SIMON CALDER COLUMN

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The Independent Travel
The travel industry is rather like Fawlty Towers - wait long enough, and a series of repeats will appear. And, like wise men, blind mice or disasters, they tend to turn up in threes. So the news that the United States is tightening the economic screws on Cuba still further (by cutting flight links to the island) comes hot on the heels of Sir Freddie Laker's planned comeback with flights to Florida this summer, and the return to the skies of Pan Am.

The spooky thing is that these three stories are inextricably linked. Pan Am began its international network 75 years ago with a flight from Key West, Florida, to Havana. The airline finally went bankrupt as a result of price competition initiated by Laker's cut-price Skytrain operation, and partly because of the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 at Christmas 1988 is widely thought to be a direct reprisal for the shooting down by the Americans of an Iranian Airbus.

So there is a certain irony that Washington is expressing outrage at Cuba's downing of two light aircraft, and endeavouring to cut travel to the island. The frequent charter flights between Miami and Havana, which have become so popular that a 747 has to be used for the 100-mile flight, are to end. An opportunity, perhaps, for Laker's Bahamas-registered company to step in and offer connecting flights via Nassau. Sir Freddie, the man who built his airline dodging the Communist blockade during the Berlin airlift, could make a new fortune, helping Castro's Communists beat the capitalist blockade. The last battle of the Cold War is being fought on the Straits of Florida, and the losers are American tourists.

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