Congress divided over commercial flights to Cuba

Posted: 12-Sep-16 12:36

While direct commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba are finally off the ground after more than a half-century of travel restrictions, Congress remains sharply divided over whether future flights should proceed as scheduled. At the same time, supporters are optimistic the flights will be a catalyst to breaking down even more barriers when it comes to Cuban travel.

Congress divided over commercial flights to Cuba

When a JetBlue airline touched down in Cuba last month it was widely viewed as a history-making moment for Americans who until recently faced tight restrictions in visiting the country. For more than 50 years, U.S. commercial flights were prohibited from landing in Cuba. While that’s no longer the case, some U.S. lawmakers fear the ban was lifted with haste, putting them at odds with fellow lawmakers who are working to lift the tourism ban and the restrictions that still exist.

The disagreement is outlined in an article published on The Hill by writer Melanie Zancona. While she writes that some U.S. Senators are pushing through legislation to lift the remaining tourism ban, she adds some House members want commercial flights to Cuba grounded.

The backlash concerns security at Cuban airports. Some, like Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, also the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, maintain there’s a safety concern with adding more commercial flights to Cuba and that the Obama administration rushed the availability of them through too quickly.

“Once Congress is back in session, I plan to move legislation through my Homeland Security Committee to force DHS and GAO to both identify and close any and all of the major security gaps that currently exist.”

Concerns have to do with security at Cuba’s 10 international airports, with some arguing that the country does not meet America’s stricter airport security standards. It should be mentioned that Cuban airports do meet international security standards.

The increased tourism has been shown to benefit locals as many residents are now tied to the tourism industry, opening up their homes to travellers as casas particulares, serving up cuisine in paladares and opening up businesses that benefit locals and travellers.

The resumption of commercial airline service has for many marked a major milestone in further normalizing relations between the two countries, something President Barack Obama touched upon with the announcement of restoring diplomatic relations nearly two years ago.

While the article rightly points out that American tourism alone is still prohibited, travellers can go to Cuba by qualifying for one of the 12 travel categories. Proponents like James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, profess it only makes sense that the tourism ban will be lifted in the near future.

“The more Americans are going to Cuba, the more people are seeing and experiencing it, and the more they will see that the travel ban is outdated.”

Williams expects the U.S.-based airlines will help in that respect, pushing lawmakers to make a change and fill their flights. There are already a couple of measures moving through the House and Senate aimed at getting rid of the ban.

This as a large influx of American travellers continues to arrive on the island, eager to experience all that Cuba has to offer. From unique sites and attractions to cultural interactions, record numbers of U.S. visitors have headed to Cuba in recent months by cruise ship, private jet and now direct commercial airline.


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