When I was offered a press trip with Air Transat to Cuba, I hesitated.
Only two months ago, Hurricane Irma ripped through the country, leaving a path of wreckage and destruction.
I’d seen the photos on the internet. Would Cuba really be ready for travellers so soon?
And then I realized—that’s what I was going there to find out.
This trip would be very different from other press trips I’d been on in the past. I wouldn’t be enjoying everything the destination had to offer and writing about it. I wouldn’t be lying on the beach, hiking through the trails, or roadtripping on my own.
I’d have the opportunity to see the destruction and reparation efforts first-hand. I’d take notes and photographs in places that travellers couldn’t get to yet, like a “real” journalist.
Plus, because the airports had been badly damaged, we couldn’t land a full-sized plane there.
So we got to take a private jet.
When I travel, I try to keep my expectations low to avoid disappointment. When I was first told we’d be going on a private jet, I imagined a small plane, like those rickety, noisy ones that fly between small cities.
Oh, was I wrong.
Beige leather cushioned seats, polished wood interior, carpeted floors, and a bathroom that puts mine to shame were mine to enjoy for the next three days. Not to mention I got to go up and chat with the pilots, put my feet up on the couch and was poured a glass of champagne as soon as we took off.
For someone who typically takes the cheapest economy flights, stays in hostels and eats street food, you could call this a MAJOR improvement. I felt like the Prime Minister.
We were lucky enough to fly the private jet from Cayo Coco to Cayo Santa Maria to Varadero. At every stop, we met with tourism professionals and managers of hotels. We toured (what seemed like) ENDLESS properties (read about my favourites here and the restoration I saw in Cuba here). But what made each long day better was knowing I didn’t have to lug a suitcase through security, check in online or arrive hours before my boarding time.
I just had to waltz through the VIP area of the airport and straight onto my private jet.
However, nothing is perfect. I’m about an inch too tall to stand up comfortably in the plane, and for the majority of our flights I was stuck in a rather narrow seat surrounded by 3 other passengers. Some seats face backwards which is kind of strange and not ideal if you get motion sick.
We were warned that take-off and landing could be bumpy, but honestly, it was some of the smoothest flying I’ve ever experienced. I even cozied up for a solid nap on the couch in the back.
When we made it back to Montreal, I was sad, but ready, to disembark our private jet. Customs officials came on board to ask what we were bringing back (rum and cigars, of course). Then we walked right off, easy as can be.
By that point, the VIP-experience had gotten to be a little much for me. Although I enjoyed it immensely, the experience helped me reground who I am.
I’m not a fancy traveller. I’m not famous. I don’t stay in boutique hotels or eat steak and lobster every night. I don’t wake up with champagne and fall asleep with expensive rum.
I’m just a girl in leggings and hiking boots with a travel addiction. I stay at hostels, not all-inclusives, and I travel by bus more than anything else. As magical as the experience of a private jet was, I think I appreciated it more because it’s SO irregular for me. And now, I’m happy to return to my legging/public transit/backpacker world.
(Please remind me of that next time I fly economy.)