As part of the Obama Administration’s historic effort to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Thursday (July 7) proposed to select eight U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights between Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa and Havana as early as this fall.
Friday’s proposal comes nearly one year after the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in July 2015.
“Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage Cuba,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”
According to U.S. transportation officials, a dozen U.S. airlines applied for the chance to operate scheduled passenger and cargo service to Havana. Collectively, the airlines applied for nearly 60 flights per day to Havana, exceeding the 20 daily flights made available by arrangement between the two governments.
The Transportation Department’s principal objective in making its proposed selections was to maximize public benefits, including choosing airlines that offered and could maintain the best ongoing service between the U.S. and Havana. The airlines receiving the tentative awards are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.
DOT’s proposal allocates nonstop Havana service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities. The process of selecting carriers offers an opportunity to present the public with a wide array of travel choices in the type of airline (network, low-cost, ultra-low-cost); choices of airport; and choices of non-stop or connecting service. The DOT’s proposed selections would simultaneously address service needs while promoting competition.
In early April, the nonpartisan Engage Cuba Coalition called for an end the U.S. travel and trade embargo with Cuba during a gathering of state, federal and agricultural groups in Little Rock, hoping to put pressure on Congress to lift the 55-year old embargo.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit of top U.S. companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba announced the formation of its Arkansas State Council chapter on April 11.
James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said then that Arkansas is “ground zero” for national efforts to lift the trade and travel ban with the Caribbean nation. Earlier this week, Williams advocated that Congress lift the trade and travel embargo as soon as possible.
“Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government prohibits tourist travel,” Williams said on Tuesday. “Until Congress lifts the travel ban, Americans will continue to be prohibited from enjoying what is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Congress should not be in the business of telling their own citizens where they can or cannot vacation.”