Photographer: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky/Bloomberg

Cold War Barrier Falls as U.S. Clears Airlines for Havana

Updated on
  • American, Delta, United and Southwest are among the winners
  • Scheduled flights may begin this fall, U.S. government says

The U.S. government proposed eight airlines to begin scheduled passenger service to Havana, as carriers hustle to open regular flights to the Cuban capital for the first time in half a century.

Flights may begin as early as this fall, the Department of Transportation said in a statement Thursday. The airlines winning approval for Havana service were American, Delta, United, Southwest, Spirit, Alaska, Frontier and JetBlue. 

The proposed flights would begin normalizing air links between the U.S. and Cuba after the Cold War rivals’ decades-long estrangement. U.S. airlines applied for almost 60 flights a day to Havana, triple the 20 daily frequencies authorized under the arrangement between the U.S. and Cuba.

“By restoring regular air service for the first time in more than 50 years, we have before us the chance to reunite Cuban-American families and foster educational, cultural and commercial opportunities and experiences for American citizens and businesses,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a press conference.

Winning Approval

U.S. airlines had competed for authorization since March, lining up scores of airport directors, travel agencies and chambers of commerce in support of their applications.

Last month, the agency approved six U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights to nine Cuban cities other than Havana. Travelers flying to Cuba must be from one of 12 categories, including people visiting family, working journalists, people on official government business and others. Tourist travel is not yet approved.

U.S. cities set to receive flights to Havana include New York, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Newark, New Jersey. Four Florida cities will also get service: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

The 50-year drought in scheduled passenger flights means that airlines have been left to make educated guesses about the size and demand of the market to Cuba, said Rob Britton, an aviation consultant who spent 22 years as an executive with American. Still, the list of cities and frequencies looks “sensible," he said. Miami seems the most natural fit, with a large Cuban-American population and American’s major hub there.

Tourists Next

Airlines probably will lobby the U.S. government to open up the flights soon to tourists, Britton said. He expects leisure travel may be the biggest market after people of Cuban heritage.

“Who’s going to go there as a tourist?” Britton said. “That’s going to depend on how easy the Obama administration is going to make it to go there without explaining why you need to be there.”

The public has 30 days to comment on the DOT’s proposal. Foxx said the agency hopes to finalize its decision before the end of the summer. American, which won the most daily routes to Havana, with four from Miami and one from Charlotte, plans to begin selling tickets as early as next month, the airline said.

The Transportation Department opted not to allocate any of the daily Havana frequencies to four smaller airlines: Silver Airways, Sun Country Airlines, Eastern Air Lines Group and Dynamic International Airways.

Alaska AirlinesLos AngelesOnce daily
American AirlinesMiamiFour times daily
CharlotteOnce daily
Delta Air LinesNew York (JFK)Once daily
AtlantaOnce daily
MiamiOnce daily
Frontier AirlinesMiamiOnce daily
JetBlue AirwaysFort LauderdaleTwice daily*
New York (JFK)Once daily
OrlandoOnce daily
Southwest AirlinesFort LauderdaleTwice daily
TampaOnce daily
Spirit AirlinesFort LauderdaleTwice daily
United AirlinesNewarkOnce daily
HoustonOnce weekly (Saturdays)

*Except once on Saturday