Saturday, September 3, 2016

Southwest, American Airlines get final approval for Havana flights

The U.S. Department of Transportation has granted final clearance for Southwest Airlines and American Airlines flights to Havana, making the North Texas-based carriers two of eight U.S. airlines to fly to the capital of Cuba beginning as early as this fall.

The final approval came Wednesday, the same day JetBlue completed the first commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years. That flight, with 150 passengers, left Fort Lauderdale and landed in the central Cuba city of Santa Clara.

The transportation department’s Wednesday decision finalized its July 7 tentative decision to allocate 20 daily frequencies to U.S. air carriers for scheduled passenger services between the U.S. and Havana. Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines got the go-ahead along with Fort Worth-based American and Dallas-based Southwest.

Southwest will serve Havana with three daily flights, combined nonstop service from both Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay. As previously authorized by the DOT, Southwest also intends to offer two daily flights to Varadero, and one daily flight to Santa Clara, all nonstop from Fort Lauderdale, the airline said in a statement.

“We appreciate the Department of Transportation’s decision and considerable work to reestablish scheduled service between the two countries,” Southwest’s statement says. “Southwest’s Cuba service will make company history, as well, bringing our world-famous combination of exceptional value and customer service to a ninth country, and adding our 100th city served by Southwest Airlines.”

Southwest said its Cuba fares and flight schedule will be announced in coming days at

In its final order Wednesday, DOT said that it “tentatively found that it could best maximize public benefits by addressing the service needs of the substantial communities that are most likely to benefit — primarily centers of Cuban-American population — while, at the same time, creating a framework for a competitive market structure.”

The agency added that “the record amply supports that the Cuban-American population centers in the United States are the areas most in need of scheduled service to Havana.”

American Airlines will be the second U.S. airline to launch commercial flights to Cuba in decades, with a flight departing from Miami International Airport on Sept. 7.

On that day, American, which has offered charter jets to Cuba for 25 years, will launch its commercial service to the Caribbean island with flights from Miami to Cienfuegos and Holguin. Two days later, American will launch service from Miami to Santa Clara and Camaguey. Service from Miami to Varadero will begin Sept. 11.

Tourism to Cuba still isn’t authorized for U.S. citizens, but travelers can be approved under 12 sanctioned categories of travel.

(Bill Hethcock - Dallas Business Journal)

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