Regularly scheduled airline flights connecting the Cuba and the United States could be back on the schedule as soon as next year.
That’s according to The Associated Press, which cites an unnamed U.S. official “familiar with the diplomacy” underway between the two nations. U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana last week to try nail down some of the first steps toward normalizing relations.
Restoring regular airline service between the USA and Cuba was among the topics, according to the official. AP says the person “wasn’t authorized to publicly lay out the process and demanded anonymity.”
Still, a civil aviation agreement for regular airline service could be in place by the year’s end, The Wall Street Journal adds in its own report. Like AP, the Journal cites an unnamed U.S. “official familiar with the new rules” being discussed by diplomats.
If the agreement is in place by the end of December, regularly schedule airline flights could start sometime in 2016.
The Obama administration has eased travel restrictions to Cuba, allowing Americans who fall under 12 approved categories — educational, religious or humanitarian projects, among others – to visit the island. But Americans still can’t go to Cuba strictly for tourism.
And U.S. airlines are still not allowed to sell tickets for Cuba flights, though they can operate the aircraft for charter outfits authorized to sell travel to Cuba for travelers meet one of the approved categories.
Within that framework, airlines including JetBlue, American and others have teamed up with charter companies that fly to Cuba. The charter companies are licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to sell travel packages to Cuba, with flights operated by U.S. carriers.
However, AP says those charter flights can sometimes be “complicated to book, rarely involving an online portal and often forcing a prospective traveler to email documents and payment information back and forth with an agent. Those flying sometimes must arrive at the airport four hours in advance; strict baggage limits apply.”
But U.S. airlines say they’re eager to begin regular service to Cuba if and when the government allows it.
“American’s position is: We want to see the introduction of scheduled service, if that’s, in fact, what the two governments want to do,” Howard Kass, AA’s vice president of regulatory affairs, told WFAA TV of Dallas in July. “The other restrictions, we think, will all fall away as ties normalize.”
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