JetBlue’s first regularly scheduled flights to Cuba will begin next month, with fares beginning at $99 one-way.
JetBlue’s first non-charter Cuba route will launch Aug. 31, when it begins nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale and the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. JetBlue initially will operate three flights a week before going to daily service on Oct. 1.
That would appear to put JetBlue in line to be the first U.S. carrier to begin normal airline flights to Cuba since the Obama administration moved to normalize relations between the nations. American Airlines and Silver Airways also have announced their initial schedules for regular Cuba flights, though the first of those services don’t begin until a few days after JetBlue’s first flight.
JetBlue says service from Fort Lauderdale to two other Cuban cities will start in November. Daily flights to the interior city of Camagüey begin Nov. 3 while daily service to Holguín in eastern Cuba starts Nov. 10.
“It’s a new day for Cuba travelers and one we have thoughtfully prepared for,” Marty St. George, JetBlue’s executive vice president – commercial and planning, says in a statement. “We are proud to usher in a new era of Cuba travel with affordable fares and great service.”
JetBlue says its service to Havana – the Cuban destination best known by most Americans – will be announced at a later time. JetBlue has tentatively been awarded the rights to fly to Havana from Fort Lauderdale, New York JFK and Orlando.
The U.S. Department of Transportation took longer to award the routes to Havana because interest from U.S. carriers outstripped the maximum number of flights allowed on the route. Interest by U.S. airlines for routes to other destinations in Cuba was more tepid, with the DOT approving those route applications in June.
The Havana flight rights were tentatively awarded by the DOT on July 7. The agency is reviewing public comments and objections about its initial grant of rights for the Havana flights, but the DOT’s tentative decisions in route authority cases like this one typically end up becoming final.
The new airline routes to Cuba come after the Obama administration has taken steps to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. Previously, only special charter flights could fly between the U.S. and Cuba. Now, under the steps toward normalization, regular airline flights are being permitted between the nations for the first time in nearly five decades.
However, while rules on travel to Cuba are being relaxed, there are still restrictions. The U.S. Treasury Department no longer requires special licenses to visit Cuba, but travelers must certify they are visiting under one of 12 categories, including educational, religious and humanitarian projects, among others. General tourism technically remains prohibited.
JetBlue says it’s taking unique steps to help customers interested in booking travel on its flights to Cuba.
For example, the carrier says it will “include Cuban government-required health insurance coverage for all travelers on all Cuba-bound flights so that customers do not have to worry about obtaining the insurance separately.”
JetBlue also promises an “affidavit in a few clicks” that will allow fliers to affirm “the customer is going for one of 12 reasons of approved travel from the U.S. Department of Treasury.”
And JetBlue also plans to make the day-of-travel Cuban Tourist Visa (Tourist Card) required by the Cuban government “available for purchase upon check-in at one of (JetBlue’s) gateway airports or at the gate for connecting customers.” Still, the airline advises that “all travelers to Cuba should contact the Cuban Embassy in Washington to determine the appropriate type of visa required by Cuba for their purpose of travel.”
Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
July 28, 2016