On December 17, the United States and Cuba announced their agreement to restore regularly scheduled commercial airline service between the two countries for the first time in more than a half-century. The new arrangement will continue to allow charter operations which currently operate from several U.S. cities.
According to Thomas Engle, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs at the U.S. State Department, the agreement allows 110 round-trip flights per day on U.S. carriers to Cuba, including 20 daily flights to Havana. The remaining 90 flights will be allocated throughout nine other international airports in Cuba. It is not yet clear when the regular flights will begin.
Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue and United announced plans to request approval to begin scheduling regular flights to Cuba. Airlines will have to apply for permission from U.S. regulators and submit specific routes between the two countries. Miami is expected to be the major hub for flights to Cuba. Direct flights are also expected from New York and Tampa.
The agreement supports the Obama Administration’s policy of promoting human rights and political freedom on the island nation through people-to-people contacts. “We continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we raise those issues directly, and we will always stand for human rights and the universal values that we support around the globe,” President Obama said in a written statement.
Similarly, the State Department reinforced the President’s policy in its statement announcing the agreement: “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.”
The U.S. trade embargo continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for general tourist activities. U.S. travelers still must meet at least one of 12 permitted criteria to visit the island.