The easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens announced by President Obama on December 17, 2014, has generated a great deal of interest of the part of Americans in visiting an island that during three decades of Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba’s staunch ally, the Soviet Union, was essentially off-limits.
After the U.S.S.R. crumbled in 1991, Cuba turned to tourism to bolster its economy and Americans began to travel there again on “people-to-people” cultural exchange tours, and such tours continue today.
But a major factor limiting travel from the U.S. to Cuba has been the lack of regularly scheduled air service, forcing Americans to either go on a group tour or try to snag an empty seat on a charter flight.
That is about to change.
Flights to Cities Other Than Havana
“Later this year, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines will collectively service the Cuban cities of Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.” Details on those flights can be found on this DOT Fact Sheet.
In making that announcement, the DOT said:
“The airlines authorized by DOT are now positioned to seek Cuban government authority and begin making the local arrangements necessary to launch their services. Most of the airlines propose to begin their services in the fall and winter of 2016/2017, and will likely begin selling tickets well in advance of their planned startup dates.
“Airlines will need to market and sell tickets consistent with the laws, regulations, and requirements that remain in affect concerning travel to Cuba. Travelers should check directly with the airlines for details.”
At that time, the DOT had yet to decide which airlines would be allowed to make the twenty flights per day to Havana authorized by an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba.
On July 7th, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx released a tentative decision on flights between the U.S. Havana. A DOT Fact Sheet shows the following proposed flight routes.
|Alaska Airlines||Los Angeles-Havana||Once daily|
|American Airlines||Miami-Havana||4 times daily|
|Delta Air Lines||New York (JFK)-Havana||Once daily|
|Frontier Airlines||Miami-Havana||Once daily|
|JetBlue Airways||Fort Lauderdale-Havana||Twice daily (except once on Saturdays)|
|New York (JFK)-Havana||Once daily|
|Southwest Airlines||Fort Lauderdale-Havana||Twice daily|
|Spirit Airlines||Fort Lauderdale-Havana||Twice daily|
|United Airlines||Newark-Havana||Once daily|
|Houston-Havana||Once weekly (Saturday)|
Ticket sales for those flights will not commence until a final decision on the flight allocation is made by the DOT later this summer.
As with air service between the U.S. and other Cuban cities, the DOT said that flights to Havana are expected to begin in the fall and winter of 2016/2017.
Charter Flights to Cuba
The U.S. Department of Transportation says: “The U.S.-Cuba arrangement allows for unlimited charter services to and from any point in Cuba, and the proceeding [involving allocation of schedule air service between the U.S. and Havana] accordingly is not addressing charter services, which will continue as before.”
Prohibition on Travel as A “Tourist”
In making the announcement regarding the Havana flights, the DOT reminded American citizens:
“While the new arrangement reflects a major step forward in President Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba, the Department recognizes that significant limitations and requirements remain in place concerning air transportation between Cuba and the U.S.
“For example, travel for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute. Any award of authority in this proceeding will not relieve parties from complying with the applicable requirements and regulations of other U.S. agencies, and with all applicable laws of the United States.
“This new arrangement will facilitate visits for travelers that fall under one of 12 categories authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Prospective travelers should also review OFAC’s Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba.”
The United States Senate is pondering legislation that would, among things, remove the requirement that reason for travel by an American citizens not be limited to one of those twelve categories, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that or similar legislation will be enacted into law anytime soon, especially since the House of Representatives appears to be in favor of tightening, rather than easing, such restrictions on travel.
Your Flight Arrived, But Now What?
Good news: You got a seat on a flight from the U.S. to Cuba.
Bad news: But can you get a room, get around, and get money from an ATM or use your credit card?
Here’s a report from CNN’s Will Ripley.
Baker, one of five travel writers who appear in the Tales Told From The Road feature-length documentary, film,“Cuba, Libre?, said that only a MasterCard issued by a single Florida bank is being honored and it’s the only one that can be used to get cash from an ATM.’
His comments about the logistical problems travelers to Cuba face echo those in the March 24, 2016 New York Times story, “To Beat the Rush, Americans Rush to Cuba, Overloading Services.”