6 U.S. airlines get approval for scheduled flights to Cuba

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Six U.S. airlines have received approval to operate scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, U.S. officials say, less than a year after the countries restored diplomatic relations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced on Friday that it had approved six U.S. airlines – including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines – to begin scheduled flights to Cuba from cities such as Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia.

“Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”

Friday’s decision only relates to cities other than the Cuban capital of Havana, for which demand from airlines has exceeded the maximum number of daily flights allowed under the agreement reached and signed in February. A decision on flights to Havana is expected this summer.

The airlines which have so far received permission to operate scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba are: American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines.

The six airlines will operate scheduled service from the U.S. cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia to the Cuban cities of Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.

Under the arrangement agreed in February, each country will have the opportunity to operate up to 20 daily roundtrip flights between the United States and Havana, as well as the opportunity to operate up to 10 daily roundtrip flights between the United States and each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.

This will allow American and Cuban carriers to operate up to 110 daily roundtrip flights between the United States and Cuba, as well as an unlimited number of charter services. The first scheduled flights are expected to start sometime this fall.

Relations between the former Cold War foes have rapidly improved over the last few years with the formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations in July 2015. Both countries have since re-opened their embassies and reached agreements in various areas, including the re-establishment of direct postal services and cruises to Cuba.

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