US & Cuba Commercial Flight Agreement Coming Next Week

About a year ago huge sanctions began to be lifted between the US and Cuba, following the embargo which was in place for decades. This was huge news for those looking to travel to Cuba, since it created more circumstances under which US tourists could visit.

What is far from instant, however, is actually restoring commercial flights between the two countries. Air treaties between countries are complicated matters even under normal circumstances, let alone a situation like this, where they’re making up for decades of non-diplomacy.

While both American Airlines and United Airlines immediately began the process of applying for rights to fly to Cuba, we knew from the beginning it wouldn’t happen overnight, and that the process could take upwards of 12 months.

Well, it has now been over a year, and it looks like some real progress has finally been made. Apparently the US and Cuba will sign an agreement next week to restore commercial service between the two countries.

Via the Associated Press:

Under the deal U.S. airlines can start bidding on routes for as many as 110 U.S.-Cuba flights a day – more than five times the current number. All flights operating today are charters.

Officials hope to parcel the routes out among carriers by this summer, allowing flights to begin by the time Obama leaves office.

The agreement allows 20 regular daily U.S. flights to Havana, in addition to the current 10-15 charter flights a day. The rest would be to other Cuban airports, most of which have far less demand than the capital.

Tuesday’s announcement will open a 15-day window for U.S. airlines to request rights to the new Cuba routes. U.S. carriers would then have to strike deals with Cuban aviation officials, a process the U.S. hopes will be complete by the fall.

As you can see, even with this upcoming announcement, we still won’t see flights to Cuba overnight. Realistically the earliest we’ll see these flights is later this year. Lots of airlines have expressed interest in starting this service, so I’m curious to see what ends up happening.

Keep in mind that technically “strict” tourism still isn’t allowed (and still won’t be allowed), though that’s loosely enforced, and won’t really be a barrier once commercial flights are restarted:

U.S. visitors to Cuba will still have to qualify under one of the travel categories legally authorized by the U.S. government. Tourism is still barred by law, but the number of legal reasons to go to Cuba – from organizing professional meetings to distributing information to Cubans – has grown so large and loosely enforced that the distinction from tourism has blurred significantly.

Commercial travel will give travelers the ability to simply check an online box on a long list of authorized categories.

Just about anyone can easily claim to fit into one of those categories, so it’s not exactly a huge barrier to entry.

Copa seems to want to beat US airlines with selling tickets to Cuba, as I received an email yesterday explaining the “incredible fares” they’re offering between the US and Cuba.

Copa-Cuba

You can fly from Miami to Havana for the “incredible fare” of $730 roundtrip!

Copa-Cuba-Fare

Given that the direct air distance is 235 miles, that’s almost two dollars per mile. I think they’re using the other definition of “incredible.”

MIAHAV

Regardless, with the number of flights which will suddenly become available to Cuba, I suspect fares will be very reasonable.

When I travel to Cuba I’m still tempted to fly via Canada on Air China

Bottom line

While it will likely be several months before commercial flights between the US and Cuba actually launch, it’s exciting to see there will be as many as 110 flights per day.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an interesting swing when it comes to demand for travel to Cuba. I suspect lots of people will travel there shortly after these flights launch, and then I wouldn’t be surprised if demand dies off a bit after that, since Cuba is still lacking when it comes to infrastructure. That’s a blessing and a curse, but I suspect it also means it’s not a place many Americans will be planning beach vacations to in the near future. But like other parts of the world, I suspect it will develop quickly.

In other words, I think the charm of a country with lacking infrastructure is both a good and bad thing for encouraging tourism.

Do you plan on visiting Cuba once nonstop commercial flights between the two countries launch?

Comments

  1. We’re visiting this summer. Will be there on July 4th actually. Flying from Mexico City with Interjet to Havana and then from Havana to Cancun. The Cancun flight was only $93.

  2. You’ll never have a problem with the licensing requirement yourself since you’d qualify as a travel “journalist.”

    Many of your readers may not be in the same position. One trap for the unwary is that activity for each of the authorized travel categories has to be substantially “full time.”

    So readers should still be careful, especially those with government licenses (e.g., law) or privileges (e.g., Global Entry) at stake.

    Gaming the likelihood of prosecution is just that — a game. But with high stakes.

  3. We flew the inaugural flight on Air China from Montreal to Havana.
    You can read about it at: http://michaelwtravels.boardingarea.com/2016/01/flying-the-inaugural-air-china-montreal-havana-flight/#sthash.p3KtaKUB.dpbs

    Cuba is definitely well worth visiting and I’m glad we went when we did. Once these flights from the US get going, I can’t imagine how the island will handle the demand when it comes to hotel rooms and even basic things like finding bottled water in stores.

    Hopefully when the US airlines start flying to Cuba the prices aren’t so high like the Copa flights you mentioned above. We paid $350 per person for our flight and that was flying in biz, home in coach.

  4. I think there’s pretty strong VFR traffic to Havana. If/when the tourism ban gets lifted, Cuba actually has some pretty strong resort infrastructure (filled with Europeans and Canadians, currently), and I could see demand to places like Varadero increasing significantly.

  5. Lacking in tourist infrastructure?!? Tourists from Europe, Canada, and Latin America have been going there for decades! Sure, it’s great to stay in hotels but staying in a casa particulare is the way to go, in my opinion.
    When I went to Cuba last November, I recall in my research how both AA and JetBlue leased their planes to the Cuba charter companies. I recall a roundtrip from Miami was around $440-$500 depending on the charter company.

  6. I am so delighted that–finally!–there will be something close to a normalization of relations between Washington and Havana. I will be anxiously awaiting the overturning of the absurd ban on everyday folk visiting Cuba; I am an architectural historian buff and am drooling at the prospect of strolling the streets of La Habana Vieja. It pisses me off that conservative hypocrites squeal about getting big government out of people’s lives but then tell me that I can’t go to Cuba.

    Ben, I so hope that you try the CA flight from YUL to HAV. Firstly, it would sort of be like giving the finger to Ted “I want the government out of my life so I can send it crashing into yours” Cruz. Secondly, it would be fascinating to read about the soft product on that flight.

  7. So I wonder how much the airlines are going to charge for these flights. Since it will be big on every-bodies list of places to see.

  8. i was just in havana this week. will definitely make it easier to get there but the country cannot handle the potential avalanche of people that will want to visit once it’s completely opened up for general tourism travel from the US. While Havana has a significant tourism footprint , the lack of lodging in the form of hotels that is at “Americanized” standards is definitely lacking. I stayed at a Casa which is the way to go in my opinion for an authentic experience, it definitely might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Also in highly touristic cities like Vinales about 2 hours away there are a hand full of hotels the rest are casa particulares.

  9. I live in Havana. The limited tourist infrastructure is already bursting at the seams. There is no way they can handle a larger influx of tourists in the short and medium term. It’s not as if lots of hotels are being built. The beach resorts are booked solid for months and that is without Americans. The hotels in Havana are also booked solid. The lack of tourist infrastructure will put the brakes on further rapid growth of the tourism sector, and high prices for poor facilities and services just won’t appeal to the American masses once the novelty factor wears off.

  10. The (high) Copa fares from US destinations to Cuba are flights via Panama, which accounts for the cost.
    None of this is new; a routing such as this has been available for a long time, and one can even construct a LifeMiles award in fact. Copa just want to get their name out there at this time of change.

  11. @me

    Doesn’t seem to have stopped people visiting Mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau, so maybe it’s just you!

  12. J Dee

    Why visit some crappy city like Havana with ZERO infrastructure to support tourism. Their great dictator has zero interest in making the place nice, just taking tourist dollars. THAT’s the difference you moron.

  13. me

    Well, tell that to all those people who have been visiting it for years!

    So easy to abuse people online isn’t it, dikkwit!

  14. @J Dee – “So easy to abuse people online isn’t it, dikkwit!”

    Does anyone else see the irony in this statement?

  15. I went 23 times, mostly Miami-Nassau-Havana. That was not very expensive using Cubana Air through Bahamas. Almost always stayed in a casa particular (see Airbnb) ranging from 15-30 per night.
    Often immigration would warn me saying I would be hearing from the Treasury Dept, but never happened. ACLU said if it ever did, then just forward the letter to them. It’s not like the USA is going to spend money throwing their people in jail for traveling freely.

  16. What you fail to mention in your article is the following. if you happen to be a person that was born in Cuba and want to travel to. The Cuban government mentioned will force you to obtain a Cuban passport weather you hold a an American passport or not and a an entry visa will be required by the Cuban government. In order for you to enter the country that you was born. It is confusing but intensively implemented in order to get you under their jurisdiction or law if any, the minute you set foot in Cuba. So those so call ten daily fly to Cubs applied to a segment of the population in the U S
    only.

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