It’s not just the tropical sun that’s beating against Cuba’s tarmac: commercial U.S. airlines now have the opportunity to touch down on the island. On August 31st, JetBlue took off from Florida’s Fort Lauderdale and landed in Santa Clara, Cuba in a landmark flight. For the first time in over half a century, U.S. airlines have begun regular direct service flights to Cuba.
With the skies open in Cuba, Cuba continues to open itself up to the world. It’s another positive step in normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and many believe it’s another opportunity for the expansion of democracy, freedom, and cultural exchange. It’s an exciting time, even if many details are still, well.... up in the air!
Flying to Cuba at Large
The Department of Transportation has given approval to 6 airlines—including Southwest, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, and Sun Country—to schedule flights to nine Cuban cities outside of Havana. This fall, JetBue is planning on adding flights to Camagüey and Holguín while American Airlines also plans to fly to Varadero and Cienfuegos starting this September. Silver Airways is planning on flying those routes as well as additional flights to Santiago de Cuba, Manzanillo, and two other popular Cuban keys. Not all of the approved airlines have publicized their flight schedules at this time.
Flying to Havana
Eight airlines—including American, Southwest, United, Spirit, Delta, and Alaska—have been given preliminary approval to fly directly into Havana, with final approval from the Department of Transportation expected (ideally, though delays could happen) later this year in November or December. At that point, the airlines must receive final authorization to land in Havana from the Cuban government. Currently, airlines are planning on 20 daily flights to Havana from Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Newark, and Charlotte as well as twice-weekly flights from Houston.
What Does This Mean For You?
Cuba is a diverse island with a variety of attractions, and now United States airlines may be looking to increase potential customers to Cuba’s incredible destinations outside of spotlight-heavy Havana.
Cuba has 10 international airports, an impressive feat for a country about the length of California and home to about 13 million people. Canadians and Europeans have been flying into Varadero, about 2 hours east of Havana, for years to reach Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts, and Cuban-Americans have long been acquainted with flying into Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, and Camagüen to visit family. It will be easier now more than ever to explore Cuba’s more off-the-beaten-path regions (like Eastern Cuba). Airlines are looking ahead to creating a better flight and booking experience. Though Americans hoping to qualify for purposeful travel to Cuba must still fall under one of 12 categories including our own “people-to-people” travel emphasis, the airline companies are beginning to streamline the Cuban travel experience. Passengers booking their flights online with JetBlue can now click on a box designating one of the 12 sanctioned travel categories, and we expect the current travel restrictions to change within the next 6-8 months as normalized relations continue.
Baggage policies are also being revised, so make sure to keep updated with the airlines before planning on packing a big bag with room for Cuban goodies. For instance, while American Airlines is planning on revising their baggage policy to allow for oversized and overweight luggage, American Airlines does not currently accept such luggage on flights to Cuba (though they might after January).
What Does This Mean For ROW?
As flight dates and rates continue to get posted and flights to Havana shift from pending to final approval, we can expect a cessation in charter flight operations. New options are coming, and we will be developing new itineraries under our Cuba Unbound brand to take advantage of the new airline service to more Cuban airports. If you have any questions about how U.S.-based flights to Cuba operate, please reach out to us; one of our adventure consultants can provide you with additional information.
Cuba flights are one step closer to one-click simplicity. Get ready for new adventures!