By: Melania Zanona
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved six commercial U.S. airlines to begin flying to Cuba this fall in a push to normalize relations with the country, the agency announced Friday.
The airline carriers that have been awarded service are American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.
Flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul will begin as early as this fall.
“Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”
In February, Foxx and Charles Rivkin, assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the State Department, signed an agreement to re-establish scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba.
Lawmakers — even those opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba — have been competing to get routes to Cuba for airlines and airports in their districts. The DOT said 13 carriers filed applications for U.S.-Cuba authority.
Each carrier can operate up to 10 daily roundtrip flights between the U.S. and each of Cuba’s nine international airports besides Havana.
A decision on the Havana routes will be announced later this summer, the DOT said. Up to 20 daily roundtrip flights will be allowed between the U.S. and Havana.
Tourists are still not eligible to fly to Cuba, but the new routes will open up travel for family visits, official U.S. government business, foreign governments, journalistic activity, professional research, educational activities, religious activities, public performances, humanitarian projects and certain authorized export transactions.
"It makes no sense that Americans will soon be able to go online and book a flight to Cuba, but U.S. policy will still prohibit tourist travel to our island neighbor," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. "Today's announcement further proves that the travel ban is an outdated relic of the Cold War era. It's time for Congress to act and end the travel ban."