Clients have criticised the company in the mainstream media for not arranging for them to leave the island when Irma approached, as Canadian and South American operators did.
But Cook told TTG that a mass airlift from the UK was not possible: “Canadians were able to leave Cuba as this is a round-trip short-haul flight that lands and takes off in one,” said a spokesperson.
“We are sending transatlantic flights that require legal rest stops for crew and pilots and can’t carry out a round trip. It’s a very different situation, so we took the decision to ensure our customers were all in hotels that were built to withstand a hurricane during the storm.” Cook arranged for almost 2,000 clients to relocate to Varadero from Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santa Maria.
“The Cayos were quite badly damaged and joined to the mainland by a causeway; it was the right thing to move people out [of there]. We were working with the Cuban government and it was predicting the path of the hurricane,” the spokesperson added.
In his TTG column this week, Derek Jones, Der Touristik UK chief executive, said the unpredictability of a hurricane’s path meant it was impossible for suppliers to plan for every eventuality. He added: “I think all tour operators took appropriate steps. When bringing everyone home is not a realistic option, moving customers to a safer environment is a sensible thing to do.”
Cook said it expected to repatriate all its Cuba clients from Varadero by today (Thursday). Tui operates to Varadero and Jibacoa, both east of Havana, and to Cayo Santa Maria, an island off the middle of the north coast. Clients on Santa Maria were moved to Varadero by Cuban authorities and will remain there “until further notice”, Tui said.
Both companies are cancelling departures, with Thomson Airways confirming that its Manchester-Cayo Santa Maria flight on September 19 and the Gatwick-Varadero departure on September 21 are cancelled.
Tui is offering cancellation and rebook facilities for anyone due to travel from September 7 to 21. Thomas Cook is offering cancellation and amendments until October 31 for departures to the Cayos and until September 21 for Varadero clients.