The last hurdle is cleared - Cuba approves flights from American Airlines and Jetblue

Posted: 20-Aug-16 12:32

The last step that officially approves the landing in Cuba of the first ever commercial flight from the U.S. in over five decades has finally been given. The Cuban government has given the all-clear to JetBlue and American Airlines to commence their routes to five Cuban airports starting from the end of this month.

The last hurdle is cleared - Cuba approves flights from American Airlines and Jetblue

The deed is sealed. It’s finally happening; all sides have signed approval and in less than two weeks’ time – the U.S. and Cuba will be making history once again, as renewed commercial flights between both countries take off come 31st August. History will be instantly made then, as this becomes the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to service Cuba from the U.S. in more than 50 years.

The one last hurdle remaining has been overcome and the last step has been taken as the Miami Herald reveals that the Cuban government has finally given green light to JetBlue and American Airlines to start flying their new regular routes connecting two U.S. airports to five Cuban ones.

Departing from Fort Lauderdale in the U.S. and landing in the Cuban cities of Santa Clara, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Holguin and Camaguey, American Airlines has received approval for all of their twice-daily routes to Cuba. Altogether it will be offering 56 weekly flights to Cuba with full permission from Cuban authorities to land and take off from all of their serviced Cuban airports.

JetBlue, on the other hand, has only received approval for its Santa Clara flights so far, but it hopes to start servicing Camaguey and Holguin later in November. But, on the upside, it will be JetBlue that makes history first, as it beat American Airlines to it with their inaugural flight to the Cuban city of Santa Clara scheduled for 31st August 2016 and departing from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. American Airlines’ debuting flight to Cuba will take off a week later, from Miami International Airport, on 7th September 2016.

But JetBlue and American Airlines aren’t the only ones to come out smiling on the approval side of things. The other four airlines (out of the six authorised for travel to Cuba by the U.S.) pending approval from the Cuban government have also been granted full permission to land and take off from Cuban soil. Silver Airways, Frontier, Sun Country Airlines and Southwest Airlines will all soon be calling at Cuban airports, with Silver Airways going first, right behind JetBlue and also beating American Airlines to it, with their inaugural flight to Santa Clara taking off on 1st September, just hours after JetBlue’s.

Preparing ahead of the launch, both American Airlines and JetBlue have said to have been hard at work training staff at Cuban airports and sending off equipment to help their Cuban counterparts deal with new influx of U.S. passengers.

Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines said:

“We’ve been hard at work to make sure we’re Cuba-ready.”

She added the company had been busy training personnel with new facilities set up at all five Cuban airports, guiding them through the carrier’s check-in procedures as well as providing them with new equipment. According to the source, JetBlue has also been training their Cuban staff at Santa Clara’s Abel Santa Maria International Airport.

Even when charter flights have been operating between the U.S. and Cuba for decades, these new commercial routes will bring some changes about. For one, baggage restrictions will be tighter, with JetBlue allowing up to 50 pounds of checked luggage for free and American Airlines charging $25 for the first checked in bag and $40 for the second. The maximum baggage allowance for American Airlines passengers will be 100 pounds in total and for JetBlue customers 70 pounds.

But going to Cuba isn’t as simple as booking an airline ticket. At the time of booking their Cuba flights with either of the approved commercial U.S. airlines, U.S. travellers must complete an affidavit form that certifies their reasons for travel to Cuba fall within one of the 12 authorised categories by the U.S. government.

Beyond that there’s also the need to obtain a Cuban visa prior to travel, an issue American Airlines is working on with Cuba Travel Services in order to make it easier for their passengers to get visa-ready. JetBlue, on their part, will be selling visas to Cuba directly to passengers at an extra cost, straight from the airport on the day of departure from the U.S. The cost of these visas is still a work-in-progress, as the carrier works with the Cuban government to negotiate a fee.

As JetBlue’s manager of corporate communications, Philip Stewart puts it:

“Our whole thing is demystifying travel to Cuba.”

Also according to Stewart, the practice of including the cost of health insurance for Cuba trips in ticket prices will be continued by JetBlue, with their health coverage valid for 30 days.

JetBlue has been at the forefront of providing flights to Cuba right from the beginning, in the past with the expansion of charter flights to the island, and at present by being the first to operate a direct commercial route to Cuba. To celebrate it, JetBlue is offering special launch tickets priced at just $99 one-way. Talk about covering all bases! Now, we don’t have to wait long to see the first U.S. regular flight land in Cuba.


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