Global Politics

US airlines will soon be able to offer hundreds of flights to Cuba every week

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Havana airport

An American Airlines airplane prepares to land at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana September 19, 2015. American has operated Charter flights to Cuba for years — and now hopes to begin operating regular scheduled service.

Credit:

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

If you've been wanting to go to Cuba, getting there just got a lot easier.

The US and Cuban governments on Tuesday announced a new air service agreement between the two countries, which allows up to 110 direct commercial flights each day — 20 of them to Cuba's capital of Havana, and 10 each to Cuba's nine other international airports: Varadero, Holguín, Santa Clara, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo del Sur, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba and Manzanillo de Cuba.

The air service agreement also allows for flights by Cuban airlines to the US, though these will likely be limited, because lingering judgments against Cuba would mean state carrier Cubana's airplanes could be seized by US courts.

The 20 flights per day to Havana are expected to be highly sought-after by most US carriers. The biggest portion are expected to go to the Miami area — home to the largest Cuban population outside of Cuba and hubs for American Airlines and JetBlue — and to New York City, also home to a major Cuban population and hubs for American, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

But last week, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said no one airline or part of the country would be allowed to monopolize the routes to Havana — meaning flights to Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Tampa and Houston are all also likely.

“We are excited to announce the availability of new scheduled air service opportunities to Cuba for U.S. carriers, shippers, and the traveling public, and we will conduct this proceeding in a manner designed to maximize public benefits,” Foxx said in a statement Tuesday.

US airlines have operated charter flights to the country for years, but purchasing those tickets was difficult and highly restricted. Those flights will continue, but new scheduled service should make Cuba more widely accessible.

Airlines are expected to apply for flights in the coming days with final announcement of approved routes by the US government sometime this spring. The first flights will take off later this year.

While the flights will be in high demand, restrictions on who can travel to Cuba remain. Until US Congress acts, those interested in traveling to Cuba must continue to fall into one of 12 accepted categories — chief among them visiting family, doing journalism, doing work for the government, humanitarian work or research.

"The real challenge will be see what Cuba can handle. There's serious infrastructure challenges here," says Collin Laverty, owner of Cuba Educational Travel. "Anyone who has been here recently knows the average wait time to check a bag is two hours."

Rachel Gotbaum contributed to this story.

 

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