Haitian passengers will have fewer options traveling to the nation’s capital beginning Dec. 19.

American Airlines gate at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.

By Carlotta Mohammed

After providing over 40 years of service to Haitian passengers, American Airlines (AA) is reducing its direct flights to Haiti’s capital.

Beginning Dec. 19, passengers will no longer be able to travel on American Airlines from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport or Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport to Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, according to Laura Masvidal, of Global Communications of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Passengers from JFK Airport will have to take a connecting flight from Miami in order to travel to Haiti.

In August, the U.S.-based carrier announced its decision to cut the number of American Airlines flights to Haiti each day from six to three — including one daily flight from Miami to Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, according to Masvidal.

“The scheduled change was slated to go into effect Nov. 3, but has been extended until Dec. 19,” said Masvidal.

Dec. 18 will be the last day of service for passengers from JFK Airport and Fort Lauderdale, according to Masvidal.

“This reduction of service is part of the re-alignment of our network as we consider network priorities,” said Masvidal. “We remain committed to Haiti, but our network is best suited to offer service through Miami, our gateway to the Caribbean.”  

Additionally, AA dropped two destinations from its international route map — Glasgow, Scotland, and Puebla, Mexico — while adding three new ones, all in Europe: Bologna, Italy, and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

“It was a painful but necessary decision, given the economic circumstances, particularly in an environment where the cost of fuel is high,” American said in a letter to Renet Previlon, director of Customs at Toussaint Louverture International Airport.

Prior to its announcement, AA had canceled several weekend flights to Haiti in July amid protests over the rise of fuel prices in the country, according to the Associated Press. After widespread violence erupted in two of the country’s major cities, the Haitian government suspended the fuel price hike.

Although American Airlines has cut its service, Haitian passengers still have the option of taking direct flights on JetBlue to Port-au-Prince out of JFK and Fort Lauderdale.

Delta Airlines announced in August it will also begin offering direct flights from JFK on Saturdays, starting Dec. 22.

Duch Travel Agency in Cambria Heights, NY

David Duchatellier, owner of Duch Travel Agency in Cambria Heights, believes the increased cost of fuel is not the problem for AA.  

“It’s not a fuel thing because the cost of fuel of everywhere,” said Duchatellier. “Wherever the plane goes, the plane uses fuel whether it goes to Haiti, California, or to Texas, they still use fuel.”

Duchatellier added, “They’re probably not making enough money in that market anymore because of other airlines that are in the market. I think that’s what it is,” said Duchatellier. “It’s something that has started happening ever since JetBlue got into the Caribbean market…American Airlines has been moving away from direct flights.”

Haitians living in New York City travel to Haiti but not as much as they used to in the 1990s, according to Duchatellier.

“It’s mostly missionary people and foreigners who have businesses in Haiti that are traveling now,” said Duchatellier. “The planes used to be 80 to 90 percent Haitians, now it’s 50 percent. They’re probably not traveling given the circumstances in Haiti.”

Most Haitian immigrants in the United States arrived before the 2010 earthquake and have formed well-established communities in the New York/Newark metropolitan area, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

From 1990 to 2015, the Haitian immigrant population tripled in size with 165,000 Haitian migrants living in New York City and Newark, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

In 2015, the number of arrivals for Haiti was 516,000. Though Haiti’s number of arrivals fluctuated substantially in recent years, it increased through 1996 to 2015 ending at 516,000, according to Knoema, a data analysis website.

Pascale L., of East Flatbush, who works as a part-time travel agent for Apel, said AA’s service cuts would cause a disruption for Haitian passengers extending their flight time from three hours to seven hours.

“We do not like taking connecting flights, and on the return, this is a really big inconvenience because you do have to clear customs before you reach New York…So when you reach Miami, you have to pull your bags out and check back in,” said Pascale.

With the holiday season just around the corner, there has been a high increase of flights booked with JetBlue to Haiti, said Pascale.

In the past, Haitian passengers have complained about AA’s lack of service and treatment, according to Pascale.

“We do complain a lot sometimes that the service is mediocre…you know the service is disrespectful,” said Pascale. “Clientele say when the flight is delayed they don’t get an apology. They don’t provide hotels and leave them hanging at the airport not telling them what’s going on.”

Pascale added, “Whether the service was good or bad, AA has been the longest flight to Haiti. It was a question of choice or options. We didn’t have other direct flights back then. Delta was in but then pulled out, and now they’re back in again.”

According to Pascale, adaptation will have to play a role in AA’s decision to tweak its international route.

“We do complain a lot when we don’t get things our way and have been faced with no choices, so we’ll have to work with what we have,” said Pascale. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen after December.”

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