US Airlines has still not decided to return to Nicaragua

American, United and Spirit are still reluctant to return to Nicaragua.

By Ivan Olivares (Confidential)

HAVANA TIMES – The Ortega-Murillo government’s decision to eliminate the requirement that travelers entering Nicaragua test negative for Covid-19 is insufficient to encourage the return of US airlines that left the country in March 2020 , due to the world border closing, and that two years later is the only destination in the region to which they remain absent.

When the number of deaths and infections from the disease began to decline, as the number of people vaccinated increased, countries and airlines created protocols to transport passengers with a certain level of safety, which allowed companies such as Avianca, COPA and Mexicana to return to Nicaraguan Sky.

However, the absence of competitors such as American Airlines, United or Spirit, which fly from Nicaragua to various destinations in the United States, makes us less competitive, since it is cheaper to fly from San José or Panama to cities Americans such as Miami, than to fly from Managua.

The return of Avianca, Copa and Mexicana was not an easy decision, due to the requirement imposed by the Ortega-Murillo administration to require crews to show negative results for the PCR test, which detects Covid. -19, as well as the requirement to send in advance the list of passengers to be transported.

“Given that the companies were already aware of the issue, I assume, logically, that they are doing their analysis to make a decision based on their own interests,” said Lucy Valenti, president of the National Chamber of Tourism. Confidential.

Three problems for the return of American airlines

By eliminating the PCR test requirement, the Nicaraguan government has nearly solved one of three issues that have been preventing US airlines from returning to the country. Almost, because if a crew member is not vaccinated (and it is not compulsory to be vaccinated), the PCR would have to be required, which further complicates the composition of the crews, which is an extremely dynamic activity, and therefore makes difficult to comply with this requirement.

The second is to submit the passenger list 72 hours in advance, for both departing and arriving aircraft. The latter is a problem, as 90% of the passengers boarding these flights come from different destinations in the United States and other countries, which makes it very difficult to meet this requirement.

The routine is for the government to review the list and then send it back to the airline, which uses it to authorize boarding of its planes, if the passenger is on the list. But if a passenger arrives from another destination inside or outside the United States, traveling with another airline, that passenger will not learn that he is not accepted until he arrives at the airport.

In these cases, the passenger can demand to be paid for accommodation and a return ticket, and the companies do not want to bear these costs, simply because the Nicaraguan government has rejected someone.

Valenti said that while the government says companies such as Avianca can comply with this requirement, it’s because 90% of passengers who use this company to travel to Nicaragua come from Florida.

The third element is a problem of methodology. Valenti further explained that the airlines have their own digitized systems, but the Nicaraguan government requires them to send the information in Excel, which implies that the airlines must have additional staff to fill in these forms, which is inefficient. .

The additional cost of the flight to Nicaragua

The fact that there are fewer companies serving the same destination is another form of inefficiency that ends up being paid for, first of all, by passengers, and in the medium term, by the whole country. This is because since it is so expensive to travel to and from the United States, it reduces the competitiveness of the country, in addition to the limitation which means that there are few seats available to enter or leave Nicaragua.

Another tourism industry source, who asked not to be named, believes airlines operating on the Nicaragua-US route are “taking advantage of the lack of competition to compensate – as much as they can – what they lost during the time they had to leave their planes on the ground.

Currently, tickets available to travel between Managua and Miami cost between $900 and $1,000, while flying to that same Florida city from other Central American capitals using American Airlines or Spirit, the low-cost airline, costs $300-400.

This causes many to choose to travel to San Jose or Tegucigalpa to fly to Florida or the US East Coast; or by United Airlines if they’re looking for a destination in Texas or California, so they don’t have to fly to Miami.

The option of boarding a charter flight also ceased to be attractive to travelers, after the US airline contracted to operate a flight to Miami in December failed for four consecutive days to transport passengers, so they had to be refunded, and no one contracted another airline to try again.

All this had such an impact that in 2021 the arrival of tourists to Nicaragua was reduced by 30.5% (or 137,000 fewer people), compared to 2020, Valenti said, citing the satellite account Tourism, published by the Central Bank of Nicaragua.

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