United Airlines Crew Stranded In Havana- Airport, Government, Hotel, and Personnel Provided Everything

On 8 February 2017, United Flight 1502, a Boeing 737-800, was scheduled to depart Jose Marti International Airport (HAV) to Newark International Airport (EWR) at 2:53 pm.  It did not.

A snowstorm was scheduled to impact the New York City Metropolitan Area during the morning and mid-afternoon of 9 February 2017, so United Airlines and other carriers cancelled in advance approximately 1,800 flights, including Flight 1502.

While passengers confirmed on Flight 1502 were re-booked for 10 February 2017, there was the issue of how to accommodate the ten-person crew (two pilots, four flight attendants, one mechanic, and five security personnel) who had travelled on 8 February 2017 from EWR to HAV on United Flight 1501 expecting to return the same day on Flight 1502.

Since the resumption of regularly-scheduled airline flights between the United States and the Republic of Cuba commenced in 2016, there have been no reported instances of crews being stranded in the Republic of Cuba; and the Civil Aviation Arrangement signed by the governments in 2016 does completely anticipate for crews to be accommodated.  Thus, the crew of Flight 1502 on 8 February 2017 became the first to encounter an issue. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba (MINREX) granted emergency visas to the crew and the they were transported to the Four Points Sheraton Havana, managed by Stamford, Connecticut-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (a subsidiary of Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott International) since 16 June 2016.

The crew of United Airlines flight 1502 were not prepared for an overnight- only one had an overnight bag with clothing or toiletries.  Amongst the ten crew, they had approximately US$200.00 in United States currency.

The management of the Four Points Sheraton Havana placed some of the crew in newly-renovated rooms, others in rooms that have yet to be renovated, provided them with two-plus hours of internet access per day, provided meals, arranged tours of the city of Havana and, most importantly, arranged for the crew to access the Lost & Found for articles of clothing (including bathing suits), which had been washed, so that the crew could have their uniforms cleaned.  Unknown if United Airlines will be receiving an invoice for the services provided to the crew.

At HAV, the United Airlines aircraft had been sealed on 8 February 2017.  Unfortunately, the catering which had been loaded at EWR on the morning of 8 February 2017 was left on the aircraft until the late morning of 10 February 2017 because air carriers do not permit non-company personnel to enter an aircraft without being accompanied by company personnel.  Unknown is the reason(s) for not removing the catering from the aircraft on 8 February 2017.  All the prepared meals had spoiled, permeated the aircraft, and had to be discarded.  On 10 February 2017, catering personnel at HAV removed all the spoiled food and cleaned the galleys.

The catering personnel at HAV offered to fully-provision the flight, but United Airlines would only authorize bottled water reportedly for sanitary reasons and lack of a catering contract.

Unknown as to the reason(s) that United Airlines did not secure the aircraft on 8 February 2017 and send the crew to Houston on another United Airlines flight and/or send the aircraft to a location in the United States.