Flights to Cuba opening up as U.S. travel ban eases
In the latest sign of thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Oakland International Airport in California has been authorized to offer nonstop flights to Havana.
San Francisco Chronicle
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In the latest sign of thawing relations between the United States and Cuba, Oakland International Airport in California has been authorized to offer nonstop flights to Havana.
The airport said it will provide weekly charter flights to and from Jose Marti International Airport in partnership with Cuba Travel Services of Long Beach, Calif., starting as soon as December
Oakland joins a handful of other airports nationwide, including Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Baltimore, that were authorized in March to fly to the communist country. Previously, only Los Angeles, Miami and New York airports offered such service.
The United States' historically strained relationship with Cuba began loosening in January, when the Obama administration announced that it would relax restrictions on academic and religious travel to the island nation.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who pushed for the city's airport to be authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide the flights, has long lobbied for more open interactions between the two countries.
"It's one step in the right direction. I think we need to fully lift the travel ban as a major first step,"she said. "Allowing airports to get a license to get a charter flight directly into Cuba is huge for Oakland."
Round-trip tickets are expected to go on sale in early October for about $860, said Michael Zuccato, general manager of Cuba Travel Services, which will schedule the flights. The journey to Havana takes about 5 hours and 40 minutes; the return flight takes about 6 hours and 45 minutes.
Cuba Travel Services has yet to finalize which carriers it will use, Zuccato said. It is in talks with a number of airlines, including Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, and will use aircraft that can hold up to 160 passengers, such as a Boeing 737.
The travel changes announced in January do not affect the ban on U.S. tourism, meaning that those most interested in soaking up the sun at Cuban beach resorts will have to wait awhile longer. Most trade remains barred.
But the new policies open possibilities for academic and religious groups. Accredited educational institutions can now apply to operate in Cuba under a license that authorizes students, faculty and staff to take credit courses toward a degree, conduct graduate research and teach a 10-week course at a Cuban academic institution. Members of incorporated religious organizations can also apply for a general license to participate in religious activities.
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