The Obama administration on Friday authorized six American air carriers to begin direct flights to Cuba as soon as this fall, paving the way for the resumption of scheduled air travel between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.
The Department of Transportation said it had approved applications from American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines to begin flying to Cuba as early as this fall from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The action was the latest piece of President Obama’s push to normalize relations between Washington and Havana after more than a half-century of hostility. In place of American efforts to isolate Cuba, the new policy encourages Americans to travel to the island nation, 90 miles south of Florida.
The service approved on Friday will fly to nine Cuban cities, including Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, and Santiago de Cuba. The Transportation Department said it would announce routes to the Cuban capital, Havana, later this year.
United States officials signed an agreement with Cuban authorities in February to allow for re-establishing scheduled flights — including 20 daily round-trip flights to Havana — and the Department of Transportation invited American carriers to apply. Interest in flying to Havana was overwhelming; the airlines applied for three times as many flights daily as the agreement allows, and the administration is still choosing among those proposals.
The flights are an example of Mr. Obama’s determination to use executive and administrative authority to get around the United States embargo with Cuba, including a tourism ban, still in place despite his repeated calls to repeal it.
The Treasury Department in March relaxed travel restrictions to allow Americans to take their own “people to people” educational trips to Cuba without getting special permission from the United States government, and it lifted limits on the use of American dollars there.
“Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” Anthony Foxx, the secretary of transportation, said in a statement. “Today, we are delivering on his promise.”
Many Republicans oppose Mr. Obama’s effort to establish warmer relations with Cuba, and despite bipartisan efforts to scrap the statutory restrictions, Congress has yet to approve legislation that would do so.
Photo credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times