State-owned Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) has until tomorrow to respond to a lawsuit filed by a Florida-based travel service provider that has accused this country’s national carrier for accepting payments from United States citizens to provide transportation for their Cuban relatives to travel between Cuba and Guyana to access US consular services.
In its court filings in the United State District Court for the Southern District of Florida on September 23, obtained by Guardian Media, Volando.US Corporation is claiming that this country’s national carrier breached US Cuban Asset Control Regulations (CACR).
Under the regulations, foreign airlines are barred from providing air transportation services between Cuba and third countries for Cuban nationals, when such services have a nexus to the US.
The regulations only permit such services if it is done through companies, which are licensed by the Office of the Foreign Assets Control in the US Department of the Treasury (OFAC).
“The Defendant foreign airline is unabashedly violating the CACR and infringing on Volando’s property rights conferred in the OFAC-specific license by providing air transportation with a US nexus to Cuban nationals between Havana, Cuba, and Georgetown, Guyana,” Volando’s lawyers claimed.
“The impermissible US nexus includes advertising these air transportation services through US-based social media sites, receiving airfare paid by US persons on behalf of their relatives in Cuba (the Cuban nationals), and/or receiving or accepting payments in US dollars or through US bank-issued credit cards,” they added.
Volando is claiming that CAL’s alleged activity harmed its business interests and flouted the licensing regime, to which it subscribes.
“In response to Volando’s demands, Defendant appears to have continued its prohibited and infringing conduct by creating a layover connection between Havana and Georgetown through Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. This makes it appear as though Defendant no longer offers the infringing Havana to Georgetown route. Additionally, upon information ant belief, Defendant is reserving bookings for the infringing flights to make it appear that such flights are unavailable so that such bookings can then be transferred to Cuban national passengers in exchange for US dollar payments at a later time. This is called “churning,” and is illegal in the aviation travel industry,” the lawsuit stated.
Volando is claiming that it obtained its license in September 2021 after a thorough federal vetting process which cost it “great time and expense.”
In addition, the license allows Volando to charter flights between José Martí International Airport in Havana and other countries, receive assistance from Havanatur — a Cuban travel agency — and pay the Cuban government for landing fees and ground services, according to the suit.
Volando said a license is required because of the CACR, which prohibits US citizens from doing business with Cuba and its citizens, and that Caribbean Airlines still needs a license because it advertises in the US, according to its suit.
“Defendant is continuing to violate the CACR by providing the unlawful air transportation from Havana to Georgetown with the impermissible US nexus, thus infringing on Volando’s valuable property rights conferred by its fairly obtained OFAC license,” Volando said in its suit.
In the court filings, Volando also claimed that CAL is aware of the license requirement and unsuccessfully sought to obtain one in the past.
It alleged that after it made numerous demands for CAL to desist it, CAL sought to change the route between the countries in a bid to conceal its alleged activities.
“In response to Volando’s demands, Defendant appears to have continued its prohibited and infringing conduct by creating a layover connection between Havana and Georgetown through Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. This makes it appear as though Defendant no longer offers the infringing Havana to Georgetown route,” their lawyers said.
Through the lawsuit, the company is seeking a declaratory judgement against the airline and a permanent injunction barring it from accepting payments linked to the US for Cuban citizens seeking to travel between Cuba and Guyana to visit the US Embassy.
“The balancing of hardships of the parties overwhelmingly weighs in favour of Volando, the party who holds the License, and against the Defendant, the wrongdoer engaging in ongoing violations of Federal statutes and regulations,” Volando’s lawyers said as they sought to justify the bid for the injunction.
Volando is a corporation organised and existing under the laws of the state of Florida.
Volando is a public charter operator and travel agency that
i. arranges charter air transportation services with US and foreign airlines on behalf of individuals who are authorised to travel on public charter flights (the “customers”) and
ii. provides travel services (eg, making reservations and issuing airline tickets) to such customers.
Since 2003, Volando has entered into charter agreements with US and foreign airlines, under which such airlines operate public charter flights between points in the United States and points in Cuba for customers who are licensed by OFAC to travel to, from, and within Cuba.
According to the lawsuit CAL operates direct flights to Miami International Airport, accepts United States-based credit card payments for its services, and offers its services through travel agencies and intermediaries located in or doing business in this Judicial District.
The “Prayer of Relief” requests the Court:
i. Enter declaratory judgement in favour of Volando and against the Defendant determining and finding that the Defendant’s conduct violates Section 515.201 of the CACR, thereby infringing on Volando’s valuable license rights conferred by the United States Government;
ii. Enter a permanent injunction enjoining the Defendant from providing air transportation and related travel services with a US nexus in violation of the CACR; and
iii. Award Volando such other and additional relief as may be just and equitable.
Volando is represented by Michael S Hoffman of Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti PA, and Michael C Fasano of the Fasano Law Firm PLLC.
Contacted yesterday to respond to the lawsuit, CAL’s head of corporate communications Dionne Legore declined to comment until she had a chance to consult with the company’s legal department over the “veracity” of the case.
According to the case file CAL has until tomorrow to respond to a summons served on September 26.
The case is Volando.us Corp v Caribbean Airlines Ltd., case 1:22-cv-23068, in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.