US Airlines Will Start Commercial Flights To Cuba Within 60-90 Days

Early last year 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 (and those travel restrictions have been eased even further since then).

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.

As I wrote about in February, the US and Cuba signed an agreement to restore commercial service between the two countries. Under this agreement, US airlines could start bidding on routes between the US and Cuba, for up to 110 flights per day.

Only 20 of those daily frequencies could be commercial flights to Havana, though, while the other frequencies would have to be to other cities in Cuba (where there’s presumably a lot less demand). US airlines had a 15 day window where they could request flights to Cuba, so at the end of that we learned of all the flights US carriers wanted to operate to Cuba, which far exceeded the number of available frequencies.


Well, six US airlines have now been granted the authority to fly to Cuba, with more coming over the next couple of months. Here’s what we know so far, per Scott Mayerowitz at the AP:

The airlines — American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country — were approved by the Department of Transportation for a total of 155 roundtrip flights per week. They’ll fly from five U.S. cities to nine cities in Cuba other than Havana.

The airlines must begin service within 90 days, although they can request an extension if they need more time. Some of the airlines have been working for months on logistics and have told the department they could start flying in as few as 60 days. Other airlines have indicated they may need as much as four months to get ready.

Approval is still required by the Cuban government, but the carriers say they plan to start selling tickets in the next few weeks while they wait for signoffs from Cuba.

As of now, authority has only been granted for routes to Cuba other than to Havana. That’s because these routes were uncontested, in the sense that all the airlines that requested them will be granted authority.

Authority for Havana routes will probably be granted later this summer, since there’s a selection process the DOT has to go through.

Interestingly it seems like we may very well see flights to Cuban cities other than Havana before we see actual flights to Havana. Airlines have to launch these routes within 90 days, though in practice may launch them within 60 days.

American Airlines put out a press release about the routes they were granted, which include the following:

Per the DOT Order issued today, American is approved to operate two daily flights between Miami and Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero, and one daily flight between Miami and Camaguey and Cienfuegos. The Holguin and Santa Clara flights will be operated with a Boeing 737-800 and the Camaguey, Cienfuegos and Varadero flights will be operated with an Airbus A319.

Bottom line

It’s exciting to see that commercial flights between the US and Cuba should begin operating in the next 60-90 days. However, what remains to be seen is which airlines will be granted authority for routes to Havana, which are likely to be the most lucrative for airlines, and the most useful for passengers. It will likely be a couple more months before the DOT decides on that, though I suspect airlines will begin service very shortly after they’re granted authority.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. The strange thing here is though that so far, Delta and United have had none of their flights approved, which is interesting.

  2. @ Cameron — That’s because they only wanted to fly to Havana, and those routes haven’t yet been granted.

  3. I rather like that these flights are going to cities other than Havana. While I personally would love to see Havana based on what I’ve seen and heard, I think these flights will force people to experience more of Cuba than they likely would have otherwise. At least that’s the silver lining, I guess.

  4. Actually, the routes have to begin within 90 days of their proposed start dates, not 90 days from NOW. Some of the applications that have been approved have start up dates in September. October, November, January 2017, etc. Thus, the flights would need to start within 90 days of these proposed start up dates. That is what the order from the DOT with the decisions actually says.

  5. Since most Cubans live in S. Florida, I imagine that the vast majority of flights and passenger load will pass through Miami. I see that Charlotte (my hometown and a hub for American) has a flight on the board, I suppose it will be more of a connection city than anything. Tourism will certainly be a factor as the country begins to open up, but I cannot imagine the demand will be that high. While ordinary individuals find it almost seamless to go to Cuba now, there is still an economic embargo in place that cannot be lifted by Congress. As such, business investment and the like won’t be able to take off just yet. On the flip side, I wonder if and whenever the US will allow Cubana to fly to the US. The majority of the Cubana fleet is of Russian/Soviet origin, which of course will be difficult to accommodate in the US.

  6. @ Lucky oh right, I didn’t see that. I went back to check and was kinda confused considering Delta and United’s requests were reasonable, and was supprised to not see them here. That explains it.

  7. As a Canadian who’s been to Cuba for vacation more than once I’ve always found the American beef with Cuba to be a source of puzzling amusement. Regardless, I should point out that I’ve met Americans during these vacations. How? Simple – they live near the border and they come to Toronto to board planes for Cuba where they pay for cheap vacations with cheap Canadian dollars.

  8. I wonder if the flights to Havanna will be on bigger planes I.e. AA 777s on downtime at Miami or 767s from other places

  9. “there’s a selection process the DOT has to go through.”

    Because there is at least one nation involved that hasn’t learned the lesson of the failure of socialism. Why is the DOT deciding who gets to fly to HND or HAV? Let the airlines bid on the rights. As if they were in a market economy.

  10. The picture is misleading – it shows Havana flights, so I too thought those were what was approved as well.
    I thought tourism is also still embargoed so I don’t see the demand. I presume this is just to get the flights first hoping for more tourism later. I know there are many ways around this tourism ban, through tour groups or cruises claiming “cultural exchange”.

  11. @Owen, nothing like wearing your political ignorance as a Badge of Honor, huh?!

    Enjoy your retirement, now with SOCIAL Security. Maybe you could use it to fly to Scandinavia some day lol!

  12. Socialism, Hooray!

    Hopefully these flights will be just the start. I’m dreaming of a Highlights of Socialism organized tour, that starts in Cuba, then goes on to Venezuela, and finishes up in North Korea. 😉

  13. Varadero and Holguin have fine beaches and European-owned resorts, Cienfuegos is a pretty colonial town, and Santa Clara is near the imposing Che Guevara mausoleum… There is much more to Cuba than Havana. I remember visiting as a 20 year old, renting a scooter and zipping around the countryside… I remember the people being kind and helpful, and very proud of their country. I am happy that it will now be easier to go back from the U.S. as well.

  14. Although, you do have some relatively good thoughts in this post, the article really leaves the reader wanting more. You really have no extensive thoughts of your own and the avatar/image of your post is extremely misleading. I was really looking for a more in depth analysis/view of this topic; most interested readers would have seen the stories posted from major broadcasters days ago. Instead of quoting and linking works to those stories, it would be nice to see some original work from you, for once.

  15. I want to travel solo Havana around Christmas and New Years and am concerned the flights will book up quickly once the routes to Havana are granted. Do you have a suggestion on a Charter Company that would accomodate a solo traveler?

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