In Communist Cuba, the Plane Lands You…

Cubana Air

This is a continuation of the Cuba series – they will be making sporadic appearances over the next few weeks. :)

Vintage airplane, StewardessIf it wasn’t for 1dad1kid we would have come to the Cuban airport completely unprepared for what we were getting ourselves into. I’m not talking about the plush, chic interiors of Virgin Airlines… Cuba isn’t exactly synonymous with glamour.

The parking lot in Cancun is a zoo (with cars fighting with huge ADO buses). It makes me miss the easy parking of Heathrow Airport Parking and Gatwick Airport Parking. I felt incredibly lucky to be in a massive tour bus instead of the small cars dodging kamikaze like ADO buses.

We were bussed to the airplane, incredibly excited about our impending trip. As we looked out of the window, there she was, a 1970s refurbished Soviet airplane in all her glory. Sleek and freshly painted, a set of stairs pushed to the door made it look like we were important ambassadors heading out on some important spy mission.

It wasn’t until you get into the plane that you realize that the outside was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Metal overhead bins.

Cubana Air Russian instructions

Instructions in English AND Russian

The exit signs and safety brochures were in Russian and English. The seats had ash trays. The overhead bins were made of metal. All seats and trays could not be in their upright and locked positions.

You could feel the vintage-ness coming out in full force.

While I should have taken the previous signs as warnings, I was completely taken aback by the next hour that was our flight.

As the plane started it’s shaky take off, the air conditioning came out in full force.

It looked like we were getting gassed.

The humid, wet, cold air clouds came pouring out of not only the air spouts, but the side of the roof near the window seat, and in the middle row.

Ice Crystals on the plane ceiling.

This oozes safety.

This is when I realized there were crystallized ice droplets frozen to the ceiling.

As I looked out into the horizon of the Caribbean, I realized that is is probably in my best interest to actually READ the brochures about water landings. I’m not sure the life preservers would actually float after all this time.

There is one thing I hate the most when flying: The landings.

Our shaky turbulent plane made its way to the runway and my knuckles turned white while grabbing not only Shaun but the armrest, nearly knocking out the ashtray.

The captain somehow landed the plane and the entire cabin burst into cheers and applause.

Do you know how terrifying it is to have the passengers clap like it is some feat that we are alive? I have NEVER been in a cabin where this has occurred. I just assumed that the plane SHOULD land, no applause needed.

In Soviet Russia, the plane rides you.

Have you ever experienced a flight like this one?

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57 Responses to “In Communist Cuba, the Plane Lands You…”

  1. Evan
    August 12, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Hahahahaha, this is too awesome.

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 12:45 am #

      @Evan: The return flight was about the same, adding about a million more probs trying to get home. :P

  2. Shannon Mason
    August 12, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    Yeah, GREAT pictures GREAT story… and I so want to fly on a 70′s era aircraft, they are supposed to be a lot better than the new cattle tubes! (I don’t know about safety though!)

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 12:46 am #

      @Shannon: Thank you! The plane definitely was an experience – not one I want to repeat any time soon. But – as a lover of all things vintage, it was a riot.The fact they are still flying speaks volumes.

  3. Cherie @Technomadia
    August 12, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    Oh goodness… the memories that brings back!

    In 1990, I spent the summer between my junior and senior of high school traveling throughout the Soviet Union as a student ambassador. And we flew a LOT of Aeroflot. Probably some of the same aircraft.. your pictures look so familiar.

    However, in addition to all you describe, upon landing the seats actually folded down! So here we were landing with our hands on the floor bent over. Oh my.

    As a Russian speaker, I remember one time waking up from a nap to seeing the ‘Exit’ sign (In Russian, of course) flashing on our way to landing in Kiev. I was pretty darn freaked out.

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 12:48 am #

      @Cherie: I think I would have pissed myself had I woken up to the Exit sign flashing. I’m already nervous around planes, the thought of a false alarm nearly kills me. LOVE that you had a similar experience though. (Would love to go to Russia one day!)

  4. Sarah
    August 12, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    Even though vintage clothing is all the rage, soon that’ll die out and a new fad will come along.

    VINTAGE AIRLINES.

    It’ll be the cool thing to do, you know, flying in Soviet metal-interior planes.

    And then you can be all like, “Pffftt I was flying in Soviet metal-interior planes before it was all hip and stuff.”

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      @Sarah: LOL! This comment is fantastic! While I would love to say I was doing it before some people, I’m afraid that if more people started flying on them we would see more planes in flames.

  5. Christy @ Technosyncratic
    August 12, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    LOVE the title for this post! It made me laugh out loud before I even clicked. :) And then the humor quickly dissipated as I saw the photos — flying just sucks (even on new planes), so if I was on one of these I’d definitely need a Xanax. =/

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 11:59 am #

      @Christy: I figured it was the most appropriate title I could have given to this post! I mean, we couldn’t stop making the “In Soviet Russia” jokes while on the plane. Good thing they were serving Cuban rum – I took advantage of that.

  6. Garrett
    August 12, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Yikes! I had something on par with a ride from Sao Paulo to La Paz Bolivia, once. It was with Aero Boliviano. It was one of those old school Boeings that had 3 jets in the back – 2 on the sides and one built into the tail.

    • Shannon Mason
      August 12, 2011 at 10:58 am #

      I believe that boeing is a 727, the last time I went on one was in 1997 on Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Pensacola.

      The plane wasn’t so bad, noisy for sure nowadays? I don’t know, but I remember before some of those airlines in SA had 727s they had the BAC 111 (look it up) its a little smaller, and loksmore like the DC9

      I am a major airplane nut, hence I am in love with this post! :)

      • Erica
        August 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

        @Shannon: It is a wee bit noisy for sure but I was more concerned that the seats would not go upright and the bottom cushion would slip off completely.

        I’m glad that you liked the post! I definitely needed to tell it for sure!

        • Shannon Mason
          August 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

          speaking of seats slipping and such… that happened to me on a modern Q400 (Dash 8) I couldn’t understand it myself!

    • Erica
      August 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      @Garrett: Oh man! I would love to hear that story! This plane had a jet built into the tail as well – I wonder if they weren’t a similar make?

  7. Philip Johnson
    August 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I had the same applause experience in South America! Never has the sound of happy clapping made me feel so insecure. Apparently it’s pretty common down there, even though the planes aren’t vintage models. Let’s face it, old school or not, it still doesn’t seem natural for a giant metal box to actually get/stay airborn.

    I flew to Cuba with Aeromexico. Plush.

    • Erica
      August 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

      @Philip: That is good to know for future flights! Seriously though, so disturbing.

    • Shannon Mason
      August 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      Metal box? Are you shape impaired ;) ok ok I’ll stop picking on Erica’s readers.

      FYI what’s funny is I know a lot about airlines yet I’ve never flown outside the USA (other than to Honolulu twice). Cubana isn’t the only one, as Phillip said Aeromexico is another and there’s a couple more I think they aren’t restricted to flying to Cuba unlike US airlines are.

      Oh, you can also fly to Cuba from Canada on Air Canada but you will not be making stops in the USA so if you ever need/want to go back via that route you have options.

      • Erica
        August 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

        @Shannon: Since we were already in the Yucatan, I think all flights out of Cancun are Cubana – but yes, I now know for the future!

  8. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    August 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Seriously, one of the craziest things I’ve ever done is fly with Cubana!!!

    • Erica
      August 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

      @Andi: And you would think that flying would not be so EXTREME!

    • Camels & Chocolate
      August 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

      Remember when our plane caught on fire, Andi, and you were too afraid to tell me because I was a bit fearful of flying at that time? ;-)

  9. Heather
    August 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    I sometimes feel the tiny commuter planes between DC and my hometown of Charlottesville (just 2 hrs away…it’s often a layover to get elsewhere in the US) won’t make it — they’re incredibly loud and every last bit of turbulence is felt. However, I don’t get gassed or have condensation inside the plane O:-) Sounds like applause was necessary!!!! I’ve only had applause on a flight when the pilots got us in much earlier than expected.

    • Erica
      August 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      @Heather: Small commuter planes really freak me out. We flew one almost like that to Barbados since there were next to no people going. Kills me with all the turbulence.

  10. Bethany
    August 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    crazy! I’ve had people clap before for good landings and I’ve been on some shaky ones myself but nothing like this. Only slightly nervewracking to see ice drops IN the plane!!

    • Erica
      August 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      @Bethany: The landing was not bad, just the entirety of the flight. The ice drops did creep me out but I did have to tell myself that thousands of other people had experienced the same thing and are alive.

  11. Lisa @chickybus
    August 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    I love this post….great pics and cool descriptions. Put me right there! PS: I’ve experienced that “applause upon landing” phenomenon and hear you re: why that’s scary and sorta wrong. :)

    • Erica
      August 13, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      @Lisa: Thanks! I’m trying to change up our writing a bit to be more about the stories. :P Yeah, I’m glad someone else agrees that clapping is wrong.

  12. Emily in Chile
    August 14, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    That sounds so scary! The clapping though is just Latin America – I’ve been on LAN flights that were perfectly safe where people clapped when we landed.

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

      @Emily: It is a good thing to know. I wish people told me that was the norm before I went on the plane. :P

  13. dtravelsround
    August 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    Here’s my dilemma: I really want to go to Cuba. Like, really. However, I don’t know if I could get on a plane like that. I’ve been on some flights that left me white-knuckled, but they were all courtesy of newer aircrafts. Then again, if the plane crashed, at least it crashed taking me to Cuba …

  14. Camels & Chocolate
    August 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    I took Cubana, and not only was it the scariest flight of my life—when the smoke started pouring out of the vents, the FA seriously said, “don’t worry about the smoke; it’s not poisonous”(!!!)–but when the plane to get us in Havana was landing, the wheels CAUGHT ON FIRE. Which prompted our outgoing flight to be delayed as we waited a half a day for them to send a replacement plane and, in turn, we missed our connection in Cancun, and Andi (My Beautiful Adventures) wound up missing her med school boards! It was a total disaster.

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      @C&C: I think your flight beats mine by leaps and bounds. I would have flipped my shit if the tire had caught on fire.

  15. Ayngelina
    August 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Oh man I would be very nervous in that plane.

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

      @Ayngelina: Xanax is you need to fly with them.

  16. paul of walkflypinoy.com
    August 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    oh my. that was scary! as a budget traveler, i kinda accepted the fact that i will never have luxury flights, and that uncomfortable, cramped plane rides will always be part of my life. but your descriptions scared the hell outta me! lol. do take care. i love reading your posts! :)

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      @Paul: We have accepted that fact as well in regards to planes. One day I would like to fly first class but I’m not holding my breath for sure. Thank you for your comment! I love when I’m able to meet my readers through comments!

  17. Raymond @ Man On The Lam
    August 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Did the flight attendants wear 70′s garb as well? Love the pics!

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

      @Raymond: The Russian flight attendants did for another flight – orange 70s garb with a golden sickle embroidered on their sleeve. It was SO AWESOME.

  18. Tricia(Geeky Explorers)
    August 15, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    This post made me laugh out loud – I only once had applause on a plane & that was after a particular stormy horrible flight — without all of the throwback 70′s decor. Wow will I have to do some serious research when I start flying outside the US — not sure my heart could take this! :)

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      @Tricia: Not all planes out of the US are this bad – I had never experienced anything to this degree! It was semi hilarious at the time due to the absurdity.

  19. Orlando Hotels
    August 15, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    The applause thing always gets me , but the I think the pilot and the crew love it , keeps them inspired after all flying a plane is quite a task and serious stuff. Great post and pictures

    • Erica
      August 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      @Orlando: Thanks! I’m sure it definitely keeps up their morale!

  20. Federico
    August 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I have had a horrible flight too…in the Philippines…http://www.maitravelsite.com/east-and-se-asia/struck-by-lightning/

    • Erica
      August 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

      @Federico: That is TERRIFYING.

  21. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    August 17, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Luckily, I have never experienced a flight like this.

    But I did learn that back in the day, everyone always applauded when the plane landed. I found this out 15 or so years ago when I was on a large, domestic flight with my grandma. She started clapping during the landing, and everyone stared at her like she was crazy :-)

    But in your case, I think I would have been clapping (and thanking god) too.

    • Erica
      August 18, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      @Stephanie: Oh wow! I had no clue that it used to be the norm. That is so cool to know.

  22. POLLUXjac
    August 18, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Oooh gosh.. This reminds me of a plane I once took from Madrid to Bilbao in Spain. It was with my high school group of maybe 18 people. We were the only ones on the plane, so we each got our own rows but that didn’t matter. We were curled down into our seats as the plane literally sputtered and shook for the whole ride. We didn’t have to wear our seatbelts, but the flight attndants were strapped in the whole time. I tried to sleep so at least if we had died I could have gone peacefully in sleep. Scary!!

    • Erica
      August 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

      @Pollux: That is so scary! At least you had the thought to try and sleep through it (although I’m sure if the plane went down you would wake up). :P I’m so glad I haven’t won the blue ribbon for scariest flight.

  23. Margo
    August 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Yeah, as much as I like vintage in concept, it is not something I like on my airplanes. I have seen frozen condensation before – it was so weird – when we got on the plane it looked like it was filled with smoke, but all these pilots were flying home on the plane and didn’t look concerned, so we weren’t either. And I think there are more cheers upon landings these days for some reason… almost as if we collectively realize how miraculous it all is these days :)

    • Erica
      August 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

      @Margo: We definitely had a LOT of smoke coming out of the sides of the plane. Everyone acted like it was normal so we didn’t worry much – just concerning.

  24. Abby
    August 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Ummmm… Wow. Maybe planes are like cell phones — the new ones seem to malfunction all the time, but the old ones last forever?

    • Erica
      August 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

      @Abby: Just like old cars!

  25. Mack Reynolds
    August 24, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    i saw the title and chuckled, and subsequently had to read the rest of the post. glad you made it out alive. surely, it had some sort of cool draw with its vintage-ness right? i love the caption for the leaky pipe.

    • Erica
      August 24, 2011 at 10:46 am #

      @Mack: :D I’m glad I made it out alive as well. Apparently most people who fly Cubana experience the same thing – which is quite frightening. I found it hilarious (just a bit scary).

  26. Joe
    August 27, 2011 at 4:43 am #

    This is crazy! Had no idea flying into Cuba might look like this. I can’t wait to visit!

    • Erica
      August 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      @Joe: I am so happy that Talon from 1 Dad, 1 Kid gave me the heads up. I think I would have DIED.

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