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All Aboard for Air Travel to Havana

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All Aboard for Air Travel to Havana

Following President Obama’s promise to the American public to reengage diplomatic relations with Cuba, last month six U.S. airlines were awarded the first set of routes to the Caribbean nation. Because of the demand to fly to Cuba, and specifically Havana, the nation’s capital, the Department of Transportation (DOT) opted out of awarding routes to Havana right away. Instead, they initially focused on announcing the US airlines awarded with access to Cuba’s secondary airports. Those selected to fly to the nine other Cuban cities are: American Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Silver Airways, and Sun.

Twelve U.S. airlines submitted requests for a combination of 60 flights a day to Havana. After negotiations between the two governments, only 20 daily routes for eight airlines were granted. As of early this month, the DOT has tentatively granted eight U.S. airlines the rights to fly to Havana. The decision allots airlines with at least one weekly nonstop flight to Cuba’s capital. Overall, the DOT approved 14 different daily routes to Havana in addition to one Saturday-only route. Most of the direct flights to José Martí International Airport in Havana will depart from Miami and New York. Among the tentative winners: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United Airlines.

"The proposed slate of airlines will ensure service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The breakdown: American Airlines receives the most Havana route authorities, followed by JetBlue, yet far less than both airlines initially requested. American will be able to run four daily flights from Miami and one daily from Charlotte. JetBlue will be allowed to operate two daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, except Saturday it will operate one flight. The airline was also granted one daily flight from New York and Orlando.

Delta Air Lines was similarly awarded one daily flight from each Atlanta, Miami and New York. Spirit Airlines will get to fly twice a day from Fort Lauderdale. Southwest Airlines will operate two daily flights from Fort Lauderdale along with one flight from Tampa. Further down the list, Frontier Airlines received one daily flight from Miami, Alaska Air similarly received one route from Los Angeles, and United Continental was awarded a daily flight from Newark and a Saturday route between Houston and Havana.

Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which have the biggest Cuban-American communities in the United States, received the most flights. The goal when allocating routes was to guarantee a wide range of travel possibilities for the public such as ensuring there would be a low-cost carrier option.

It is worthwhile to mention that a ban on tourism to Cuba still remains U.S. law. However, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions to the ban where as long as citizens meet at least one of 12 criteria, such as visiting for unspecified educational purposes, they can visit Cuba.

With respect to long-term progress on relations between the two governments, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. According to Reuters, the House of Representatives is set to vote sooner than later on an amendment that would basically lift all travel restrictions to Cuba for a year.

Anthony Foxx, DOT secretary, in a statement revealing the routes commented how “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

Travel to Cuba has increased this year due in part due to the efforts made by the Obama administration. As Reuters points out, travel by Americans to Cuba has increased by 77 percent within the last year. The Department of Transportation plans to reach a final decision on approved routes later in the summer. More flights are subject to be awarded in the future as relations continue to improve amongst both neighboring nations.