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.

 

 

 

 

Want to fly to Havana? U.S. announces airlines that can take you there

The hotel Nacional is seen in Havana, Cuba.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The hotel Nacional is seen in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On the same day JetBlue made history with the first regularly scheduled commercial airline flight to Cuba in more than 50 years, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the eight airlines given final approval to fly to the island nation’s capital.

Until Wednesday, several airlines had received approval to fly to Cuban cities not including Havana. The JetBlue flight that took off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Wednesday morning was heading to Santa Clara, about three hours from Havana.

Now JetBlue, along with seven other carriers, have the final OK from the U.S. government to seek approval from Cuba to finalize flight schedules and destinations.

Here is the full list of airlines, along with their proposed routes and frequency:

• Alaska Airlines — Los Angeles, once daily

• American Airlines — Miami, four times a day; Charlotte, once daily

• Delta Air Lines — New York (JFK), once daily; Atlanta, once daily; Miami, once daily

• Frontier Airlines — Miami, once daily

• JetBlue Airways — Fort Lauderdale, twice daily (except once on Saturdays); New York (JFK), once daily; Orlando, once daily

• Southwest Airlines — Fort Lauderdale, twice daily; Tampa, once daily

• Spirit Airlines — Fort Lauderdale, twice daily

• United Airlines — Newark, once daily; Houston, once weekly (Saturdays)

The decision by the Department of Transportation places Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as one of the top airports serving Cuba, with about 40 flights daily just to Havana.

Marking the departure of JetBlue’s first commercial flight to Cuba on Wednesday, Fort Lauderdale airport CEO and Director Mark Gale said the number of flights to Cuba out of the airport is a “testament to the reputation of Fort Lauderdale.”

Stacy Ritter, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, called Wednesday’s flight to Cuba “a milestone.”

“To be the first in something so historic is truly astounding,” she said.

Read more about travel to Cuba — including what you need to do if you want to go.

Silver Airways, JetBlue to fly from South Florida to Cuba

Silver Airways and JetBlue will offer flights to Cuba from the Ft.Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Broward County.

A plane comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport. (Getty Images)
A plane comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport. (Getty Images)

JetBlue will begin its service on Aug. 31. The company plans to operate flights on three routes, with one-way fares beginning at $99.

JetBlue will fly between the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Santa ClaraAbel Santamaría Airport, Camagüey Ignacio Agramonte Airport, and Holguín Frank País Airport.

Silver Airlines will fly between Ft. Lauderdale and nine airports in Cuba, including Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cienfuegos, Cayo Largo Del Sur, Holguin, Manzanillo, Santa Clara, Santiago De Cuba, and Varadero. Serive is expected to start later this year