Florida Keys

Plane service from Key West to Cuba might add third weekly flight

Havana Air, which added a flight from Key West earlier this month, has seen a ‘substantial’ increase in passengers.
Havana Air, which added a flight from Key West earlier this month, has seen a ‘substantial’ increase in passengers. Miami

Air service between the Southernmost City and Cuba is off to a strong start after restarting in March, and more flights might be added.

Havana Air Chief Executive Officer David Nesslein said this week that the eventual goal is to provide daily service between Key West International Airport and Jose Martí International Airport in Havana. The Miami-based company is a government-licensed charter operator behind the flights.

“In most cases, we’ve been full,” Nesslein said.

After adding a Monday morning flight to Havana about three weeks ago, Havana Air now leaves Mondays and Fridays at 10 a.m. from Key West to Havana. The 90-mile flight, which lasts about 45 minutes, costs $525 round trip. Return flights are Mondays and Fridays.

Havana Air uses commercial carrier Air Key West and its nine-passenger BN-2T Turbine Islander. Miami travel company Mambi International Group sells tickets out of its North Roosevelt Boulevard office, which opened in December

Air Key West President Robert Valle said the addition of the Monday flight was partially due to customers not wanting to stay a whole week in Cuba. Havana Air may add a Wednesday flight if demand continues.

“It just kind of depends on the [passenger] loads,” Nesslein said. “We like Key West; I think it’s a great market for us.”

Havana Air is also working on letting customers buy tickets online, like they would for any other commercial flight. Nesslein said that may happen later this year.

The steady influx of planes to the communist country from Key West comes after last December's announcement by President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro of eased travel restrictions on U.S. residents going to Cuba following half a century of not allowing Americans to travel there.

Those who want to travel to Cuba no longer need a specific license as long as they meet criteria under one of 12 federal categories, including family visits, humanitarian projects and religious activities.

Traveling there for tourism remains banned but the government really has no way to enforce that since travelers could maintain they went to Cuba under one of the 12 reasons allowed.

Designating Key West International Airport as an international point of entry from the U.S. began in 2009 with a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

A three-phase, $2.25 million project reclassification process ensued, with federal officials signing off on the upgrades in October 2011.

Last year, another operator tried Key West to Cuba flights, but the venture lasted only about six weeks.

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