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Scheduled U.S.-Cuba Flights OK’d, But…

SmarterTravel

The warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba are glowing hot today, after the State Department confirmed that the two countries have agreed to restore scheduled air service after a 50-year blackout.

U.S. airlines were quick to laud the development, expressing strong interest in launching scheduled services. American, for example, issued a statement welcoming the opening, including the following:

Today’s announcement is great news for our customers as it brings us one step closer to connecting the U.S. and Cuba with scheduled air service. As the leading carrier to the Caribbean and the leading U.S. airline to Cuba, we look forward to establishing scheduled service to Cuba in 2016, from Miami and other American hubs… As a result of today’s announcement, American expects to submit a U.S.-Cuba service proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation and hopes for timely approval of its proposal to enable American to introduce scheduled service as soon as possible in 2016.

American currently offers charter flights to Cuba, as does JetBlue.

Hurry Up and Wait

Notwithstanding the relaxation of air-service restrictions, the predicted surge of American travelers to Cuba will have to wait. Cuba travel is currently only permitted for Americans whose visits fall under one of the following 12 categories:

  • Family visits
  • Humanitarian projects or to provide support to the Cuban people
  • Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activities
  • Professional research or meetings
  • Educational activities by persons at academic institutions
  • People to people travel
  • Religious activities
  • Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
  • Authorization to provide travel services, carrier services and remittance forwarding services
  • Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
  • Exportation of certain internet-based services

According to the State Department: “While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries — a critical component of the President’s policy toward Cuba.”

With the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the prohibition against simple tourism seems silly and outdated. And it will undoubtedly be reviewed and softened, if not wholly overturned. Once the airlines begin operating new scheduled flights to Havana, the commercial pressure to open the floodgates should ensure the adoption of less restrictive travel policies, sooner rather than later.

Reader Reality Check

Is Cuba on your bucket list?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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