- Flight 387 from Florida scheduled to land in Santa Clara
- Despite embargo, nearly 23,000 from US visited island in June
For the first time in more than half a century, a scheduled, commercial flight from the U.S. is due to land in Cuba Wednesday morning. Cuban officials hope it will be the first of many, helping turn the flow of U.S. tourists to the Communist island into a flood.
JetBlue flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is due to touch down in Santa Clara at 10:57 a.m., the first of dozens of daily and weekly flights that carriers from Frontier Airlines to Sun Country plan to offer between U.S. cities and 10 Cuban destinations. Passengers on today’s flight will include U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, according to Cuban officials.
Since announcing a thawing of relations with Cuba in December 2014, President Barack Obama’s administration has made it easier for citizens to travel to the island, easing a five decade-old economic embargo. The number of U.S. visitors leaped 61 percent in June from a year earlier, to 22,696, according to the Cuban government. The start of scheduled flights should boost visitor numbers still further, said John Kavulich, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a non-profit organization that gathers and analyzes data about Cuba.
“It shifts Cuba from being a destination to avoid to a destination to consider in the mind of the traveler,” Kavulich said by phone from New York. “It removes a barrier because now someone can go online and book a ticket, they can use frequent flier miles, they can fly first class if they want.”
Other airlines will begin scheduled services this fall or winter after receiving approval from the Cuban government, said Caitlin Harvey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. Previously, U.S. tourists wanting to visit the island had to use charter flights or travel through other countries.
Airlines are unlikely to fill the more than 1.4 million seats on flights they’re planning to fly to the island every year, at least while the embargo, which only Congress can repeal, remains in place, Kavulich said.
Consumers remain confused about who is allowed to travel and under what conditions, said Lee Abbamonte, a travel blogger who was scheduled to be on the JetBlue flight Wednesday, but changed his plans.
“People just keep hearing about Cuba opening to Americans, but few actually know anything about going,” he said in an e-mail. “And many will stay away because of the confusion.”