JetBlue Airways became the first U.S. passenger airline to complete a commercial flight to Cuba in 50 years, just months after a historic agreement between the two countries to resume scheduled air service. The agreement is part of the Obama Administration’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba.
The JetBlue Airways Flight 387—with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on board—landed Wednesday in Santa Clara, Cuba.
Earlier this summer, the Transportation Department approved six U.S. passenger airlines including JetBlue and one all-cargo airline to serve cities in Cuba other than Havana. On Wednesday, the federal agency gave final approval for eight airlines to fly to Havana, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.
The newly approved flights will provide service to Havana from Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa, Foxx said in a blog post about the historic flight.
In a classic bureaucratic twist, Americans tourists anxious to visit Cuba are still not allowed to. Travel to Cuba for tourism remains prohibited by law, according to the Transportation Department. And it will remain that way until U.S. Congress can be persuaded to lift a longstanding trade embargo.
Travelers must fall under one of 12 categories that are authorized by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. These categories include family visits, official government business, journalism, and activities of private foundations or educational institutes, according to the OFAC.
But the range of exceptions is wide enough that many Americans would still be able to qualify for travel to Cuba.
The restrictions hasn’t dampened enthusiasm from the airlines or other companies from trying to establish business in Cuba. A dozen U.S. airlines applied for the chance to operate scheduled passenger service to Havana. In all, the airlines applied for nearly 60 flights daily to Havana, exceeding the 20 daily flights made available by the arrangement between the two governments, according to the DOT.
In March, Carnival Cruises, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and Marriott International all revealed plans to expand in Cuba—announcements that were tied into President Obama’s visit to the country. Google has plans to offer high-speed Internet service in Cuba, Cisco is opening an IT academy, and Caterpillar signed a deal to distribute equipment in the country.
These announcements are symbolic because of the trade embargo places restrictions on U.S. companies. That is, except for Airbnb, which has been in business there for more than year.