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New airport may entice tour operators to fly to Panama

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The great beaches of Panama are now only accessible through other gateways such as Toronto or Montreal.


The great beaches of Panama are now only accessible through other gateways such as Toronto or Montreal. Photo Store

As you read this column today, this travel guy is on his way to exploring the beaches and sites on the gulf side of southern Florida. But the questions from readers cover a wider geography.


Question: We took a trip to Panama with Transat in 2012. It was a direct flight from here to Panama. On the way there the plane wasn't full. It was completely full on the way back.

They didn't offer direct flights from Winnipeg last year and won't be this year either. I'm surprised by this especially since they are building an airport right in Farallon that is supposed to open in 2014 close to the major resorts.

We said we'd go back when that airport opens, since it will save us the two-hour drive from Panama City. Do you think we'll ever see direct flights to Panama from Winnipeg again?

Answer: It was Transat Holidays who first introduced the flight from Winnipeg.

Even then they had a bit of a strange launch, where it was at first scheduled as a flight with a brief stop in Calgary.

This made no sense and they soon made it non-stop from Winnipeg. It was an excellent destination for those of us craving new sunspot opportunities.

As you point out, some of the flights did fly full but it was not as successful as it should have been.

Perhaps Transat might have continued it in subsequent years, but they also went through a rough financial period. I surmise they were not about to take on more risk than they had too at the time.

The decision proved right for Transat as they have rebounded completely with great profits reported for the last year. While it might be nice to hope they would reinstitute those flights, I am not holding out any hope in that.

Your comments about the new airport are valid.

I took the opportunity to go to Panama in the year it operated and found the late arrival of the flight in Panama, plus the long bus ride to the resorts, very tiring.

The new airport may motivate one of the tour operators to reconsider the destination.

In the meantime, Sunwing Vacations has introduced a new Winnipeg flight to the Grand Bahama Island, which begins its seasonal schedule next week.

Like any business, this destination will only continue to be ours if the tour operator feels confident in a profitable return over the season it operates.


Question: Why is it that every time I take a flight to a sunspot destination, the lineups to get through security are immense and slow going?

They know when charter flights are leaving so why are they not staffing appropriately for those departures?

Answer: That is a fair question and I do think more could be done to accommodate the flow of passengers during these peak periods.

At the same time, research suggests the security process is slower and more costly specifically because of charter passengers such as those that fly to our sunspot destinations.

A recent European report concluded when it comes to scheduled passengers on regular flights, only 10 to 15 per cent of them carry prohibited items, with about a third of them being stopped for a re-examination.

The report also pointed out up to 50 per cent of charter passengers are not following the rules and need to be re-examined.

While these figures may not be the same in Canada, there is little doubt those who travel only occasionally will not be as cognizant of the policies as those who fly regularly.

This not only slows down the process considerably but is also a significant contributor to higher security costs overall.


Question: Do I require any special travel documentation other than my passport and Manitoba health card to visit Cuba? One site was suggesting a visa.

Answer: As a Canadian holiday visitor, you do not need a visa to enter Cuba.

Your passport is what is required. A couple of years ago there was a huge backlash regarding a Cuban press release that suggested people would have to show proof of supplemental insurance before entering the country.

Apparently, many were using the Cuban health-care system and the government was not being reimbursed for the services.

At first it appeared that even as Canadians we would have to show proof of additional coverage. That release was subsequently amended for Canadians to say you only had to show your provincial health card if asked.

That is all you need officially.

As I wrote in my column last week, I have been consistent in advising those many readers who have asked the same question that, notwithstanding the Cuban requirement, each and every person who leaves Canada on a vacation to sunspot destinations should always carry supplemental insurance.

There are limits to what Canadian provinces cover. Specialty air transportation, which may be required to return a person back to Canada, as well as many other needs of the patient, will not be covered.

Supplemental coverage is a fraction of the total cost of the trip. Why people decline these extra coverage protections continues to be a mystery to me.

Forward your travel questions to 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 or read Ron's travel blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 E2

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