Southwest Florida International approved for specialized flights to Cuba

Naples News:

Getting to Cuba from Southwest Florida may no longer require a two-hour drive to Miami.

On Monday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection approved Southwest Florida International Airport to operate specialized flights between the US and Cuba. It was one of 12 airports, including Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa, to receive the designation nationwide.

Previously, only three airports were authorized to fly between the US and Cuba: Los Angeles International, Miami International and New York City-based John F. Kennedy International.

But those hoping to visit family and friends in the island nation will still have to make the drive east to fly out of Miami International for the time being. The Fort Myers-based airport is not approved for normalized travel to and from Cuba.

“No carriers are giving us regular service as of right now,” said Victoria Moreland, public affairs director. “But this gives us the possibility to operate charter flights to Cuba for humanitarian relief, religious rights efforts or any other special reason.”

Moreland said receiving this approval gives the airport the opportunity to attract carriers should circumstances require flights to Cuba.

“It means we have the merit to be able to handle that international traffic,” she said.

Local Cubans are hoping that this will soon mean regular commercial flights will operate out of Southwest Florida as well.

“Too many people travel to Cuba from this area. And it’s always a pain to travel to Miami first,” said Irenia Torres, who left Cuba seven years-ago and has lived in Naples for six years.

If Southwest Florida International started operating flights regularly to Cuba, she said she knows people who would fly there monthly.

Until this year, those of Cuban descent were not permitted to travel to Cuba more than once every few years. As part of President Barack Obama’s effort to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future, he directed that all international airports apply to operate charter flights to and from Cuba.

To be eligible for approval, airports must be an international airport, have adequate staffing, equipment and facilities to process international traffic and must have an Office of Foreign Assets Control carrier service provider that is prepared to provide flights between the airport and Cuba. Southwest Florida International received its approval as part of that initiative.

Claudia Morales, a waitress at World Bakery and Cafeteria, a Golden Gate-based Cuban cafe, agreed that she would visit Cuba if it was less of a hassle to travel there. Morales left Cuba with her family at age six and has yet to go back.

She would like to fly there with her Cuban husband who came to the US when he was 15.

“We just haven’t had the time or the money to go to Miami and then fly there,” Morales said. “I’ve heard you need at least $1000 to cover flights, customs and taxes before you can even step foot in the country.”

Southwest Florida International is still far from operating regular, commercial flights to Cuba but the new designation gives it the opportunity to make the quick, 40 minute trip if the need arises.

“If and when the restrictions on flights ease up, the airport will be fully equipped and prepared to handle the travel,” Moreland said.


U.S. approves eight more airports for Cuba flights

HAVANA (Reuters) – The government has given permission to eight more airports to offer direct charter flights to and from Cuba in the latest small opening in the 49-year-long trade embargo against the communist island.

Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday Cuba flights would now be allowed from airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Previously, Cuba flights could be flown only from Miami, New York and Los Angeles. It was not yet known when flights would begin from the new cities.

President Barack Obama said in January Cuba charter service would be expanded. At the same time, he announced a loosening of restrictions for some groups on U.S. travel to Cuba.

The embargo, imposed since 1962 with the aim of toppling the communist government put in place after a 1959 revolution, prevents most Americans from going to Cuba. Only charter flights, not regular air service, are allowed to operate on U.S.-Cuba routes.

Obama has said he wants to recast U.S.-Cuba relations. He previously removed limits on Cuban American travel to the island located 90 miles from Florida and on the sending of remittances.

Cuban Americans have flooded into the country, packing the flights available and making Americans among the top nationalities numerically to visit Cuba.

Under Obama and President Raul Castro, the longtime ideological foes also have initiated talks on migration issues and the possible resumption of direct mail service.

Some Cuban American leaders and groups have opposed Obama’s measures, saying they help the Cuban government that was run by Fidel Castro for 49 years before his younger brother Raul Castro succeeded him in 2008.

Progress in the long-hostile relations came to a halt in December 2009 when Cuba arrested U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross for working in a U.S.-funded program to promote political change on the island.

The approval of the new airports comes as a Cuban court decides Gross’s fate following a two-day trial last week for what prosecutors said was his involvement in “subversive projects” to “defeat the Revolution.”

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

New flights offer easier access to Cuban tourism destinations easier

Xinhua: A Boeing 767 from the Russian Airline “Transaero” carrying 200 passengers on Monday arrived at the Varadero Airport, 250 km east from Havana, a Cuba’s tourism official said on Monday.

The Russian airliner will send visitors twice a week to the Varadero Resort, said Ramon Fundora, a specialist from the Ministry of Tourism. The flight also marks the resumption of Moscow-Caradero airline.

The travels are coordinated by the UkranianTour Operators Lanta Tour and Coral Trave, and the Russian Havanaturrussia, said Fundora.

He added that last week the Brazilian airline Wets Jets also started direct flight to Varadero.

Cuba has seen an increase in its tourists arrival this year despite the global financial crisis. While fewer tourists visited Cuba from major tourist source countries like France and Spain, the opening of new markets such as Venezuela and Russia, has helped raise the total figure.

Some new airline companies started direct flights to the island, specially those from Mexico, Japan, Russia and Brazil.

The Cuban tourism authorities have also launched a promotion campaign entitled “Authentic Cuba” in Europe to open up new market.

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest industry contributing about 20 percent of the island’s total foreign currency annual earning, according to official figures.

Cubana Airlines to Inaugurate London-Havana Route

DTC (Havana) – Cuban tourist authorities presented Cubana de Aviación’s new London-Holguín Havana route in Denmark.

Cuba flight booking with

Cuba flight booking with

Operations will begin on July 29, according to the information provided to a score of representatives of travel agencies and tour operators in that European country.

The Cuban officials also briefed participants about new tourist products and the second stage of the tourist campaign Viva Cuba in that market.

A 258-seat IL-96 plane will fly every week between Havana and London, providing travelers with a new route not only from Great Britain, but also from Scandinavia.

Efforts are aimed at attracting more vacationers to Cuba’s tourist destinations. – Flights to Cuba

New Air Routes to Jardines del Rey


Havana.- The international airport on Cayo Coco, in Jardines del Rey (King’s Gardens), has improved access for thousands of foreign tourists who visit that region every year.

Inaugurated in December 2002, the airport had handled 2.3 million passengers until May 2009, reporting an average stay of 17 minutes at the terminal.

The airport’s runway, which has an international standard size, allows large planes to land and depart.

At present, the airport receives planes of the companies Cubana de Aviación, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, Airtransat, Canjet and Air Canada.

Flights come from Toronto, Montreal, Manchester, London and Buenos Aires, and the airport handles an average of 13 international operations a week, with possibilities to receive up to ten flights a day during the peak tourist season. – Flight booking to Cuba

New flights began from LAX to Cuba


Angelenos with family in Cuba will have another option for travel today, when a Long Beach-based company kicks off nonstop flights from LAX to Havana.

The five-hour flight, which will run every Tuesday and can accommodate 150 people, takes off from L.A. at 11 a.m and is the only Cuban flight for Cuba Travel since July 2004, when the Bush administration tightened rules governing travel to Cuba, according to the company.

Since 1962, travel from the U.S. to Cuba has been banned, but Cuban Americans have been allowed to visit family under various policies. Obama repealed the 2004 travel restrictions in April. According to Cuba Travel, 1.5 million Cubans live in the United States. About 55,000 reside in Los Angeles County. – Luxury vacation rental in Cuba

Cuba Travel Services, Inc., to Relaunch Weekly Non-Stop Flights from Los Angeles to Havana June 30

Business Wire:

Cuba Travel Services, Inc. was forced to shut down their non-stop Los Angeles to Havana flights due to the Bush administration imposing harsh travel restrictions on family visits for Cuban Americans back in 2004. Within the first 100 days, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration policy to allow Cuban Americans to once again visit family annually and without limitations on the definition of who is considered family. Having weekly non-stops flights also allows for more accessible and safer travel since many Cuban Americans recently have had to travel through Tijuana at a time when traveling to Tijuana can come with travel risks.

In addition to servicing the Cuban American community on the West Coast under the Office of Foreign Assets and Control and U.S. Treasury guidelines, Cuba Travel Services, Inc. will be able to provide a more accessible route and cost-effective travel services to journalists, government officials and researchers that qualify under a general license and sports teams, religious organizations, educational facilities and other organizations or individuals who qualify for and are issued a specific license to travel.

Since 2000, Cuba Travel Services, Inc. has been the first charter company to fly direct flights from Los Angeles to Havana. In 2003, the United States ranked 8th in visitors per country of origin to Cuba with 84,529 visitors, dwindling down to 37,233 in 2005 under the Bush administration’s changes to Cuban travel regulations causing a limiting of visits and a cease of direct flights from Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

Cuba Travel Services Inc. was formed by a group of Los Angeles business professionals to specifically facilitate a better understanding between the U.S. and Cuba in providing convenient and cost-effective travel to U.S. citizens who qualify under the current U.S. Treasury regulations. Cuba Travel Services Inc.’s headquarters is based in Long Beach, California and currently has offices in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico and both Doral and Hialeah, Florida. – Cuba flights: book your flight to Cuba