Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Americans flocking to Cuba for holidays

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The destinations we travel to and our comfort and convenience in getting there form the basis of this week's questions.

QUESTION: Having just returned from Cuba after spring break, I was surprised at the number of Americans I ran into there.

I go to Cuba every year, and with each visit I have come to believe there are more of them. Do you know if my observations are real or is it my imagination?

ANSWER: For all those who treasured the island as a Canadian sanctuary with a few Europeans allowed just for character, you may be in for a future shock.

For quite some time, small numbers of U.S. visitors have been driving north of the border to catch vacation flights to Cuba.

With small changes in U.S. law in 2009, plus favourable publicity about the island as a budget-vacation destination, during the period we have non-stop flights to Cuba (January, February, and March) more Americans visited Cuba than all of Europe combined.

Canada continues to provide the largest source of travellers to the island. But 600,000 U.S. residents were recorded as having visited Cuba last year, and by the end of 2014 that number will be dramatically eclipsed.

So far, the highest percentage of people who travel to Cuba still fall under the friends and relatives category. That, too, is shifting as the law allows Americans to go to Cuba for academic and cultural activities.

The huge Jazz Festival in Cuba would certainly apply, as would other attractions Cuba is adding to their activity options every year.

Given the emerging desire of U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, it is relatively safe to assume most come without the deep political biases that have prevented opening the island to more interactive trade between Cuba and the United States.

QUESTION: I have been one of those that have been waiting for Wi-Fi to be allowed on flights. Now I read that Air Canada will be introducing Wi-Fi as a part of its future planning, and the occasional word of other airlines doing the same has been reaching me as well.

Has there been a change in what is happening out there?

ANSWER: Over the next few months I think I can safely predict every major airline, and certainly those who serve longer-haul destinations, will begin the process of installing Wi-Fi services for their clients.

But full integration may take some years.

No matter what the charges for the service may be, the costs of completing full-scale services on worldwide fleets are very high. And there is concern about which of the competing services to choose.

As one article quoting a senior executive of Hawaiian Airlines said, "We don't want to end up with a Betamax."

This reference back to the commercial war between VHS and Betamax left many who chose the latter videotaping device with pieces of obsolete equipment almost overnight.

With billions of dollars of investment at stake, no airline wants to take the wrong trail.

Almost half of global aircraft already have, or will have by the end of this year, some form of Wi-Fi installed. The challenge is to ensure quality and marketable prices the consumer will be satisfied with.

Nevertheless, the change is coming. Wi-Fi will, over the next decade, become a natural part of our flight-purchase options.

For those who still crave conversations via their smartphones to be a part of this wave, they may be disappointed. Even though the safety concerns seem to have passed, the larger public is opposed, and in this instance, both government and airline corporations seem to be listening.

QUESTION: I love my winter vacations but flying on charter flights is an exercise in maximum discomfort.

The price they charge for their so-called upgrades is atrocious, and many of the these still put you in the same size seat with just a little more legroom, or alternatively have an empty seat in between passengers that I am obviously paying half for in the upgrade price.

Is there not a better way to serve the public who must put up with this annual humiliation?

ANSWER: Yours is likely the most common complaint we hear from vacation-destination flyers that use charter airlines, not just because of price, but for the convenience of a non-stop flight.

It would be a dramatic overstatement to suggest a change may be on the way, but at least one airline in the United States is pursuing what seems to be a new and better option for seating.

Southwest Airlines is introducing what they say will be the widest seats on single-aisle planes. They are expanding the seating to almost 45.2 centimetres from the current 42 cm.

They are not doing this by removing seats. Rather they are moving ahead of the others in introducing new technologies and seat designs to their fleet.

The new seats have been created by building them upon slimmer frames with materials that will still hold up as well as the previous ones did.

Let us hope this commitment to the ordinary traveller may soon take precedence over the race to create more amenities for the high-paying first-class passengers.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 E7

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