Scheduled Commercial Flights to Cuba? Not So Fast

Scheduled Commercial Flights to Cuba? Not So Fast

Don't get too excited about the headlines announcing a resumption of commercial air flights between the United States and Cuba. The reports are overstating the facts.

The U.S. Department of State did announce today an agreement to resume commercial air flights between Cuba and the United States. But it is a small first step toward the ultimate Civil Aviation Agreement that will govern those flights. The U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council advised "caution" in assuming the commencement of those flights will happen any time soon.

The U.S. government statement said a Civil Aviation Arrangement had been reached; essentially, it's an accord to agree that flights should be allowed sometime in the future. It is far short of a Civil Aviation Agreement that will govern those flights. Once a Civil Aviation Agreement is signed, the Department of Transportation will open a 60- to 90-day period when U.S. airlines may submit their proposed routes, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Then, those route requests will still be subject to approval by not only the U.S. government but by the Cuban government, too.

There are also outstanding issues dating back to the last Civil Aviation Agreement between the two countries, which was suspended in the early 1960s, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. These legacy routes may be subject to claims by the airlines who have acquired their rights through merger or purchase of other airlines during the last 50 years.

In addition, under existing travel regulations that limit legal travel to Cuba by American citizens, any commercial air carrier would be charged with determining whether or not the passengers on their flights have U.S. government permission to travel to Cuba. This oversight is currently managed by licensed People-to-People tour operators who use charter companies for their air travel to Cuba. Tourist travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is still illegal.

The Obama Administration is reportedly considering further loosening those regulations to allow travelers to "self-declare" that they are in compliance with all applicable laws, but no regulations have been issued.

"No one should be looking to use AmericanAirlines.com to travel to Cuba for New Years Eve," said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc.

In other words, the announcement today is a long way from the reality of regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba.