|JetBlue Airways plans to fly from New York to Havana, Cuba this July.|
This makes JetBlue the first major U.S. carrier to offer a flight to Cuba since travel restrictions were recently eased.
According to the report, the weekly nonstop will travel on Fridays between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana's Jose Marti International Airport starting in July.
Flights Can Be Booked Via Cuba Travel Services, Not GDS
|A screenshot we obtained from a travel agent searching for flight availability via GDS (Worldspan)|
Now, Travel Agent should note that although travel restrictions have been eased, they have not been completely lifted for U.S. travelers.
"It's still a chartered flight in my opinion," says Ryan Mielke of Regency Travel in Fort Lauderdale. "I think this is a very, very small step. Only because I could go to Fort Lauderdale or Miami airport right now and find hundreds of flights to Cuba that is the same as this JetBlue one."
And as of now, if you look up the newly-announced JetBlue flight on GDS, it will tell you that flights are restricted from the U.S.
"Until airlines start publishing flights in our GDS systems, it's all false promises of a long-going struggle to open up Cuba," says Mielke.
But other agents, like Andrey Zakharenko of Always Travel in San Francisco, CA., are celebrating the news.
“JetBlue announcing the start of non-stop flights to Cuba from New York, a major gateway city, is great news,” says Zakharenko. “No more flying to Canada or Mexico to reach the forbidden island. Now, most people in the U.S. will be able to easily reach the country with one stop or less. Hopefully this will lead to agents in the United States being able to offer their clients flights to Cuba though their GDS, something that we are not able to do at the moment.”
Although the flights currently can be booked through GDS, Travel Agent learned that the flight is being offered by Cuba Travel Services, and travelers should make arrangements directly with the carrier service provider at www.cubatravelservices.com.
The Writing Was on the Wall
The first sign that JetBlue was inching closer to becoming the first U.S. carrier to fly to Cuba was apparent in February when the airline announced plans to increase its charter services to Cuba with A320 aircraft.
The announcement was of a single charter flight added to JetBlue’s established service, but it signaled the airline's intent to capitalize on opportunities in the Caribbean market, including the recent warming of relations between Cuba and the United States.
JetBlue’s flights to Cuba are operated on the airline’s Airbus A320 aircraft, with 150 leather seats offering more legroom than competitors’ economy class, and 42 of which are configured as "Even More" seats giving passengers an extra four inches of space at the knees.
The new JetBlue charter flight was the first expansion in charter services by a major U.S. airline since restrictions on travel to Cuba were eased in January. Established by an agreement with ABC Charters, the service commenced on June 5, and will operated on Fridays from Tampa Bay to Havana.
JetBlue and its partner ABC Charters operate weekly flights from Tampa to Havana on Tuesdays and from Tampa to Santa Clara on Wednesdays. JetBlue also operates flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana through Xael Charters on Fridays.
U.S. Begins Approving Ferry Service to Cuba
Groundbreaking flight news to Cuba happened to come on the same day as some impactful developments by sea. The Caribbean Journal is reporting that the United States has begun approving licenses for a number of ferry companies to operate services between the United States and Cuba.
While a number of hurdles remain, from U.S. coast guard approval of Cuban ports to Cuban government approval, the move could be a major step forward in transportation between the two destinations.
For now, at least five companies have been approved for licenses, according to reports, including Baja Ferries USA and United Caribbean Lines, among others.
In January, the Obama administration issued new rules that make it far easier for Americans to visit the island nation and do business there after more than 50 years of enforced isolation, according to the report.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican (and is the first Pope from Latin America), U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.
Washington and Havana had no diplomatic relations and the United States has maintained a trade embargo on Cuba since the 1950s. This restoration will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business with the Cuban people by extending general licenses.
The New York City area has the second largest Cuban American population in the United States, after Florida.