By: Bart Jansen
Six U.S. airlines were approved to begin the first scheduled flights to Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, the Transportation Department announced Friday.
The airlines were approved to fly to nine Cuban cities other than Havana. But the department is still considering which airlines will get a combined 20 daily flights to the capital out of 60 proposals, which will be announced later this summer.
The carriers approved Friday are American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.
Flights beginning as early as this fall will depart from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul. While charter flights have been allowed for years, the announcement resumes scheduled airline flights.
The nine destinations in Cuba are Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba. Each city could have received up to 10 U.S. flights per day.
The flights are part of President Obama’s “new journey” with the Cuban people, as part of normalizing relations since relations broke down after the Communist revolution of 1959, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
He and Charles Rivkin, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, reached an agreement in February to reestablish flights.
“Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century,” he said.
Reopening relations with Cubaremains hotly debated in Congress between those supporting President Obama’s diplomatic overtures and those arguing that Cuba remains a repressive dictatorship. Travelers to Cuba must still name one of a dozen reasons for the visit other than tourism.
But James Williams, president of the group Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses and organizations seeking to end the trade embargo with Cuba, said the scheduled flights prove that the travel ban “is an outdated relic of the Cold War era.”
“Commercial flights will allow for better service and cheaper fares for American travelers and provide opportunities for increased engagement between the U.S. and Cuba," Williams said. “It's time for Congress to act and end the travel ban."
Flights approved Friday:
• American daily between Miami and Camaguey and Cienfuegos, twice daily between Miami and Holguin, Matanzas and Santa Clara. Flights beginning in 90 days will be aboard 160-seat 737-800 aircraft and 144-seat Airbus A319 aircraft.
• Eastern three times weekly on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from Miami to Camaguey and three times weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays between Miami and Holguin on 147-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Flights could start as early as July 1.
• Frontier daily flights between Chicago and Santiago de Cuba beginning Oct. 27, four times weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between Philadelphia and Camaguey beginning Dec. 15; three times weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays between Philadelphia and Santa Clara beginning Dec. 15; and weekly flights on Saturdays between Chicago and Philadelphia and Matanzas starting Jan. 7, 2017. The flights will be on Airbus A320 or A320neo aircraft.
• JetBlue daily between Fort Lauderdale and Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara beginning Sept. 8 aboard 162-seat A320 aircraft.
• Silver from Fort Lauderdale five times weekly other than Mondays and Fridays to Camaguey beginning Sept. 22; three times weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Cayo Coco beginning Nov. 17; weekly on Saturdays to Cayo Largo del Sur beginning Dec. 8; twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays to Cienfuegos beginning Oct. 6; daily to Holguin beginning Oct. 20; three times weekly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Manzanillo beginning Dec. 15; four times weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays to Matanzas beginning Dec. 1; daily to Santa Clara beginning Sept. 8 and daily to Santiago de Cuba beginning Nov. 3. The airline will use 34-seat Saab 340B Plus turboprop aircraft.
• Southwest from Fort Lauderdale twice daily to Matanzas and daily to Santa Clara aboard 143-seat 737-700 aircraft. Flights are expected to start within 90 days.
• Sun Country from Minneapolis weekly on Saturdays to Matanzas and on Sundays to Santa Clara. Flights will be on 126-seat 737-700 and 162-seat 737-800 aircraft.
“The resumption of scheduled air service to Cuba is a historic achievement and we commend Secretary Foxx and his team for making it a reality," said Steve Johnson, American's executive vice president of corporate affairs. "We look forward to giving our customers direct access to Cuba and eagerly await the Department’s decision on flights to Havana.”