I’ve Heard That Some US Airlines Have Started Direct Flights To Cuba. Does That Mean I Can Take A Short Break To Havana While I’m In Florida Next Year? James, Harrogate
Yes, but it’s quite complicated. US airlines and ferries have been banned from operating direct services to Cuba since 1963, the year after the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis. So while visitors from most other western countries have been free to enter Cuba for tourism purposes, subject to obtaining a visitor’s visa, US citizens have essentially been unable to go there directly from American soil.
That changed in 2014, when President Obama made the historic announcement that the decades-old sanctions are to be relaxed. Eight airlines, including Southwest and JetBlue, have already started or announced plans for flights to Cuba. Schedule flights from Fort Lauderdale to the smaller airport of Santa Clara, around 280km from Havana, have already begun. So in theory you should be able to take the short, 60-minute flight over to Cuba while you’re in Florida next year.
But there’s a problem. The US government currently only authorises travel on these flights if your visit fits into one of twelve ‘permitted’ categories, including journalism, research, working for the US or a foreign government, educational, sporting or cultural activities. Tourism, it seems, is not allowed at the moment.
Officially the rules only apply to travellers ‘under US jurisdiction’ meaning those making the trip on a non-US passport should be fine. But there’s lots of conflicting information on the internet and, from personal experience, I know that employees of US airlines are not always the most up-to-date or flexible when interpreting the rules. You should definitely check with the airline before you book – and get it in writing that you’ll be able to travel.
An alternative is to travel direct to Cuba from the UK then travel back via Florida. Apparently the Cuban authorities don’t put any restrictions on who can travel on these new flights and you’ll be treated the same way as other international arrivals when you get to the USA.
Another option is to do what the Americans have been doing for years – take a flight that connects through one of several hubs in the Caribbean or Central America, including Mexico or the Bahamas. It will mean a longer travel time but could be less stress!