It should just be a matter of months before you can book a commercial, scheduled flight Cuba, thanks to a new air services agreement signed on Tuesday.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Havana for the signing, after which the Transportation Department told U.S. carriers they can now apply for route authority to the island for both passenger and cargo flights, something they haven’t been able to offer for more than 50 years.
The pact will allow airlines from each country to operate up to 20 flights a day to Havana, as well as a maximum of 10 daily flights to each of Cuba’s other nine international airports, or a total of 110 flights a day to the island.
DOT said that as applications come in, it will begin a proceeding to select the routes that will be awarded to each airline– so it’s going to take some time.
Cruise lines are getting in the act, too. Carnival’s new Fathom “cultural exchange voyages” will depart Miami for a weeklong cruise around the island stopping in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago starting this May.
However, business travelers eager to explore commercial opportunities in Cuba and tourists who want to hit the beaches there should be aware that technically, not everyone can go there — at least, not until Congress reverses the trade embargo (unlikely any time soon) allowing the Treasury Department to ease up on current rules. DOT noted that the new air services pact will “facilitate visits for travelers that fall under one of the 12 categories authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets control.”
According to Treasury’s website, those 12 categories include: 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.
But if a traveler just checks off one of those categories on a booking request, there’s no telling what kind of enforcement might apply, if any.
Some U.S. airlines have already been flying to Cuba for months, but only with charter flights sold by travel companies. After today’s announcement, nearly all US carriers have applauded the move and said that they plan to apply for authority to crank up scheduled commercial flight to Cuba from their hubs.
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