US-Cuba scheduled flights could resume in 2016

  Tour the Pártagas Cigar Factory when in Havana, Cuba   (Photo:  Pascal Hassenforder )

Tour the Pártagas Cigar Factory when in Havana, Cuba (Photo: Pascal Hassenforder)

Last week, the governments of the United States and Cuba reached an agreement that could allow scheduled commercial airline service to resume between the two countries for the first time in decades. While charter flights already serve the island nation, last week's agreement could allow the type of service that the average airline traveler experiences daily.

All travelers to and from Cuba must use charter flights that are carefully monitored by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Travelers must present their visas, identification and payment information to charter agents who handle the flights, and all travelers must certify that their trip falls under one of 12 categories approved by the federal government.

The agreement reportedly reached by U.S. and Cuban officials on Wednesday in Washington would create a system that is more familiar to travelers. That may include the ability to book a trip through a Web portal and eliminate the long-standing practice of checking in four hours before each flight.
— "Report: U.S., Cuba reach deal to resume commercial flights", USAToday.com

One potential hurdle is the fact that travel to Cuba for tourism is still technically illegal. Changing this would require new legislation and, given the disagreement in Washington regarding US-Cuban relations, a new law could be some time in coming. However, there are perfectly legal reasons to travel to Cuba.

U.S. citizens can legally travel to Cuba if they are engaging in 12 categories of activities such as professional research, participating in an athletic event, performing in a concert, working on a humanitarian project or taking part in educational activities.
— "7 things Americans should know about travel to Cuba," CNN.com

Since the announcement, several airlines have expressed interest in launching commercial service to our neighbor 90 miles from Florida:

  • American Airlines - The carrier is the largest to the Caribbean and already provides charter service to Cuba
  • Delta Air Lines - The airline already provides service to 25 destinations in the Caribbean
  • Havana Air - The Miami-based airline will launch online booking on January 1
  • JetBlue
  • Silver Airways
  • United Airlines
 I want to visit Cuba before normalizing relations removes American classic cars from Cuban streets  (Photo:  Gerry Zambonini )

I want to visit Cuba before normalizing relations removes American classic cars from Cuban streets (Photo: Gerry Zambonini)

Personally, I am excited about the opportunity to travel to Cuba. I am anxious to explore the Caribbean in general, but normalization of tourist travel would move Havana toward the top of my list of destinations in the Americas. I would love to tour a cigar factory and sample some authentic Cuban food on Cuban soil. I don't know that I want to be part of the very first waves of tourists to visit, but I do want to visit before Cuba becomes indistinguishable from other Caribbean islands. 

Has anyone been to Cuba? Share your experiences in the comments below.