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U.S. clears 6 airlines for takeoff to Cuba, but flights won’t start
right away

Flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale figure heavily in new commercial
service
American Airlines has been approved for 8 daily flights from MIA
JetBlue, Southwest, Silver Airways get authority for routes from Fort
Lauderdale
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

The U.S. Department of Commerce gave the green light Friday to six U.S.
airlines to begin scheduled service to Cuba from five American cities,
including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as early as this fall.

Allowing commercial service between the two countries for the first time
in more than half a century is part of the Obama administration’s effort
to normalize relations with Cuba. The United States and Cuba have agreed
in principle to the resumption of scheduled flights, but the airlines
still must seek Cuban permission for the slots.

The airlines — American, Frontier, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways,
Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines — received approvals to
to nine Cuban cities with international airports.

But the big prizes — routes to the capital Havana — have yet to be
awarded. At stake are up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the
United States and Havana. DOT said it expects to reach a final decision
on Havana routes this summer. U.S. air carriers have requested more than
300 weekly flights to Havana, far exceeding the 140 flights that will be
allowed.

The DOT approvals open up new Cuban cities to the U.S. market and
include service to at least three resort areas in Cuba: Cayo Coco, Cayo
Largo and Matanzas, which serves Varadero Beach. The other Cuban cities
that DOT has authorized for commercial service from the United States
include: Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Santa Clara and
Santiago de Cuba.

But U.S. travelers are not supposed to take beach vacations in Cuba and
still must fall within the 12 categories the U.S. government allows for
travel to the island. The categories range from family visits and
educational and humanitarian trips to people-to-people travel designed
to foster more engagement with the Cuban people.

“Last year, President [Barack] Obama announced that it was time to
‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” said U.S. Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today, we are delivering on his promise by
re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”

Miami and Fort Lauderdale will figure heavily in the new commercial
service to Cuba. The other U.S. cities that have been awarded Cuba
routes at this point are Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

American Airlines has been approved for eight daily flights from Miami
International to Cuba. It has been authorized for twice-a-day
service, using 160-seat planes, from MIA to both Santa Clara and
Holguín, two flights daily to Matanzas using a 144-seat aircraft, and
daily service to Camagüey and Cienfuegos.

The hopes to begin service on all these routes by early
September and plans to begin selling tickets by the end of June.
American hasn’t revealed ticket prices but said they will be competitive.

“The resumption of scheduled air service to Cuba is a historic
achievement and we commend Secretary Foxx and his team for making it a
reality,” said Steve Johnson, American’s executive vice president of
corporate affairs. “We look forward to giving our customers direct
access to Cuba and eagerly await the department’s decision on flights to
Havana.”

American has asked for 10 daily flights from Miami to Havana as well as
service to Havana from Charlotte, Dallas, Fort Worth, Chicago and Los
Angeles.

JetBlue, Silver Airways and Southwest Airways all have been authorized
to fly from Fort Lauderdale to various Cuban cities.

JetBlue was approved for daily flights, using 162-seat aircraft, from
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Camagüey, Holguín and
Santa Clara, and Southwest has been awarded twice daily service to
Matanzas and one flight a day to Santa Clara. The airline is authorized
to use 143-seat planes.

Silver Airways has been granted various frequencies to all nine Cuban
cities, and it will be using 34-seat planes.

Frontier Airlines has been authorized for service from Chicago and
Philadelphia, and Sun Country has been given authority for weekly
flights from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Santa Clara and Matanzas.

All the airlines, with the exception of Eastern Airlines, got the
non-Havana routes they applied for. DOT said Eastern has not completed
the licensing procedures needed to offer scheduled passenger services
and it deferred action on its request.

If the airlines get the go-ahead from the Cuban government, DOT said
most of the carriers plan to begin their new service to Cuba this fall
and winter. The airlines must begin their new service within 90 days of
the dates they proposed in their applications, said DOT.

Until Havana route authority is granted, charter services will continue
to handle flights to the Cuban capital as they have for decades. But if
they can’t compete on price with the new scheduled service to the other
Cuban cities, the Cuba charter companies’ days might be numbered.

“The question is whether the scheduled carriers will be offering cheaper
prices than the charters. The bottom line will be cost,” said Vivian
Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers, a Miami company that sells Cuba
travel services.

“Obviously the overhead for the major carriers will be less,” said
Mannerud, who used to operate a Cuba charter company that was the first
to lease planes from major U.S. carriers, including JetBlue and
American, for charter service to Cuba.

“This is where the rubber meets the runway in the process of normalizing
relations,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the
Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas. “It’s good for
American travelers, good for U.S. airlines, good for increasing contact
and economic opportunity for the Cuban people, and good for diplomats
from both countries who took courageous steps leading to this day.”

Source: 6 U.S. airlines allowed to fly to Cuban cities, but not Havana |
In Cuba Today – www.incubatoday.com/news/article83024922.html

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