On Tuesday morning, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement to begin commercial air traffic between the two countries for the first time in over 50 years.
The deal was signed in a ceremony between U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez at Hotel Nacional in Havana.
“Today is a historic day… signaling that for the first time in more than five decades the United States and Cuba will allow scheduled service between our two nations,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the ceremony.
In 2014, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that they would begin attempts at normalizing the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba after a half-century Cold War opposition. The agreement for commercial flights is the most significant development since that announcement.
According to Dallas News, the Obama administration is eager to make rapid progress on building trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba before the president leaves office. The coming weeks are seen as particularly crucial to building momentum ahead of a trip he hopes to make to Havana by the end of March.
The agreement will allow for up to 110 round-trip commercial flights daily between the U.S. and Cuba in addition to the 10-15 charter flights now.
U.S. airlines will have 15 days to submit route flight requests with the U.S. Department of Transportation after approved the U.S. carriers will then have to strike deals with Cuba airports.
Brandon Belford told reporters the U.S. agency will spend about a month collecting information from the airlines and others interested parties to help assess the applications, and it expects to decide in the summer which airlines are flying from which cities to Havana.
According to CFO the Department of Transportation said U.S. carriers must make their applications by March 2, with final comments and answers due March 21. The government expects to award routes, and carriers could begin selling tickets as early as this fall.
Travel to Cuba from the U.S. for tourism is still illegal. U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Cuba must have an authorized reason from the U.S. government in at least one of 12 categories. However, the many reasons to travel to Cuba – education, sports – creates a fine line between tourism, and authorized reason.
U.S. airlines will have up till March 2 to submit their route applications to the U.S. Transportation Department. The department will make their decision on which airlines can fly from which cities to Cuba around the middle of March, according to TIME.
U.S. airlines, Delta, United, Sprits, and JetBlue have all made moves towards route rights since Tuesday.
JetBlue stated, “As a leading airline to the Caribbean and as an experienced carrier serving Cuba with charter flights since 2011, JetBlue eagerly awaits the opportunity to grow our service with regularly scheduled routes between various U.S. and Cuban cities.”
With commercial flights will also come convenience for travelers, such as 24-hour customer service and online-booking.
“American Airlines commends the U.S. government for its commitment to re-establishing cultural and economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, and for laying the groundwork to restore scheduled air service between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years,” said American’s chairman and CEO Doug Parker.
[Photo/Desmond Boylan/ AP Images]