Airports Queue to Fly to Cuba

U.S. airports are pressing the government to broaden the list of ports of entry allowed to handle flights to and from Cuba, even though the White House is proceeding cautiously with changes in travel policy.

In a recent letter, Peter Horton, the director of Key West International Airport in Florida, urged the Treasury Department to add the facility to the list of three big international airports in Miami, Los Angeles and New York. Earlier this year, Tampa’s airport made a similar request. And airport officials in Houston, already one of the biggest gateways between the U.S. and Latin America, say local business leaders have pressed them to push for access to Cuba, too.

Associated PressA new Key West airport departure terminal, opened in February, is part of a big expansion of passenger facilities.

In April, the Obama administration eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to the island by U.S. citizens or residents with family in Cuba. The recent requests are an effort by cities and airports to position themselves ahead of any further loosening of travel policy.

“Cities are looking to get ready for any other moves that could mean more travelers flying back and forth between the two countries,” said Kirby Jones, a consultant in Bethesda, Md., who advises companies on business with Cuba.

A spokeswoman said the Treasury couldn’t comment on specific requests for changes to existing travel policy, but that requests were reviewed when received.

Under Treasury rules, travel to Cuba by Americans is restricted to family members of Cuban citizens, government officials, academics and others who qualify for special licenses to travel there. About 50,000 American travelers, most of whom traveled by charter flights, received licenses last year.

If the travel ban were lifted, eventually as many as one million Americans a year would visit Cuba, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, a federal agency. Already, charter operators say the changes earlier in the year have caused a spike in the number of Cuba-bound passengers.

Cuba flight booking with

Cuba flight booking with

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” said Tom Cooper, chairman of Gulfstream Air Charter Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., carrier that has seen a 25% increase in passengers on the flights it operates between Miami and Cuba.

For decades, travel-related businesses have decried U.S. restrictions, designed to punish Cuba’s Communist government, because the rules prevent what could be a lucrative market from developing. Last week, Orbitz Worldwide Inc., the online travel agency, emailed customers asking them to sign a petition urging the U.S. government to lift the ban on travel to and from Cuba outright. The message cites bills, introduced earlier this year in Congress, that propose to do that.

The Obama administration, despite the easing of policy since it took office, hasn’t prodded lawmakers to make the bills a priority. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said that any further changes in travel policy, or the broader and longstanding economic embargo against the Cuban regime, would depend on whether Havana takes steps toward democracy.

Still, airports angling for future Cuba service say they need to get ready. Mr. Horton, the Key West airport director, said the island’s proximity to Cuba, plus the sizable Cuban-American community living nearby, are factors that would sustain a market for charter flights. The airport has been in the process of expansion and renovation this year.

The airport’s letter to the Treasury was accompanied by a letter from Cape Air, an East Coast carrier that flies to Key West, expressing interest in flying to Cuba.

If demand for flights were to increase because of further lifting of restrictions, Mr. Horton said, “the last thing that we want is to get lost in the shuffle as people scramble to try to fly there.” – Flights to Cuba


About Particular Cuba
Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

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