The U.S. Department of Transportation has authorized six United States airlines to begin air routes to nine cities in Cuba, and ticket sales will begin as early as next week.
The routes, which are still subject to Cuba government approval and a security review of the approved airports, include the Cuban destinations of Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. The U.S. departure cities are Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The U.S.-based airlines that will be conducting the flights are American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver, Southwest and Sun Country. The authorized routes will allow 90 round trip flights a week to Cuba, or 10 to each of the approved cities.
The original non-binding agreement reached in February 2016 allows for up to 110 round trips. Havana is the destination for the 20 remaining flights. Because U.S. airlines have requested permission for up to 60 flights a week to Havana, the Transportation Department must review the requests from the six airlines that wish to fly there and figure out how to allocate the flights. Three other major U.S. airlines—United, Delta and Alaska Air—have requested permission to fly to Havana. They were not part of Friday's announcement. A decision on the Havana routes is expected later this summer.
"Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey' with the Cuban people," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in a statement released Friday. "Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century."
An American Airlines spokesperson said the company would begin selling tickets next week, but that it still did not have a date to inaugurate the first flight.The tickets will be available for daily flights from Miami to Camaguey and Cienfuegos and twice daily service to Holguin, Varadero and Santa Clara.
The spokesperson did not have any pricing available yet for the tickets. According to published reports, American expects to begin the flights as early as September. The Holguin and Santa Clara flights will be operated with a Boeing 737-800 and the Camaguey, Cienfuegos and Varadero flights will be operated with an Airbus A319.
The American Airlines spokesperson also says that every traveler will be required to show that they have been granted a visa to travel to Cuba under the existing People-to-People travel regulations, which still govern U.S. citizens' trips to Cuba. But given the easing of those restrictions, and the possibility of individuals to request visas under the 12 authorized travel categories that include everything from academic studies to medical relief missions, the process should not be too onerous for even individuals.