Scheduled flights resume from U.S. to Cuba
For the first time in more than a half-century a regularly scheduled commercial flight has taken off from the United States en route to Cuba. The history-making moment is the latest move in relaxing travel restrictions between the two countries, making booking a holiday in Cuba easier and potentially less expensive for travellers.
A JetBlue flight recently secured its place in history as the first scheduled flight in more than 50 years to take off from the United States bound for Cuba. In an article published in The New York Times, author Frances Robles details the excitement surrounding the memorable flight.
The author acknowledges the last time a regularly scheduled flight left the U.S. for Cuba was so long ago the travellers arrived in a propeller plane, making the jet engine plane that landed on the island just days ago significant in itself. This particular flight left Fort Lauderdale headed towards Santa Clara in mid morning, filled with 150 passengers including journalists, dignitaries and an emotional Erik Diaz Olivia, who tearfully explained what it was like to fly home to Cuba after eight years of living abroad.
“I got here at 5 a.m. and was the first to check in; everyone started to cheer! To the people who say these flights don’t help: Yes, it does help. It opens Cuba to the world.”
Not only was this U.S. commercial flight the first of its kind in decades but potentially another step forward in the process of normalizing relations between the two countries. For travellers it means easier service to Cuba and an expected big decrease in the cost of airline tickets to the island. Passenger Orestes Garcia Vasquez, who was headed from Cuba to Florida, echoed those benefits.
“This is a novelty for me, to be able to fly direct without having to travel to a third country. This allows me to save time and money.”
Travel restrictions to Cuba first began to ease in late 2014 when President Barack Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations. In response, cruise lines, private jets and now commercial airlines have initiated travel between the two countries. An agreement allows for as many as 90 round-trip flights between the United States and Cuba each day. Six airlines, including JetBlue, have approval to fly to nine different Cuban cities, though not all have released their schedules.
JetBlue, for instance, plans to gradually add more flights over the coming months, headed towards cities like Camaguey and Holguin. Silver Airways, meanwhile, already offers three flights each week to Santa Clara with direct flights to several other Cuban cities starting soon.
Also just announced, eight American commercial airlines now have permission to fly directly to Havana from select cities in the U.S., though American leaders admit the island nation is in need of updates to its airport infrastructure to keep up with the increased flights. There is promise, though, as Cuban officials offer that last year the country’s international airports handled nearly 5,000 U.S. charter flights.
With charter flights passengers were forced to get to the airport four hours before their Cuban flights, wait in long lines and pay high prices for things like luggage fees. With commercial flights, however, travel is expected to improve significantly. Some passengers have already found low fares of just $99 each way. Experts are predicting that many flights between the U.S. and Cuba will not be full either, providing plenty of options for travellers in the near future.
JetBlue intends to add more weekly flights to Cuban destinations over the next couple of months. The airline reminds U.S. residents to bring a valid U.S. passport, health insurance that covers travel to Cuba and to purchase a visa. It should also be noted that American travellers must fall within one of the approved travel categories for visiting Cuba, which for many U.S. citizens means meeting the qualifications of a people-to-people cultural exchange while on the island.
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