Travel to Cuba from the United States is inching towards a normalized relationship. This week the two countries agreed on “a bilateral arrangement to establish scheduled air services.” Currently the only direct flights are charter operations, though the schedule and frequency of these flights approaches something resembling scheduled air service. The biggest limitation today is that tickets must be purchased through the charter companies, preventing much in the way of competition or flexibility on the part of passengers or the airline operators. The new agreement replaces the 1953 accord which was the prior bilateral treaty in effect prior to US sanctions being implemented against Cuba.
Most significantly, this new announcement still does not permit travel to Cuba for tourism; that’s a separate challenge and set of rules managed by the US Government. The State Department reminded potential travelers of such in its announcement of the deal:
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.
Even without normal tourist travel there will undoubtedly be an increase in passenger and cargo traffic as normal flights are scheduled and operate. The US is expected to quickly become the largest group of foreign visitors to Cuba, overtaking Canada which currently holds the role, as relations thaw. This sudden increase will undoubtedly put pressure on the tourism infrastructure in the country, a system which already struggles to function with the current loads.
United Airlines congratulates the U.S. and Cuban governments on reaching this historic arrangement, which will strengthen ties and economic development between the two countries. We look forward to offering service between our global gateways and Cuba as soon as we have approval to do so.
JetBlue will submit its application for new routes to the U.S. Department of Transportation once the airline has fully reviewed terms of the agreement and has clarity on the process and timing of assigning frequencies to U.S. airlines.…Depending on the number of flight frequencies available to the airline, JetBlue is eager to offer affordable service from numerous U.S. cities to multiple destinations in Cuba.
Delta congratulates the U.S. and Cuba governments on reaching a historical milestone and agreeing to resume commercially scheduled flights between the countries. Delta looks forward to resuming service to Cuba as soon as approvals are granted.
As the leading carrier to the Caribbean and the leading U.S. airline to Cuba, we look forward to establishing scheduled service to Cuba in 2016, from Miami and other American hubs. We appreciate the Administration’s efforts and the hard work of the U.S. negotiators to reach this arrangement.
There will undoubtedly be a land grab of sorts in play once details of slots and destinations are made known. In the meantime, for most Americans it remains business as usual, though with the whetting of appetite for travel opportunities in the future.
And, for those curious, here’s what the 1953 agreement offered up as valid routes:
The new agreement allows for 110 daily flights between the US and Cuba, covering Havana and 9 other airports according to a Reuters report. Specific route authorities must still be approved by US regulators but with that level of route frequencies there should be sufficient space for all the initial demand.
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