For the first time in more than 50 years, U.S. airlines have received federal approval to operate scheduled flight services to Cuba.
The six carriers given the green light by the Department of Transportation are American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest, and Sun Country. They can begin service to nine cities in Cuba—Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba, but not Havana—as early as this fall. From the U.S. side, Cuba will be served from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia.
Yet to be decided is which U.S. carriers will be awarded rights to fly to Havana, Cuba’s capital and largest city. As a group, U.S. airlines have applied to operate around 60 daily flights to Havana, but the air-services agreement only allows for a maximum of 20 daily roundtrips.
The airlines approved for service must now request authorization from the Cuban government before beginning scheduled services. The airlines’ proposed launch dates range from late-2016 to early-2016; marketing and ticket sales should begin several months in advance.
For the time being, significant restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba remain in place. In particular, tourist travel to Cuba must fall under one of 12 categories recognized by the DOT’s Office of Foreign Assets Control: “family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.”
No doubt such bureaucratic hurdles will be dispensed with soon enough, possibly even before the resumption of schedule air services between the two countries.
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.