dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y



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By the end of 1969 the restaurant and gift shop at the Havana airport expands their business to take care of the unexpected flux of visitors brought in by the skyjackers. Landing fees are inflated and the runway is enlarged to take care of the unscheduled joyrides to the Caribbean island. When Rudolfo Rivera Rios makes history with the first hijack of the 747, his destination of choice is Cuba. Upon landing, Premier Fidel Castro himself hurries to José Marti Airport to admire the jumbo jet. While the hijacker gets off the plane and disappears, Captain Watkins gets out to chat with Castro. Everyone else stays on board. Castro is fascinated by the gigantic aircraft. Captain Watkins asks him if he would like to go on board to see what it looks like inside. Castro graciously declines.
—“I would probably scare the passengers,” he says. Could the hijacker get his luggage off the plane though? Sorry, the 747 requires special baggage-handling equipment that is not available in Havana. The man’s luggage will have to be shipped back on another flight.
A routine pattern is established: hijackers are lodged in the “Casa de Transitos” (“Hijacker’s House”) in Havana’s Siboney district. Pilots and crew rest briefly, smoke cigars, and then fly their empty planes back to the US. Cubans wine and dine the Americano tourists and take them on a sightseeing tour of socialist Cuba. After this memorable side trip, generally enjoyed by the skyjack jet set, they are boarded on a return trip to the US, laden with rum, cigars, revolutionary literature, sombreros and pictures of Che Guevara. Castro forwards the bills to the American airline companies: for every hijacked airliner to Cuba an additional $2,500 to $3,000 cover charge is demanded for landing fees, fuel, plus food and accommodation for the passengers.