Airline service to Havana from 10 US cities wins tentative approval

The Villages Sun Times

By: Paul Elliott

The Obama administration on Thursday proposed eight airlines including United Continental Holdings Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc, American Airlines Group Inc and JetBlue Airlines Corp to start nonstop flights from the United States to Havana, Cuba, as early as this fall, administration officials said. Two carriers, Silver Airways and Sun Country Airlines, had included RSW-to-Havana routes in their request to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Following the US - Cuba deal to re-establish scheduled air services, 12 US airlines applied for the chance to operate scheduled passenger services to Havana and it has received applications to operate almost 60 flights per day to the Cuban capital, exceeding the 20 daily flights made available by the arrangement between the two governments.

The carrier will also fly to Havana from its Miami hub four times a day, in addition to flights from other US airports to five additional cities in Cuba. The DOT will accept objections to the tentative decision until July 22, and make a final decision in late summer. Eight U.S. airlines have been granted tentative approval to operate nonstop flights to Havana.

Delta had only targeted Havana for new service, seeking routes from New York, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. United Airlines: Daily flights from Newark, N.J., plus a weekly flight from Houston. The DOT said that in making its preliminary decisions it sought to encourage competition within routes while offering diversity both in the type of airlines that fly to Havana and in the cities from which service would be offered.

"Our Countdown to Cuba continues with new enthusiasm, and we're finalizing plans to bring our world famous value and Customer Service to these emerging U.S.travel markets", said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman, President, & CEO. President Barack Obama announced in February that regular commercial airline service with Cuba would re-open and reach up to ten worldwide airports on the Caribbean island nation.

The U.S. and Cuba agreed to thaw relations in 2014 after 50 years of hostility. Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses lobbying Congress to lift the travel and trade embargo, said the restored flights should prompt Congress to take action. Florida is home to the largest population of Cuban-Americans. Last month, the Transportation Department approved a handful of airlines to begin flying to nine Cuban destinations, not including Havana.