Cuba

American Airlines offers discounted inaugural fares to Cuba

American Airlines chief pilot Kevin Mase drapes a Cuban flag from a Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015, the day the United States and Cuba announced an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries. Now AA is awaiting final route approval from Cuba.
American Airlines chief pilot Kevin Mase drapes a Cuban flag from a Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015, the day the United States and Cuba announced an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries. Now AA is awaiting final route approval from Cuba. American Airlines

American Airlines is now taking reservations and selling regularly scheduled flights between Miami International Airport and five Cuban cities to start in September for less than $300 round-trip, including taxes.

But the cheaper rates come with caveats, including final approval from the Cuban government for American’s new commercial flights to the island. If all goes as planned, regularly scheduled flights to Cienfuegos and Holguín will take off from MIA on Sept. 7.

Act fast, but first study the fine print. American is offering advanced sales on cheap flights to five cities in Cuba scheduled to start in September.

There is also a minimum stay requirement of three nights or over a Sunday, and travel must be booked by Tuesday to take advantage of the sale. The discounts apply to travel between Sept. 7 and Nov. 15. Flights after those dates may run several hundred dollars more.

The restricted round-trip economy fare from MIA to Cienfuegos is $285.16. It will serve as American’s inaugural commercial flight to Cuba because it takes off before the Holguín flight. American flights to Santa Clara, Matanzas and Camagüey will be phased in at various times during September and are listed at $286.

Customers can book the new Cuba flights just the way they would any regularly scheduled flight, but travelers are asked to confirm that they fall into one of 12 categories approved for Cuba travel by the U.S. government, for example humanitarian, family and people-to-people visits designed to encourage meaningful exchanges with the Cuban people.

Other types of travel, like beach vacations, are out.

Cienfuegos goes first, ahead of Holguin.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also has granted permission for Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines to fly from various U.S. cities to Cuban destinations. DOT said it plans to award competitive Havana routes later this summer. In the meantime, charter companies are flying to Havana and other Cuban cities.

But members of a U.S. Congressional delegation don’t expect to be flying to Cuba any time soon.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who heads the Homeland Security Committee, said Friday that the Cuban government didn’t approve visas for him or other delegation members to visit and assess security and passenger screening at airports that will soon receive regularly scheduled flights from the United States.

McCaul and other committee members said they wanted to see the Cuban airports first-hand because “ISIS and other terror groups continue to target the aviation sector.” They also wanted to visit the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo on the same trip, said McCaul.

Some members of the U.S. Congress want to inspect airport security at the coming new flight sites. Cuba denied them visas.

“At a time when the Obama administration is rolling out the red carpet for Havana, the Cuban government refuses to be open and transparent with the peoples’ representatives,” said McCaul. “Sadly, it appears to be easier for Cubans to come to the United States than for members of the House Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba.”

“The administration is eager to have as many people as possible visit Cuba — except for those who are attempting to examine Cuban security infrastructure,” said Rep. John Katko, a Republican from New York. “We still don’t know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers are screened.” The committee, he said, also wanted to know if federal air marshals will be allowed to fly to Cuba on commercial flights.

The delegation had been trying to get visas for more than six weeks, Katko said.

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