Wanna go to Havana? Three airlines kick off flights from Fort Lauderdale

Just days after the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to Havana, Cuba, in five decades left the United States via Miami — and within a week of the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — flights between Fort Lauderdale and island nation’s capital will begin.

The landmark flights follow a recent pledge by President-elect Donald Trump via Twitter to “terminate” the deal between the U.S. and Cuba if “Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole.”

Three airlines will launch direct flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in coming days. JetBlue Airways’ flight took off at 11 a.m. today; Spirit Airlines’ flight leaves at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow; and Southwest Airlines’ flight departs at 11:55 a.m. Monday.

» RELATED: Fidel Castro dies: Music, dancing, parades fill Miami streets

Air travel between the U.S. and Cuba had been limited to charter flights until earlier this year when, as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to normalize relations between the two countries, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved several airlines to provide regular commercial air service.

JetBlue's first regularly scheduled flight to Cuba leaves Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Aug. 31, 2016. (Kristina Webb/The Palm Beach Post)
JetBlue’s first regularly scheduled flight to Cuba leaves Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Aug. 31, 2016. (Kristina Webb/The Palm Beach Post)

JetBlue held a lively celebration at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport at the end of August as one of its planes became the first regularly scheduled commercial flight in 50 years to go to Cuba. The flight, which took about an hour and landed in Santa Clara, was heralded as a milestone both for the airline and airport, as well as U.S.-Cuba relations, which Obama has worked to thaw in the past two years.

Among the changes ushered in by the Obama administration: more air travel, more business opportunities, and a lift on the restrictions barring the import of Cuban cigars and rum to the U.S.

But the administration’s actions have not been without controversy. Some politicians — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father fled Cuba for the U.S. — have said that despite Obama’s claim that his administration is helping the Cuban people, the shift in policy actually helps the Castro family and others in power in Cuba.

In a blog post, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez said that by the end of the year, airlines estimate they will have conducted more than 500 round trip flights — equal to more than 90,000 passenger seats — between Havana and Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa.

“The numbers themselves are impressive,” Mendez wrote, “and they underscore the significant benefits that President Obama’s policy of re-engagement is having for both the American and the Cuban people.”

Despite the current administration’s optimism, there is uncertainty among travelers and officials as to how Trump’s presidency will affect flights to Cuba.

Earlier this month, a federal official cautioned that it’s too soon to tell what effect a Trump presidency could have on how U.S. airlines operate to and from Cuba. Jenny Rosenberg, acting assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said in a conference call with reporters that it’s too soon to “speculate on the current agreement that we have.”

 

Mark Gale, CEO and president of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, told The Palm Beach Post in August that he’s proud of his team and JetBlue, whose flights account for about a fifth of all traffic at the airport.

“To have that very, very first flight come out of our airport is a great honor,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Flights to Havana could be offered from four Florida cities

If a proposal released Thursday takes effect, you may not have to travel far to catch a flight to Havana, Cuba.

Four Florida cities are among 10 chosen as possible locations for flights to and from the Cuban capital beginning this fall.

Cubans dance the Tango in the middle of the famous Prado boulevard in Habana Vieja January 25, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Cubans dance the Tango in the middle of the famous Prado boulevard in Habana Vieja January 25, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The list of cities was released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation and includes Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Tampa, along with Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and New York City.

“Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage Cuba,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a news release. “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

Foxx also said eight airlines tentatively have been chosen as carriers for Havana flights: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.

In making the decision on which U.S. cities to include in the proposal, the DOT said it looked for areas with large Cuban-American populations, along with areas that are aviation hubs.

The DOT said 12 U.S. airlines applied to offer service to Havana. The department did not release the names of the four airlines that did not make the cut.

The release of the proposed cities and carriers follows an agreement signed in February between the U.S. and Cuba to open air service between the two countries after more than 50 years. The arragement allows for each country to operate up to 20 roundtrip flights each day between Havana and the U.S.

Those traveling to Cuba must fall under one of 12 categories set by the U.S. government: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions. Read more here about what you need to travel to Cuba.

The DOT said it will release its final decision later this summer.