At least eight U.S. airlines, flying out of hubs in almost a dozen cities nationally, have submitted bids to serve Cuba in the first wave of applications received by the U.S. Department of Transportation for its March 2, 2016. deadline. All of the major U.S. airlines, as well as some smaller, virtually unheard-of carriers, have put in bids.
As expected, the airlines’ prime choice has been Havana, which so far has been allotted 20 daily flights out of the total of 110 to Cuba as a whole.
The Department of Transportation is now expected to review the requests and allot the routes over the next few months, with the first flights possibly taking off as early as October—certainly in time for the 2016–2017 winter season. The next step for the airlines is to negotiate landing sites and availabilities with Cuban government authorities.
So far, the airlines have indicated their intentions to fly into Cuba from hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Boston, New York, Houston, and, of course Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale.
The airlines bidding for the routes include American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, and Silver Airways (a turboprop hustling from West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, and Jacksonville to several outlying airports in Cuba).
These commercial scheduled flights will greatly increase the existing flow into Cuba provided by chartered aircraft (which will continue to fly, primarily out of Florida). Last year, an estimated 160,000 American residents visited Cuba via the charters. The addition of the commercial flights out of major U.S. hubs will is set to boost those figures exponentially.
Cuban hotels, resorts and other tourism-oriented facilities are already bursting at the seams, and building a stronger and much larger tourism infrastructure is a top priority not only for the government but also for the international developers already doing business—or intending to—in the largest country in the Caribbean.
According to the new accords struck between the U.S. administration and the Republic of Cuba, U.S. visitors will still be required to meet certain travel “category requirements,” since outright leisure tourism has not yet been allowed by the U.S. government. In effect, visitors will be required to affirm (by checking off a pre-boarding card) one of twelve trip-purpose check boxes, which are vague enough to deter very few tourists (e.g., attending workshops, educational, athletic or religious activities, and people-to-people travel). Just another formality to ignore. Some cruise lines have already begun promoting “seminars” and “people-to-people” events for port stops in Cuba.
In addition, the U.S. Treasury, which up to now has strictly controlled who can go to Cuba and under what conditions, has announced that it will drop limits on how much money Americans spend in Cuba each day or what they spend it on. It will also allow use of U.S. credit and debit cards; insurance companies can provide health, life, and travel insurance policies for visitors to Cuba; and financial institutions may open accounts to facilitate transactions.
U.S. companies will also be able to import mobile and electronic goods and services to boost Cuba’s poor internet infrastructure.
Right now, just one dark cloud sits on Cuba’s anticipated U.S. tourism boom. Some Republican presidential candidates (among them Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—both of Cuban parentage) have vowed to reverse the openings to Cuba made by the Obama administration, in defense of Cuban families whose properties and businesses were looted by the 1959 Castro revolution. The families, now living in the U.S., want their money back. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens…
Heading south? Do not forget your travel insurance.