Flying to Cuba from the USA
Flights Resume to Cuba
PEOPLE often ask, "Can I fly to Cuba from the USA?" The answer is a resounding yes! U.S airlines had resumed flights to Cuba in November 2021 as the pandemic waned and Cuba reopened it's borders to travelers. Since then U.S. airlines have been increasing daily flights to Havana. American Airlines has announced that as of November 2022 it will once again be flying to five other Cuban cities. No doubt both Southwest and Jet Blue will soon add additional routes as well. This is great news for U.S. citizens wishing to visit Cuba beyond Havana. It also allows Cuba Unbound to resume our cultural and active tours to eastern Cuba, including our guided sea kayaking and hiking tours.
A group of Americans on tour in Cuba with Peter and Cuba Unbound
A Short History on Flights to Cuba
Prior to the pandemic there were about 34 flights per day from the USA to Cuba, including over 20 to Havana, and daily flights to Camagüey, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara and Varadero. Then events conspired that temporarily halted flights, as well as travel to Cuba. Here's a recent history of how it all started on a dark night in a hotel bar in the small town of Gibara in northeast Cuba . It was November 8, 2016, the night of the Clinton/Trump election.
I was leading a tour group of Americans on a kayaking and cultural tour of eastern Cuba who were able to travel there due to the improved relations between the USA and Cuba initiated by President Obama in late 2014. The easing of travel restrictions resulted in a flood of U.S. visitors starting in mid 2015 and from 2015 until late 2018, hundreds of thousands of Americans visited Cuba. Among our guests were some that had been involved in the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Cubans whose families had left Cuba during the 1959 revolution and wanted to go back and see places from their childhood, and of course, many who were fascinated by this island nation just 90 miles off U.S. shores.
At the peak of U.S. travel to Cuba just a few years ago, there were dozens of flights between the US and Cuba, with service by American Airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest, Delta, United and, for a short period, a non stop from Los Angeles to Havana on Alaska Airlines.
On that dark night in Havana, the seeds were planted that would erode Cuba - U.S. relations. Just seven months later, the Trump administration dealt a big blow to American visits to Cuba by way of fiery anti-Cuba speeches in June, 2017 followed by another in November. These speeches were the beginning of some new travel restrictions, but we were still able to conduct our tours. Then on June 4th, 2019, the U.S. put forth new regulations that forbade U.S. cruise ships from going there. It wasn't so much that cruise ships couldn't go that was the problem. It was the headlines by U.S. media that read "Americans Can't Visit Cuba" with a much smaller subtitle "Aboard Cruise Ships." Soon the perception among U.S. travelers was that Cuba was once again off limits.
Peter hiking with a group of tourists in eastern Cuba
Flights Stop During COVID-19 Pandemic and Reopen in 2021
Nothing was further from the truth. In keeping with U.S. regulations, Cuba Unbound continued to operate tours until mid-March 2020 when Covid-19 exploded and then, a couple of weeks later, Cuba closed their borders to protect their people from the pandemic. At that time travel and flights from the U.S. effectively ended.
Cuba opened their borders in November 2021 and it wasn't long before American and Jet Blue were once again offering daily flights from Florida to Havana. In February 2022 we resumed our tours again.
Currently there are 13 flights a day from Florida to Havana offered by American Airlines, Jet Blue and Southwest as well as a once-a-week flight from JFK by Jet Blue. But starting in November 2022 American Airlines will resume flights to five other Cuban cities including Varadero, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.
A Cuban flag adorns a street in Havana, Cuba
Many Flight Options and Cuba Tours under Authorized Travel Categories
Cuba is a big island and it's some 700 miles from the western to eastern ends. Driving from Havana to Holguín for example, is a 12 hour ordeal. Domestic flights within Cuba are rare and not dependable. When I had to travel from Holguín to Havana it was faster to fly back to Miami and then continue on to Havana on the same day. I could do this in 6-7 hours versus the long 12 hour car ride which was 15 or more by bus.
Demand for flights to Cuba is high, mostly due to Cuban Americans flying to see their families throughout the island. That said, there will likely be great deals during the first few months that American Airlines resumes the routes beyond Havana. No doubt Jet Blue will add Holguín as an alternative destination too, as that was a successful route for them prior to 2019.
If you haven't visited Cuba yet, we invite you to join us for a fabulous learning opportunity on our tours that are operated either under the People-to-People educational category of authorized travel, or the Support for the Cuban People category. And if you have been to Cuba, we invite you to return to explore more of this fascinating Caribbean island.
By Peter Grubb
The Founder of Cuba Unbound, Peter has been a guide and tour operator for over 40 years. He has traveled throughout Cuba on over 20 trips in the past eight years, having spent over 18 months on the island, exploring places well-known and remote.