to Mexico City flight and if possible avoid any type of reimbursement. In this case however, the Cubana Rep. eventually offers what he’s contractually obliged to. We receive free bus transfers to and from a huge hotel room somewhere near the Marina Hemingway and three square meals to carry us over till the next day. We order breakfast around 9/9.30am (I have bacon for the first time in seven weeks) and have hot showers, now that’s a plus.